Q & A time: first drafts

Here’s another question from Monday’s VPL panel:

I’ve finished my manuscript. What should I do next?

First of all, congratulations! Finishing a first draft is a huge accomplishment. You should spend at least a few days imagining your future book launch, practicing your autograph, and writing your speech for the Academy Awards. (You were asked to write the screenplay for the film version, of course).

Next, you should send it to your mother, or someone equally biased. She’ll read your manuscript and rave about how brilliant you are. Then she might say something like, “Dear, the man named Dave in chapters one through seven, was his name supposed to change to Thor in the second half of the book?” Because, of course, she’s so enamoured with your skill that she assumes your mistakes are references to experimental fiction techniques and not real mistakes at all.

Once you’ve gone through that round of “editing,” and you’re feeling strong, pass the manuscript to a critique group, sign up for a workshop, or even take your pages to a conference. (More about critique groups coming later this week.) Basically, you’re ready for a skilled and honest round of edits. You need people who will point out that chapter seven is self-indulgent, chapter nine includes seventeen flashbacks, and prologues are passé. Listen to these people, rewrite, and submit again.

All done those stages? Now, pop your manuscript in a drawer for at least a month, until you can read it with fresh eyes. While you’re waiting, read a couple books on plot, character development, or voice.

After your next round of revisions — maybe! — you’re ready to submit.

I know this process seems ridiculously long. I know that the wait times are excruciating. But, like publishing, writing is slow. And the mantra that writing is rewriting… unfortunately true.

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