Sis boom bah!
The first draft of my next Mike Romeo thriller is finished!
Completing a novel is such a great feeling, don’t you agree?
Be ye plotter or pantser, plodder or pounder—whether you write like the Santa Ana winds or like the groundskeeper at the La Brea Tar Pits—typing that last page is always a lovely moment.
How could it not be? You’ve done something only a few people on earth ever do: You’ve transposed a fictive dream in your head to the pages of a completed manuscript so it can be shared with others.
Sure, your novel may be dreck, but by gum it’s your dreck! You labored over it and brought it forth into the world. The good news is dreck can be improved. As Nora Roberts once said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”
So the first thing you should do when you finish a draft is this:
Luxuriate in the moment. Enjoy it. You earned it. Take the rest of the day off.
On the other hand, you could be like Anthony Trollope, the legendary quota man. If he wrote “The End” and saw that he needed another five hundred words for his quota, he’d sigh, take out a fresh sheet of paper, and write “Chapter One.”
Me, I like to take a full, one-day break and do something fun. Like drive to the ocean with Mrs. B after picking up a couple of world-famous fish tacos at Spencer Mackenzie’s. We have a favorite spot on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway for you out-of-towners) where we can park and listen to the waves as we munch.
Or pop some champagne at home and watch a classic movie.
Or anything else that springs to mind. The main thing is to do something to celebrate. Writers need rituals, too.
Then it’s time to get back to work, which means two things: revising your draft and working on your next project.
I’ve always counseled getting some distance (4-6 weeks) from a first draft, then sitting down and reading it through in hard copy, taking minimal notes. You’re trying to come at it like a reader, not the author. You want to analyze the big picture: plot, characters, scenes. Are they working? Are there holes that need patching? Are you sufficiently bonded to the characters? Is it page-turning?
I then fix—or strengthen—those elements.
Then I give the manuscript to a trusted editor for the first pass—Mrs. B. She has been the first reader on every one of my manuscripts and always improves them. She’s especially adept at picking up plot inconsistencies or confusions.
And she puts up with me. When she’s reading quietly in her nook I’ll sometimes walk by, casting her a glance, wondering what she thinks.
“Reading!” she’ll say.
“Oh, sorry. I was just on my way to get a glass of water.”
Cindy’s cop voice: “Move along now. Nothing to see.”
After I incorporate her notes and fixes, I submit to my beta readers.
Then final fixes.
Then a polish. I primarily look at dialogue and scene endings. I find that cutting is an almost foolproof technique. Cutting flab words in dialogue gives it extra verisimilitude. Cutting the last line or two of a scene almost instantly creates more forward momentum.
Then I get a proofread.
Then I’m ready to publish.
Launch day for me is more sedate, but still a time to enjoy the moment.
So let me ask you: Do you have a “ritual” for when you’ve typed that last page? Do you celebrate?
Do you have system (a series of steps) that you follow after your first draft?