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Thread: Just finished the first draft of my first novel. Now what?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Just finished the first draft of my first novel. Now what?

    It only took five years, but it's done. My first draft of my first book is complete, and it's a mess. There are subplots I dropped in the midst of writing, huge swaths of dialogue, not to mention a couple of inconsistent characters. So, assuming I don't want it to take another five years to polish, what now? How do I go about this editing process? Once edited how do I find trustworthy beta readers? This may sound paranoid and pretentious but how do I know someone won't steal my idea? I might be a little overwhelmed right now, excited, but overwhelmed nonetheless.

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW
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    First, congratulations! Some say editing is the hardest part, but some say just getting that first draft of the first book out is super hard!

    Right now? Have a drink. Or a cookie. Or take a walk.

    Read some other books, live your life. Some people like to dive right into editing. I like to let it mellow for a while. When you are ready, pull it out. The first thing I do is a basic search and destroy of adverbs (search "ly" and you'll find em) and "ing" verbs to make them more active. Then I print the thing out and read through, highlighting problems that jump out at me. I took a few passes like that, then made my changes. Now it's at Reader One, the person I want to read it first. He hasn't yet.

    Beta readers--no one is going to steal your idea, relax, you're fine. There's a forum here for betas, and a Share Your Work forum for critiques of sections.

  3. #3
    I got it covered Undercover's Avatar
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    I would let it sit for a while. Not too long. Maybe a week or two. Maybe read a novel during that time. Or take notes on what you want to edit.

    Congrats on getting this far! I know a lot of people here suggest getting a beta, but it is possible to sell a book without one. I sold two that way. Not suggesting to not do it either. You can always do a portion of it and work it through on the rest of the book if you don't feel comfortable giving up the whole thing.
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  4. #4
    Not a Potato Peeler Two McMillion's Avatar
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    Well, for starters, celebrate! Treat yourself to something; it's a big milestone.

    After that, the next thing to do will be to wait. Stick the novel in a drawer, work on something else, let your head get out of the novel and into a place where you can look at it more objectively. Spend at least a month, and probably more, working on other things.

    As for editing, the biggest rule of editing is that nothing is sacred. You should be prepared to make any change for the sake of making the story better. A distant second is that you should generally take out more than you put in.

    Finding beta readers: this is where you rope in your friends, or possibly people here on absolutewrite. The ideal beta reader is someone who can be honest with you but also has some taste. A person who likes every book they read is not a good beta reader. Note that beta readers can usually find problems, but tend to be bad at knowing how to fix those problems.

    Stealing ideas: Don't worry about it; nobody steals ideas. Or rather, everybody steals every idea, and it doesn't matter, because everyone's implementation of those ideas is unique, and anything short of copying and pasting whole sections of someone else's work is going to be different. So don't let it bother you too much.
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  5. #5
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    Congrats! You've made it farther than the vast majority of people who want to write a book, and farther than the vast majority of people who start writing a book. Bask in the accomplishment!

    I've added my responses to the quote below.



    Quote Originally Posted by ambmae View Post
    It only took five years, but it's done. My first draft of my first book is complete, and it's a mess. There are subplots I dropped in the midst of writing, huge swaths of dialogue, not to mention a couple of inconsistent characters. So, assuming I don't want it to take another five years to polish, what now? For me, I put it aside for three months or whatever, then start reading from the beginning and resist resist resist the urge to make sweeping changes until I have read the entire thing. I make little changes but nothing big until I can see the whole thing. How do I go about this editing process? However it works for you. Sometimes I make a list like a table of contents of all the major scenes and see how they flow. Other times I get into nitty gritty detail edits. It just depends on what that particular work needs. Once edited how do I find trustworthy beta readers? We have a beta reader forum here, or you can approach people you trust from here or in real life. This may sound paranoid and pretentious but how do I know someone won't steal my idea? ​In theory you don't, but first off ideas are the easy part and even if someone steals your idea they still have to write a book which will end up very diffeffer from yours. Anyone who will be able to write an entire book probably has enough of their own ideas. Yes, plagiarism happens, but it's rare that a beta reader steals an idea or even text and gets very far with it. I might be a little overwhelmed right now, excited, but overwhelmed nonetheless.
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  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW CJSimone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ambmae View Post
    It only took five years, but it's done. My first draft of my first book is complete, and it's a mess. There are subplots I dropped in the midst of writing, huge swaths of dialogue, not to mention a couple of inconsistent characters. So, assuming I don't want it to take another five years to polish, what now? How do I go about this editing process? Once edited how do I find trustworthy beta readers? This may sound paranoid and pretentious but how do I know someone won't steal my idea? I might be a little overwhelmed right now, excited, but overwhelmed nonetheless.
    Welcome and congrats ambmae. Yeah, editing is hard work, but so is getting a complete first draft, and you've done that. It's a good sign that you know it's a mess and you've already recognized some of the problems yourself, so you're in a good position to fix them.

