Hi, Dave Fessenden here to talk to you writers out there for this Friday’s blog. If you have completed your first draft, let me be the first to say it: Congratulations! Go ahead and celebrate. Bask in the glow of accomplishment. Take the tribe out for a nice dinner.
Are you done celebrating now? Good, because you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you!
They say that revision and rewriting is where the real writing begins, and you have to know that’s true when you look at the average first draft. If you’re like most writers, your first draft is pretty bad — a sad parody of what you envisioned for your book. Now, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to fix it?
The job may seem overwhelming, but there is a simple way to break the work down. Start by reading over the manuscript. Print it out with nice wide margins for notes, and read it all the way through, looking for rough spots — places where the wording is awkward, the argument flawed, the grammar tortuous. And there may also be spots where something is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it. Don’t bog yourself down at this point, trying to identify exactly what the problem is — just mark it for correction with a check in the margin.
As you read, keep a copy of the original outline (such as the chapter-by-chapter synopsis from the book proposal) at your elbow, and make sure everything you planned to put in the book is there. When I do this, I usually discover that I forgot to add a few major items, such as study questions at the end of each chapter. Alternately, I may also find that I’ve included material that wasn’t in the original outline, and may or may not be worth keeping.
Make notes to add or subtract items as needed, keeping in mind the length of the draft in comparison to any word count requirements you may have for the book. Some authors tell me they overwrite, and need to trim their draft down quite a bit. I wish I had that problem — my first draft is frequently as little as two-thirds of the length I had planned.
Since your outline is a guideline, not a strict list of “must-haves,” you may decide that those things you omitted or added to the draft make for a better book. But often your review of the draft in light of the outline will reveal much that needs to be added and/or subtracted. You may even find areas that need to be changed in a way that differs from both the draft and the outline. Go ahead and make notes of these changes in the margin, but don’t get yourself bogged down in actually making changes yet. This is still the analysis stage of revision.
Once you’ve gone through the entire draft, you may want to do a second pass with each individual chapter, going into more depth with your marginal notes. By then you should have enough marginal notation to begin making actual changes. If you’ve done a good job with your analysis, you may be surprised how quickly and smoothly the revision goes.
David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant. He has degrees in journalism and theology, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing. He has published several nonfiction books and written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, his first novel, reflects his love for history and for the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan-Doyle. His latest title is A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal, the first in a series of ebooks for Sonfire Media.