While every writer has their own approach to writing – and re-writing, does it ever feel as if you just aren’t making progress? Do you find yourself stuck at a certain point, or you seem to be constantly re-writing, needing to perfect your work before moving on?
That works for some writers, in particular those who already have a few novels under their belts. But for first novels it might be best to just get that first draft written from A to Z in the quickest way you can. Because very often it’s not until you finish writing your book that you realise what it is you’ve been trying to say. And if you’ve spent months struggling to get early chapters word perfect, you might find some of this will need to be scrapped, moved or changed. So all that time and effort making it word perfect has been wasted.
Additionally, when looking at your story as a whole again, if you’ve laboured over every word and sentence, your writing could become precious, and you might be reluctant to make drastic changes.
So, tell yourself that your first draft is for your eyes only and rattle out the story, skipping through the areas you don’t yet know or still have to research. Don’t let these gaps in your research or knowledge hold you up. It doesn’t matter if your entire manuscript is littered with notes to yourself to ‘find out’ or ‘describe later’; the main thing is to get your story written from start to finish – then think about perfecting it.
When that rough first draft is done, put some distance between you and it for a while, so you can look at it with fresh eyes. When you are ready to begin the re-writes, try and tackle them in an organised way, by knowing what you’re looking to do in the first re-write, and what to look for in subsequent re-writes. Don’t try and tackle everything at once.
Here’s one way of tackling your edits:
- Firstly, read to make sure it makes sense. Note areas that need work.
- Look to see if you’re consistent with character descriptions.
- Have you got the continuity of your story running correctly? Is the timeline realistic?
- Are the characters’ emotions running true to life and in tune with what’s going on?
- Look at the different threads and sub plots. Make sure you haven’t neglected them. See if all the loose threads have been tied up before the climax of the story.
- Look at the pace of your story. Make sure you have high and low spots. Could you make these more dramatic?
- Because you’ve got the whole story roughly done, you’ll now be able to see the shape of it. If it’s not to your liking, then you can work on this until it’s how you want it.
- Is there a hook at the start of every chapter to draw the reader in, and a cliff-hanger at the end of the chapter to make them keep turning the pages?
- Where you’ve gaps in your research or knowledge, now’s the time to find out all those little things that you need to know. This will save you masses of time rather than you having to research a whole subject. Now you can just find out the specific things that you really need to know.
On subsequent re-writes you could:
- Look at your dialogue, making sure it’s realistic. Do you really need all those speech tags?
- Make sure every word is taking your story forward, and there nothing unnecessary there.
- Make sure characters aren’t telling each other things they already know.
- Check that your narrative is accurate and evocative.
- Cut out adverbs.
- Use strong verbs.
- Look for repetition, both in words and in similar scenes.
- Watch for any areas where you’re telling rather than showing.
Your next re-write could be the finer points: your grammar, punctuation and spelling. Now would be the time to look at the euphony of each sentence, making everything flow beautifully. Do all those little tweaks that you want to make. Now’s the time to really make your story shine.
Happy writing everyone.
Ann Evans (Ann Carroll for romance) has almost 40 books published. She writes thrillers, romance, books for YA, children and reluctant teen readers. She is also a freelance feature writer for various magazines.
Discover more writing tips: Become a Writer: A step-by-step guide. amzn.to/3487fws