    Like MadAlice says, you can post in SYW for feedback and make a request for beta readers in the beta section. If you hang out here for awhile, you'll probably get a sense of who you can trust as a beta reader. And you might get people offering to beta read and/or do a swap without making a request.

    Since you're concerned about how it will go with beta readers, Undercover's idea about having only a portion beta read sounds like a good idea, at least for starters. That's what I'm planning to do first just to see if I'm on the right track with my revising.

    Happy editing!

  7. #7
    Resist. Love. Go outside. Marlys's Avatar
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    Congrats! It's a great accomplishment, so enjoy. Take yourself out to dinner or give yourself some other treat to mark the occasion.

    Everyone dives into editing differently. While you let the manuscript rest, maybe explore some of ideas and resources out there: Holly Lisle's one-pass revision method, Browne and King's book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and various others.

    I like to make a quick and dirty scene map in a spreadsheet so I can see the structure of the story at a glance--I put the chapter numbers down one side, then in columns next to them the scenes each chapter contains, with a few words about what happens in each. Can then easily see problem areas, for instance if the MC has two important conversations with the same character in two different chapters, maybe they either need to be combined or moved farther apart.

    If you're not comfortable with betas, don't use them--but I agree with the others that it's very, very unlikely that anyone is after your ideas, and sometimes other eyes are vital to help you identify problem areas. It'll take some time to figure out what works best for you in editing. But in the meantime, bask in the joy of having finished that first draft.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by ambmae View Post
    It only took five years, but it's done. My first draft of my first book is complete,
    Congrats!

    and it's a mess. There are subplots I dropped in the midst of writing, huge swaths of dialogue, not to mention a couple of inconsistent characters. So, assuming I don't want it to take another five years to polish, what now? How do I go about this editing process?
    Leave it for a couple of weeks. You need to give it time to rise, like a good soufflé. Come at it with fresh eyes. I like to take a two-step approach to editing. Well, three, really. I usually edit as I go along, nipping back to previous chapters to make sure there are no dropped plots or inconsistencies or outright contradictions. But that's part of my writing process.

    I like to edit on my computer, first. Rearrange sentences, fix grammar, kill repetition, generally tidy it up. Then I like to print it with a wide margin and make notes as I go along. If I make any changes on the physical copy, go back and make them on my digital copy.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW
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    Awesome!! Congratulations!! It's taken me 5 years too, so I know what your feeling right now. You think you've taken too much time ? No, that's the short answer. The long answer is as everyone above as told you,take a break. Let it run thru your brain,you will be amazed at what comes out. " Slow and steady" will win your race. I read books on editing. Anything by Sol Stein is fantastic and SUPER helpful.
    Last edited by Hopefully WLCT; 04-01-2017 at 08:18 PM.
    " Never thought I'd get this far"

  10. #10
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks for all the encouragement and advice! I'm going to give myself a chance to cool off and then get back to work.
    I'm not a naturally paranoid person but my husband is, so thank you for the advice on beta readers. I'll show that to him next time he objects when I suggest I use them It's a very flattering concern though!

  11. #11
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    'Just finished the first draft of my first novel. Now what?'

    Now it's Miller Time


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  12. #12
    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    ps - a lot of people find the Holly Lisle One-Pass approach to dealing with the draft very efficient:

    https://hollylisle.com/one-pass-manu...-in-one-cycle/
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW Zoe R's Avatar
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    Probably super obvious, but I don't always do this as quickly as I should - make a backup file on a separate device, not just the same computer. Email it to yourself or something cloud based, so there is a copy in the ether. Congratulations on finishing!

  14. #14
    New kid...seven years ago! DancingMaenid's Avatar
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    People have given you lots of great advice here. One thing about beta readers: learning how to take feedback takes some practice. Making the most of feedback means both being willing to accept criticism and learning to trust your judgement about what advice to take. Even good advice can be subjective sometimes.

    Some things to keep in mind:

    - It can be helpful to get feedback from more than one person. At the same time, sometimes you will get conflicting advice. If people seem to agree on something (like part of the story being unclear), then that's a good sign that you may want to follow that advice. But don't expect to always get a consensus, and try not to be discouraged if you receive feedback you don't agree with or aren't sure how to utilize.

