Completing a first draft is a peculiar experience. You know that much of it is rubbish and you have to be honest. You know the plot is a mess, the characters are undeveloped, there are contradictions and discontinuities, the quality is all over the place, there are repetitions and omissions, and the whole thing needs rewriting. Right?
Not entirely. The first draft is exactly that, a draft. I'm feeling a little smug at having completed my draft running in at 77000 words. I thought it might be longer and a silly part of me wanted it to go on and on, whereas that critical pest sitting on my shoulder kept urging me to wrap it up and get it done. That tension between enjoying the process of just getting the story down and realising that it's in dire need of revision is a difficult one to reconcile.
I could have revised chapter by chapter, rewrote sections and tried to improve it as I went along but I followed the advice of so many other writers and resisted the temptation. If I had started to revise as I was writing, I would have stalled and I wouldn't have completed the first draft at all.
But now I have to do something with it, that sprawling mess of a draft which I know is inadequate in so many ways. Looking at the printed pile of paper covered in words, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task but it's manageable. Almost everyone else seems to be able to do it, but of course the vast majority of novels never get beyond this stage.
Sometimes authors can't bring themselves to rework the draft and simply tidy it up and send it out of the door, inviting a cascade of rejections and interminable expense. Others obsess about the difficulty of getting the draft into a reasonable shape, finally leaving it in the draw awaiting another spark of interest, that just doesn't come.
I've got to do some serious work on the manuscript. It's now become a potential manuscript after all. So how do I go about it? What do I analyse, correct, rewrite, cut? Well, I'm going to try to be fairly objective as if I was reading it for the first time and I'm going to ask some hard questions of myself.
Am I still interested in this story? What happens, when and to whom? Why does this matter to me? What do I get out of reading this story? Why should anyone else read it?
Then there are more technical aspects I need to address. I need to study the order of events, the locations, the times, the scenes, the characters, their back stories, a whole host of details that might feed into the rewrite. Having dived in and written the draft, I have a collection of incidental and contradictory details scattered throughout the text. That now needs to be cleaned up, organised and assessed.
Reading through the draft will throw up a whole load of new ideas and there will be lots of details I need to record as well as the changes I want to make. It's a scary prospect, generating so much detail. There is a massive temptation to go and find some software to play with, something which will give me the impression that I am making progress whilst evading the necessary work. But I already have a notebook and a printed draft so there's no excuse.
My plan of action then is to read it several times without editing anything. I'll make notes on where there are problems, and what they are. I'll note the scenes, events, locations, etc, and make a long list of the problems and I'll try not to feel too bad about that. This is exactly what the draft is for and I knew I was not producing the final product. Of course, I hope there's a lot I can keep, but I'm realistic.
One thing I am resolutely trying to avoid is planning several revisions. I want to do that analysis of the draft and get as close as possible to the final version in one pass. I expect that there will have to be a further version but I want to minimise the work involved, so that means addressing all of the structural issues up front.
But before everything else, there is one thing I absolutely must do - store my backups onto a CD. As if I would trust my hard drive never to fail!