Sometime ago, I shared a list of five things you could do after finishing your first draft and while waiting to get started on revisions. That list was by no means comprehensive, so here are five more things that are necessary to writing but often get left in the background when writing is front and center.
1. Organize Those Writing Files
I can hear the groans already!
Groan all you want, but writing files need to be organized just like other things and there’s no better time to organize files than while a manuscript is cooling off.
One thing you might consider is creating a scene database for all those random and/or unused scenes. I’ve spent too much time trying to find something I know exists but that is hidden even from keyword searches. So I started a scene database that includes a scene title or description, the story it’s attached to (if any), where it’s filed, and the opening line.
My database is in Excel, but you can use whatever spreadsheet program you prefer. If you happen to have a good database program, go ahead and use that, instead.
Something that bogs down my novel writing is finding out I don’t know enough about something. Be it trains, the Appalachians, or night vision goggles, there inevitably comes a point in every story when I realize I don’t know enough to write about a particular subject with authority.
I’ve learned is to make a note and keep writing. Do the research later.
“Later” may be the time between finishing the first draft and getting started on the second. Whether online, in a library or taking an expert to coffee, there is no better time for research than the down time between manuscript drafts. Having fresh—and accurate—information at your fingertips when you start revisions will help determine where you need to make corrections.
It may also spark new and interesting ideas.
3. Get Better Acquainted With Your Characters
You’ve now spent days, weeks, months (dare I say years?) with your main characters. You’ve given them things to do and decisions to make and they’ve successfully reached the end of the story.
But what do you really know about them?
Now might be the ideal time to get to know them better. Sit down in the location of your choice (or their choice perhaps). Ask them a few questions. Let them ramble or rant or whatever they care to do.
A lot of writers have a list of 100 questions to ask their characters. Others advocate just hanging out with fictional characters. James Scott Bell suggests a character voice journal in his book Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction).
Whatever method you choose can be a great way to get into a character’s head and learn their voice so clearly it shines in the novel.
And who knows what interesting tidbits might come to light that will help support that sagging middle (your novel’s; not yours!)
4. Introduce Yourself to New Characters
Whether or not you have another story in mind, it never hurts to introduce yourself to new characters.
They can be based on people you know or would like to know.
They can be totally made up.
They might appear in a dream one night (don’t laugh, it happens!).
You don’t have to do the 100 question survey with them, but let them tell you about something interesting that happened to them or about a dream or fear.
If you have an interesting or quirky minor character in your story, give them a little time in the limelight. See what happens. You might be surprised.
5. Timed Writings
One of the things I do when I have a little free writing time or when I’m blocked is do a few timed writings. I recommend the free app FocusWriter (read my reveiw).
Timed writings can be about anything or nothing at all. As I write this, I’m in the process of writing daily observations as timed writings, but I’ve also been getting acquainted with characters, writing random scenes, and working on stories.
Or do a little free writing. A favorite topic. A favorite sense. A favorite color. Choose something and write for ten or twenty minutes. No editing allowed. Don’t worry about quality. Just write. So what if most of it will never see the light of day? The goal is to put words on paper and to hone your skills and your mind for revision work.
There are other ways to make use of free writing time. What do you do between the first draft and second?