Well, you’ve finished your masterpiece, and finally written THE END. Omg, what a relief! And congratulations! There are many, many writers who haven’t gotten to this point. Pat yourself on the back, because this is a huge accomplishment.
*Photo courtesy of hotblack at moreguefile.com
But now what?
Finishing a manuscript is a rush, no doubt about it. You did it! You wrote a book! You’re dancing around the house, maybe envisioning millions of dollars just roaring into your bank account; ready for the critical acclaim you just KNOW is coming your way, movie deals, interviews on Good Morning America, hitting the NYT best-selling list. Maybe an HBO series.
Then you sit down to re-read what you’ve written.
And here starts the cycle. The cycle of, “Holy shit, this really sucks, I suck, who wrote this crap?” and moving on to, “I’m so brilliant I can’t stand myself,” to “Just what the hell did I write here? Nothing is making sense!” And then it starts all over again.
The first draft of any manuscript is full of holes, errors, and tangents. No matter how well-plotted, it’s a first draft. It’s not supposed to be pretty. It’s supposed to be butt-assed ugly; raw, bleeding, and in dire need of CPR. But it’s also glorious in its rawness–your story is now on paper, and there is very little which can’t be fixed in an edit.
First off, let me just tell you a writer is their own worst judge of their story. Why? Because it’s in your head, perfect and complete, but transferring that to paper is very difficult. Sometimes a writer errs on the side of caution, and holds back essential information the reader needs. Other times, a writer may suffer from diarrhea of the keyboard and lets all of the cats out of the bag at once. Pacing could be off, the plot needs thickening, some of the characters are as dimensional as a hunk of cardboard. It’s a first draft, so that’s to be expected.
You might feel the urge to send your masterpiece to close friends and your mother. Restrain yourself, cowboy. I know, trust me I do, you want to crow about this to everyone. But you still have a lot of work to do before your story is ready for an honest critique, and in light of your joy, the people who love you will not tell you what you need to hear. They’ll tell you what you want to hear. Although that may be very gratifying at first, it’s not going to help you take your story to the professional level for which you’re striving. WAIT. It’s difficult, I know! YOU JUST WROTE A BOOK! But…that’s just the beginning of the process.
So, where do you start the editing process?
You start by sticking it in a closet and leaving it alone. That’s right. Throw it in drawer or closet, lock it, and forget it. I guarantee you if you start editing as soon as you finish, you’re never going to see what needs to be fixed. You’re too close, you’ve been living with these characters too long and you know what’s going to happen before it happens. What you and your manuscript need is some space apart.
*Photo courtesy of ronnieb at morguefile.com
My advice is a minimum of two weeks. A couple of months might be even better. Leave it alone and start on another piece. Get your head OUT of your book and into something else. Let the manuscript marinate for a while, spend some time alone to ripen and for you to develop a bit of distance so when you do go back in to re-read and note the issues which need work, you can do so without feeling as if you’re ripping the arteries out of your heart.
So the first step? Closet, drawer, whatever. Mark it on your calendar to take it out in a couple of weeks, longer if you can stand it. Start on your next story.
Next week I’ll tell you the next step in this editing wonderland. Don’t be scared. You’ll love it.