5 More Things to Do After Finishing Your First Draft

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.

5 More Things to Do After the First Draft

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.

Paper Clips - ColorfulOne 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.

2. Research

Research Book in LibrarySomething 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.

2015-05-06 FriendsBut 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

2015-03-03 TimeOne 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?

Working Through Fear in 4 Steps

Every writer faces hurdles. They are a fact of life. Many factors play into the writing life.

Imagination.

Creativity.

The ability to say what you mean in interesting and understandable ways.

But there is one thing that surpasses all of the skill and talent in the world. A friend of mine calls it stick-to-it-ivity. Without it, you’re just a well-intentioned and talented wannabe.

There’s definitely a lot of stick-to-it-ivity involved in writing but there’s more to most writing problems than not being able to stick with something.

In a word…

Fear

Working Through Fear in 4 Steps

Fear comes in many forms. Some of them are obvious.

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of backlash
  • Fear of rejection or negative feedback
  • Fear of not being up to the task
  • Fear of looking stupid, silly, (insert your own)

Other fears are more subtle. So subtle we may not recognize them for what they really are.

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of having to write the next novel if the first does well
  • Fear of living without the safety net of a “real job”

Each of these fears are just as legitimate and potentially debilitating as the fears in the previous list. If you suffer from the fear of being successful or of writing a successful novel and having to write a second successful novel, you’re just as likely to give up on writing as you would be if you were afraid of failure or ridicule or anything else on the first list.

What’s a Writer to Do?

Approaching the Hurdle

Face your fear. Go right up to it and look it in the eye.

The first step is recognizing and acknowledging your personal terror. Look it in the eye and face it down.

It won’t be easy. Quite likely, it may take some time to overcome. You will probably have to call on the support of your writing friends, but that’s all right because they’ve probably already been there.

Or maybe they’re facing their own fearsome hurdle at the moment and you can help each other.

Hurdle Beginning Jump

Take the first step toward overcoming your fear. Be prepared to work with fear for a while.

Next, take the first step in overcoming your hurdle. What is that? Just getting started.

Don’t wait for the fear to go away because it probably won’t. You may need to resign yourself to working in fear for a while. The true mark of courage isn’t a total lack of fear; it’s acknowledging the fear and moving forward anyway.

Hurdle Landing

Once you’ve started, keep going. Do the next hard thing. Write the next word. Or the next book.

After that, it’s a matter of putting one foot ahead of the other. Writing the next word or page or chapter. Doing the next hard thing. Following through.

I can tell you from personal experience that this isn’t a once-done-and-over battle. You will get better at facing down whatever fear keeps you from writing, but there will also be times when it’s a daily battle. Sometimes hourly.

Hurdle Success

You may never leave fear behind, but imagine the thrill of victory each time you overcome it!

And even if you do overcome whatever fear is standing in your path right now, there will be another.

I guarantee it.

That’s. Just. Life.

But successfully dealing with whatever fear lies in your path is a great motivator to keep going. To try again, whether it’s a new battle or the same old foe.

The best tool–the only tool–I have for facing down personal fears is to turn it over to God. I can’t overcome fear on my own. No matter how determined I am, sooner or later, the fear comes creeping in like smoke under a door and before I know it, I’m breathing its deadly fumes again. Turning it over to a power greater than I frees me to write or do whatever task needs to be done.

Most of the time, the knowledge that it’s no longer up to me to battle fear and  do whatever I need to do is all that’s needed to get me started.

Keeping me from getting started seems to be fear’s most secure stronghold, so that’s the moment when fear is best defeated.

Maybe it’s the same for you.

Don’t let the fear win.

Is There a Right Way to Write?

Is there a right way to write? Should you write your first draft, then edit or edit as you write?

That’s a debate that’s been going on almost as long as there have been more than two writers living at the same time. I don’t expect to resolve the issue here. Indeed, I don’t expect to resolve it at all. Those who have settled into their routines swear by them and will probably never change them.

This post is for the writer who may still be new enough to the business to be looking for their best routine. I’ll describe the three major categories, then share a primary advantage and a primary disadvantage to each.

The rest will be up to you!

By the way, this is not a discussion on the virtues of pre-planning or writing by the seat of your pants. All three of these methods work for Planners, Pantsers, and Tweeners.

Is There a Right Way to WriteWrite and Edit Each Day

You write and edit in the same process. After writing each scene or chapter, you go back over it, making it the best it can be before moving on to the next. You may write in the morning and review in the afternoon or write one day and review the next, but it is likely you’ll give the writing time to “cool off” before you go back and edit.

Primary Advantage

The first draft written this way is generally more polished—not to say well-polished—than a first draft written any other way.