    - It's very unlikely that someone will steal your idea, and ideas are often very general, anyway. It's the specifics and the execution that make a story unique.

    - What makes an untrustworthy beta? For the most part, people who offer critiques make a genuine effort to offer helpful feedback and give you their honest reactions, so even if they're not right about everything, they can still be helpful in some way. But some things you want to watch out for: You want betas who are comfortable giving you honest feedback. Friends/family who aren't used to critiquing might be inclined to be "nice" and not say anything negative, or they might have no idea how to critique. Betas don't have to write/read in your genre, but if someone's feedback is clearly based on them not enjoying the genre or type of story you're trying to tell (like complaining that a horror story is too scary), they might not be a great beta for you. But generally, finding good betas is a matter of connecting with people and finding someone you click with.

    Good luck, and congratulations on finishing your first draft!
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW HarvesterOfSorrow's Avatar
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    Well, first of all: congratulations! You have no idea---or maybe you do---how many people say they're going to write a novel some day, but never do. But you're in the small group that said it and eventually did it. No matter what happens from here on out, you automatically kick ass.

    As for the next step: For me, personally, I take a small break after finishing a draft. Especially a first draft. I usually take a month off and let my batteries recharge. In that month, I turn my reading into overdrive and get new stories, voices, authors, ideas, etc in my head. After looking at Microsoft Word for three or four solid months, I kinda need a break from the word processor. After the month is up, and I've drowned myself in different kinds of literature (and other art mediums, too), I print off the document, and go through with it with a red pen, slashing, crossing, fixing, adding, note taking as I go. This takes a couple weeks, depending on the size of the book.

    Once that's done, I let it sit for another week. Once the week is done, I start a new document and start writing the second draft. Now, I don't catch all the problems on the first run-through. So I'm finding new things to fix as I go through the edited first draft. Once the second draft is done, I take another couple weeks off and another reading overload. Then it's time for the polish. I copy the text from the second draft into a third document (usually in ten-page increments) and polish what I've missed. I always start with the previous day's work, and continue on until my brain is fried or it's late, etc. I do this until there's nothing else I can see that needs fixing. Then it's time to hunt for an agent (which I'm doing now).

    I must add that this is what works for me. What works for me may not work for you, or anyone else. There are people on here that have a lot of experience (more than I do), so take a look around, and play with your creative gut and find your own rhythm.

    Good luck, and congratulations again!
    Last edited by HarvesterOfSorrow; 04-15-2017 at 04:02 AM.
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  16. #16
    Ni. Peng. Neee-Wom. edutton's Avatar
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    That's awesome, congrats!

    As to what's next, what everyone else said, I think... bask for a while, put it in a drawer and do something else for a week or two, then come back to it and read it over again. I did that first read-through in a printout, with a notebook in hand, so that I could make lots of notes but couldn't change anything real in the actual MS until I'd read the whole thing and could at least start to see how the changes might impact other parts of the story.

    Good luck!
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  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Jamills08's Avatar
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    Something is in the air with the five year mark. I'm almost done with the first draft of my second novel. The first is a complete embarrassment. These suggestions are great for my own use when I'm done.

  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    Editing.. editing.. editing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Read it straight through first with minimal edits - but take copious notes.
    Then with your notes, fix the subplot issues. Then character inconsistencies.
    IMO a story line that's as linear as possible is best - but others will probably disagree.

    Then edit for grammar, straight through.
    Then edit it backwards, paragraph by paragraph.

    Lather, rinse, repeat until you are making very minor edits and the story flows nicely, and there is no confusion about who it doing what or talking.

    Editing for me takes at least as long as the writing does.
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  19. #19
    Great Old One CameronJohnston's Avatar
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    Congratulations! That's a huge achievement. Many people say they will write a novel... one day... but you've done it.

    Set it aside for a week or two, and then read through it. Don't nitpick typos and such but look at the plot progression and characters, take notes but don't change anything at this point. Make notes of pages where you have too much dialogue or too much infodumping, note to drop those subplots that go nowhere, or weave them in to completion, note where characters are inconsistent. Take a big overarching look at the whole thing as one piece, then go over your notes and knock it a bit more into a cohesive shape before considering copy-editing, beta readers etc.
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  20. #20
    Falling in the milk megan_d's Avatar
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    There's a long road ahead of you still, but. But. You finished a novel! That really is a big achievement. Be proud.

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  21. #21
    I find editing even harder than writing lol.

    But you revise, and revise again, and revise some more after that.

