Completing a first draft is a fantastic feeling. You’ve beaten the odds, shrugged off the doubters, and earned yourself a few rounds from your friends. Showing your mates the latest statistics on what sort of money authors make might just earn you another couple of sympathy drinks, so don’t be afraid to milk the situation. As I explained last week, with What We Saw, I’ve found a two-week period away from things really beneficial. But, at some stage, you’re going to have to return to it for a read through.
Firstly, let me get one thing straight: the read through is absolutely terrifying. Your sentences will be clunky. The pace will be all over the place. One minute, your protagonist will be a blond shorty, the next, a lanky brunette. Unfortunately, this is just natural. It happens to the best, and undoubtedly to the worst, of us. In my first read through, I found inconsistencies in names, heights, animal breeds, and motivations. It’s tough to take.
But, don’t panic! The first thing you need to remember is that YOU are your harshest critic. Just because it doesn’t quite match up with that idealistic vision you had of it in your head nine months ago, doesn’t mean that it’s bad, by any means. You are completely in control of your novel’s fate, and with the necessary changes in place, you can ‘fix’ things. It’s in your hands. It’s your destiny. I am your fath… no, wrong quote.
Resist editing at this stage
Don’t go running for that editor’s pen straight away, though. As tempted as I was to start sorting out those niggling typos and grammatical howlers right away, I couldn’t, because I’d saved it as an uneditable PDF document on my iPad. Damn you, Ryan! As much as my critical instincts protest, I would recommend this to anyone. Just have a read through, and see what ideas float through your head. Try to re-absorb yourself in the world of the novel, without thinking too much about how to change it at this stage. Stay positive. If you fancy, go back to your initial plan for the novel and remind yourself of its amazing potential. If you do lose belief in yourself, check this post out. It could be of great help right now.
I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s only natural for a writer to be critical of their own work. It is rare that anything looks quite as good on paper as it does in the head. However, the amazing thing about the first draft is that you do get the opportunity to make it better. It isn’t a school test: take some time out after your read through to mull things over. Go back to it with confidence and energy, ready to craft it into something to be proud of. Chances are, you’ve written a damn good novel, so keep your chin up and do yourself proud with the rewrite. As Michael Crichton once said, ‘Books aren’t written – they’re re-written.’
How did you find your first read through experience? What advice would you would offer to fellow authors to convince them not to lose heart?