Primary Disadvantages

It takes longer to write a first draft.

It’s easy to get hung up on a chapter or to obsess so much that forward progress is slowed or lost altogether.

Write the First Draft, Then Edit

You write the entire first draft first and give no thought at all to editing. This is the creative phase and is not to be interrupted. You probably don’t even reread the previous day’s work before launching into fresh writing.

Write fast and, if possible, with no thought beyond getting words on paper.

Primary Advantage

The first draft is generally finished more quickly than if you edit as you write. It’s possible to write a complete first draft in 30 to 90 days. There’s nothing like the rush of enthusiasm—or relief—that comes with reaching this milestone. Those who have successfully completed NaNoWriMo know exactly what I mean.

Primary Disadvantage

The finished first draft can be a mare’s nest of plotting and character development problems—as many who have successfully completed NaNoWriMo also know! Writing the first draft is faster, but editing is slower and may involve a lot of rewriting.

Somewhere in the Middle

You salt your writing with a little editing. Perhaps you begin the writing day by reading the previous day’s work.

The difference between this method and the first method is that you’re not doing heavy editing. For example, when I begin writing each day, I review what I wrote the previous day to warm up my writing muscles and to get back into the story. If I find misspelled words, I correct them. If there’s a better word choice, I’ll change that, too.

But I don’t make major editing changes. This is just a warm up exercise, like stretching before a run.

Primary Advantage

This method is a great way to overcome the obstacle of writing the first word every day. By the time you get to new writing, you’ve already written a word or two!

Primary Disadvantage

Reviewing the previous day’s work may derail any fresh ideas for the day.

Conclusion

These are not the only three options. They are, in fact, only three points on a continuum that begins at one end, with writing and editing at the same time, and runs all the way to the other end, keeping writing and editing separate. You may find your best writing routine to be somewhere between two of these points.

Or you may find yourself using different methods at different stages of the writing process or for different stories!

However you write, finishing first drafts is all a matter of focusing on the task at hand without completely ignoring the other half of the equation.

Finding Time to Write

What’s the biggest problem confronting most writers?

Finding time to write

Most of us juggle a full family life, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities. We’re already busy. How can anything else—even writing—be squeezed into an already jam-packed schedule?

Finding Time to Write

I don’t have a solution that will solve the problem for every writer. Lives and schedules are too varied and complex for such a simple solution.

But I would like to suggest that the first step in finding your solution is changing the way you look at the problem.

For me personally, the real question was not how do I find  time to write, but how can I make  time to write. Why is that distinction important?

2015-06-17 Clock fleur de lisI’d always treated writing as something I did when I had large blocks of time available. Thirty minutes were good, but an hour was better. Even back then—before marriage, a major move, and new family obligations—there weren’t very many days when I could block off an hour of writing time unless I got up early or stayed up late. (Legitimate ways to make time to write, by the way.)

I had to stop trying to find large blocks of time and instead look for ways to make time to write.

2015-06-17 ClockMinutes Add Up to Hours

The easiest way to make writing time was to look at my daily routine. How was I already spending my time? What activities could I stop doing to make more time to write? Things like watching TV, for example. If I gave up one program a week, I’d have 30 to 60 minutes to write. That much extra time a week adds up pretty quickly.

But what about odd-and-end minutes throughout the day?

I worked at the local newspaper and usually ate lunch by myself. Sometimes in my car at a local park. It turned out that time was perfect for proofreading printed pages. I started carrying a notebook and red pen and proofreading while eating lunch. If I didn’t have something to proofread, I wrote longhand (this was before the days of laptops).

I also found bonus writing time just by keeping a pen and paper with me at all times. Jotting notes on things I saw or heard, ideas for new stories, or thoughts on the current work-in-progress allowed me to turn any moment into a writing moment.

Optimizing Time

Learn how to optimize even short blocks of time and you’ll find all kinds of room in your day-to-day schedule for short spurts of literary creativity. Here are just a few:

Are there five minutes in your usual morning routine? Maybe between the second and third cup of coffee?

How about lunch? Are there five or ten minutes to spare in that routine at least once or twice a week?

Your turn to cook tonight? Once the ingredients are assembled and you’re in a waiting period for something to simmer, heat, or roast, why not use that time?

Waiting in a doctor’s office? Forget the magazines. Do some writing.

With modern technology, it’s easier than ever to turn spare time into writing time. Dictate notes to your phone. Snap images of interesting locations. You can even record scene ideas or scenes if you wish and transcribe them later.

Make use of those odd moments scattered throughout most days and you’ll be surprised how much you can get done.