    Take a beat and be proud of your accomplishment then dive right back in!
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  22. #22
    forgetful elephant Yzjdriel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ambmae View Post
    It only took five years, but it's done. My first draft of my first book is complete,
    Yay!
    and it's a mess.
    Well, of COURSE it is, it's your first draft!
    There are subplots I dropped in the midst of writing, huge swaths of dialogue, not to mention a couple of inconsistent characters.
    Ahh, yes, the "I Changed the Story because I was Editing While Writing" thing that everyone does. Don't worry about that right now.
    So, assuming I don't want it to take another five years to polish, what now?
    Now you table it and do anything and everything you can do to get the draft completely out of your mind. If you're still thinking about it as though you're still writing it, you haven't taken enough time away from it to start making all the edits you'll need to make.
    How do I go about this editing process?
    The first thing I do is go over the whole work and fix only grammar and syntax errors that my brain auto-corrected when reading it as I wrote.
    Once that's done, I make a list of all the things I don't like and rank them from most to least important.
    Then I fix everything on the list, from the bottom up. You'd be surprised at how often I get to the top of the list and find that I fixed one of the big issues when I fixed the smaller ones.
    Next I make another list of things I don't like about it now, and repeat the above step.
    Now I've got a manuscript I like, but it's too long - not everyone will have this problem, but I tend to be overly verbose when I don't necessarily need to be: kind of like how this post was before I trimmed it. So now I list all the characters in the story and classify them: there is one MC (sometimes two), a small group of major characters, a larger group of supporting characters, and a whole mess of forgettable characters who advance the plot and vanish.
    With this list in hand, I seek and destroy any subplot that doesn't involve either the MC(s) or at least two major characters, unless that subplot ends in the permanent removal of a major character from the story (death, moving to Siberia, etc.).

    Now I table it again and repeat the process of driving it out of my head.
    Once I come back to it, I start making all the nit-picky edits such as adverb removal, rewording of phrases, and peer editing.
    Once I have a draft that both I and my trusted peer editor (a writer friend from high school named Peter), I pass out beta copies and get cracking.
    QUOTE]Once edited how do I find trustworthy beta readers?[/QUOTE]
    How do you find trustworthy friends? Trial and error, mostly.
    This may sound paranoid and pretentious but how do I know someone won't steal my idea?
    If they don't write, they won't steal your idea. If they do write, they'll now have a subconscious copy of the parts of your manuscript that stood out to them on call for inspiration later. This always happens. If they try to plagiarize you they won't get very far, and if they take inspiration from what you wrote they'll invariably take it in a different direction than you did, and in time you'll have a beta copy of an awesome story on your desk.
    I might be a little overwhelmed right now, excited, but overwhelmed nonetheless.
    It's perfectly natural to feel that way right now. But hey, you've finished your first draft! You're halfway to having a copy of your first publication hand-delivered to that pesky retired uncle who was always telling you to get a "real" job, like he did. Or was that just me after I had nine articles published over the six editions of my school paper last year?

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  23. #23
    figuring it all out Olde1649's Avatar
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    There's some really useful advice in this thread. Just one point I'd add (based on my experience as a non-fiction writer):

    Look out for fluctuating passages. One day you read p. 20 and it seems crisp, clear and concise. Then the next day you read it, and it seems meandering and vague. You really have to train yourself to read your own work. It is worth distinguishing between skimming through to check for spelling and grammar, and genuinely reading it - which is about looking at it with fresh eyes.

    Certainly leaving it for a while is a good idea.

    One trick that can help: read it in a different format. If you're used to reading it on screen, then print it out. Or transfer it to an e-reader. Or try a different font in a different size.

    Anyway, congratulations, and best of luck. I hope to be joining you in about five months (and 25,000 words).

  24. #24
    ... with the High Command Dave.C.Robinson's Avatar
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    I guess I'm weird, my reward for finishing a first draft is to start a new book the next day. I feel weird if I'm not working on a book. I generally leave the first one alone until I'm far enough into the next one that it's got all my "writer-think" so I can focus on editing.

    Also, if you're changing fonts for editing, the best way to do that is to switch between proportional and monospaced fonts. It changes more than just the look of the words; it also rearranges the lines so it makes a huge difference.


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  25. #25
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    You've already had lots of brilliant advice here, so just wanted to add my congratulations! Well done on accomplishing something many people say they want to, but never actually do! You did it!

    I've only finished two novels so far, so I'm definitely not an expert, but both times I found it helpful to take a break for a while, refill my creative well, with lots of brilliant books and films, and long walks and conversation and then go back to my story with fresh eyes...and a big red pen!

    Good luck!

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