Hey, I finished writing a novel! Now what?

Alright, after months of silence I’m back.  Today is actually a pretty momentuous day for several reasons, and not just because I finally got off my lazy butt and started blogging again.  I also…<cue the music>…finished my third draft of my current WIP (work in progress)! Exciting, I know.  And while it still has another half dozen drafts to go (probably more than that, if I want to be entirely honest), I now have what I refer to as a “readable draft.”

A “readable draft” means that the plot makes sense throughout and the story is basically finished, so I can now have someone else read through it.  I don’t like to share my WIP with anyone until it gets to this point because honestly, my first drafts are just a confused jumble of words, full of inconsistencies and terrible dialogue.  Now, at least, these plot fails are surrounded by bits of story that makes sense.  Yay!

What happens now, you might ask? Well, first I need to con someone I trust into reading this draft and giving me some good feedback.  Actually, I like to get two people to read it at this point so I can get a good variety of criticism.  The list of people I will let read a first readable draft is very small, which is how I think it should be.  All you prospective writers out there, don’t let just anyone read an unfinished piece because it’s really not going to be your best work yet.  Find someone who reads a lot and can take a look at your story as a reader and let you know what works and what doesn’t.  It has to be someone who knows you well enough to be brutally honest, but who’s opinion you trust enough not to get angry and take it personally.  These are tough qualifications, which is why my own list is so small.

Another thing I’ve learned is to give my first readers plenty of time.  They are doing me a huge favor, so I don’t want to rush them, but I also find it’s helpful to give them some sort of timeline.  Most people operate much better when they know they have to get something done by a certain day.  Otherwise, your manuscript might just sit in a corner of their rooms for the next three months.  Generally, I give them a month, which accomplishes two things.  First, that’s more than enough time to read a manuscript and give some general critiques on it, and two, that gives me a month away from my story so when I do get it back, along with their suggestions, I can look at it with a fresh set of eyes.

When I hand over my glorious manuscript, I have also learned to be clear about my expectations.  I don’t want any line editing, or paragraph by paragraph notes, or anything ridiculous and hugely time-consuming like that.  No, these kinds of critiques should come later from your writing group.  Don’t have a writing group? Join one! I’ll talk more about why in a later post.  But getting back to this topic, what I want from a first reader is just this: Is my story interesting? Why or why not? Does it make sense? What doesn’t work in it? Any suggestions to make it better? Those are pretty much the only things I ask at this point.

When I get back my feedback, that’s when the real work begins.

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