You did Nanowrimo! Huzzah!! Or maybe you didn’t, but whether you did it through Nanowrimo or not, you now have a rough draft—maybe a very, very, very rough draft— of your book or script. Huzzah!!’
So now what?
First of all, Take a break. If at all possible, when you’ve finished a first draft, take a break of not just days, but a couple of weeks.
You should keep to a writing schedule, start brainstorming the next project, maybe do some random collaging to see what images come up that might lead to something fantastic. But if you have a completed draft, then what you need most of all is SPACE from it. You are going to need fresh eyes to do the read-through that is going to take you to the next level, and the only way for you to get those fresh eyes is to leave the story alone for a while.
But—it is very useful to think about and write out what you learned about your writing process during that Nano month: your most productive hours of writing; your optimum number of words, pages or hours to spend writing per day; any tricks you’ve devised to get writing and keep writing and to keep partners, children and pets out of your hair. Were you part of a support group? Did it help? If you weren’t, would it help to have a group or a writing buddy/critique partner?
And if you still haven’t gotten through to “The End” then my advice is always—Keep going. You must get through to The End, no matter how rough it is (rough meaning the process AND the pages…). Definitely take a day or two to celebrate the month you just accomplished. You can slow down your schedule, set a lower per-day word or page count, but do not stop. Write every day, or every other day if that’s your schedule, but get the sucker done.
You may end up throwing away most of what you write, but it is a really, really, really bad idea not to get all the way through a story. That is how most books, scripts and probably most all other things in life worth doing are abandoned.
But once you have bashed through to the end of your opus, and have that dreaded first draft done…
Now comes the fun part. At least, I think so! No matter how hard the subsequent drafts may be, nothing is ever as hard as that sucky first draft.
But whoever said “Writing is rewriting” was oh-so-right.
While I almost never print out anything anymore, I still recommend printing out your book or script to do your read through.
Don’t get hung up on trying to rewrite. In your first read you are reading all the way through to get a sense of the book overall. You might want to do it in 50-100 page sessions at a time— it’s extremely useful to read through one Act at a time so you can absorb each Act before you move on to the next reading session and the next Act. And it’s an excellent way to get a sense of how well you’re handling your Act Climaxes!
Have a pencil or pen to scribble a quick note or slash out something that very obviously isn’t working, but then put the pencil down and keep reading. Again, you’re not rewriting yet, you’re getting a sense of your book. I think of it as trying to gather up my book in my hands (and head).
And this is key:
What you wrote is NOT what you thought you were going to write.
It never is! So you need to see what you actually did write. And then approach the great story that you do have, as your own editor.
Once you’ve done your initial read through, I suggest you sit in a quiet and comfortable place for several hours and make all the notes you can without looking at your pages at all. Just download all your impressions of the book. Make sure you’re making notes on all the good stuff as well as bad! This step might take several sessions, and it’s worth it.
And then what?
I’ll be posting rewriting strategies in my newsletter for December. Subscribe for free to get posts delivered to your inbox!
And again, huge congratulations. You’ve done what most aspiring authors will never do. If you keep going, this will be a book.
That is a true miracle, in this season of miracles!
Need some help? The Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshopis now available online, as a self-paced course with all the videos, assignments, movie breakdowns and personalized feedback you need to get that book written this year. In four parts, and you only pay for what you use.
Small group coaching also available in The Writers’ Room.