Not all writing is carefree, unabridged creativity. Some of it is hard. Some of it is REALLY hard. When I was writing Tiny Instruments, I certainly had days where I didn’t want to write - but even so, barring the occasional emergency, I managed to write 800-1200 words every day. I had a lot of pressure on me back then to prove myself as a writer, so I never took any breaks… at least until my first draft was completed.
When I edited my novel, it was a different story. I spent whole days staring at my bookshelf, organizing my desktop icons and making damn sure I saw every single Facebook post in my newsfeed. People rarely mention that working with a first draft is an indescribably painful experience. After spending months planning, writing and dreaming about my project every day and night, it was only when I read my first draft that I realized it was less than perfect.
Yes, getting to the first draft is easily the lion’s share of the work involved in writing a novel, but unfortunately, too many people never move past that - a lot more than you might think. I've known a many writers who managed to write three or four books, and never mustered up the strength to polish any of them. I've even edited books for people that were so wiped out by the idea of change that, after paying thousands of dollars, left their heavily marked-up manuscripts in a drawer for years before they felt comfortable enough to review the changes.
Post-manuscript depression is a real thing, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a myriad of things you can do to make that time a little easier. Below, is a short list of things that you should consider doing as you work on turning your first draft into a final draft.
Take a Two-Week Vacation
I took ZERO time off before I began editing. The day after I typed the final words of my book, I was going through a freshly printed manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. I was in a hurry to get my novel into the hands of my readers - but looking back, I probably would have finished a lot quicker if I had taken a two-week vacation. Unless you’re in danger of losing a multi-million dollar contract, why not take a little time off and reward yourself for your hard work? Going over what you’ve written is going to be stressful already; it’s best to allow yourself a deep breath before you take the plunge.
Do Things in the Easiest Order
The easiest order varies depending on the project, but I recommend, in general, that you make four passes through your manuscript. For the first, you change the minor things - the grammar or the clunky lines of dialogue - while taking careful notes of the major things that are too painful to deal with on the first pass. On the second pass, you go back and deal with the painful things at a slower rate, taking a fair amount of breaks in-between notes. For the third, you’ll want to work with a draft that has been carefully edited by your first readers, ideally non-professionals: your friends and family. The fourth draft should be completed by your editor, and should be by far the easiest of the four; any decent editor will give you two copies of your edited document: a copy with the changes shown as suggestions, and a finalized copy. Your job here is to read through the “suggestion copy”, and look for instances where you DO NOT agree with the editor. Once you’ve found them, you change them in the finalized copy, and send it off for print. Done.
Note: This is an odd section for me because it’s something I don’t actually do. Glutton for punishment that I am, I always go chronologically, and I often edit my own manuscripts without going through a third party. I give this piece of advice based on what I know I should be doing, not on what I actually do.
Create a Document of Important Changes
Okay, nobody is going to shed any tears when they turn a “your” into a “you’re” - but there are always changes that writers are downright terrified to make. What if you’ve realized that there’s no room for your character to have two brothers, and you decide to combine the characters into one “super brother” that takes on the actions and dialogue of both… Well, put bluntly, that’s going to suck. Inevitably, you’ll have to cut lines and scenes that don’t make any sense anymore. A big mistake that people make when dealing with these kinds of changes is to keep only two documents - the first draft, and the edited draft. They believe that they will have more than enough strength to go over everything side-by-side and decide which version is better… but hardly anyone can actually bring themselves to do that. I recommend creating a third document in which you paste both versions of significantly altered scenes - especially if you’re not sure about the changes made. In doing this, you’ll not only save yourself a lot of heartache - you’ll make it easier to make necessary changes without feeling bound to any version in particular.
The ability to let go is one of the most important traits a writer can possess. Often credited to William Faulkner or Anton Chekov, the advice “Kill Your Darlings”, goes a long way toward summing up the kind of fortitude it takes to make the changes necessary. It’s hard, but to be a great writer, you have to put your work above your feelings. Do what you need to do, but make it easier for yourself. Use a gun, not a rock.