by Anna Bell
This week I finished the first draft of my latest novel. It suddenly went from being the worst thing I’d ever written, to actually not being too bad. What is it about finishing the book and starting the editing process that changes your perspective?
I’ve long been convinced that writing a novel is part writing talent, part ability to win the war of the psychological mind games that make you almost doubt every word you write. The novel I’m working on now is no different. I went through the usual word humps where I got stuck. At other points I wanted to cry as I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever written. I even almost gave up and emailed my editor to ask if I could write another book. All in all, I couldn’t have been more surprised that I made it to typing those magical words ‘The End.’ But with those magical words not only came relief and excitement that I get to start the editing process, but also the realisation that my novel was actually okay.
When I finish a first draft the first thing I do is I read through it. I send the document to my Kindle and I read it like a book. It’s really hard not diving in and editing the clumsy prose, but instead I keep a notebook by my side and make notes chapter by chapter. As I read I keep in mind the key questions for each chapter: Does it move the story along? Is the pace of the chapter right for where the chapter sits in the book? Does the story flow between the chapters or does it need extra chapters to help it along? It’s a given that I’ll need to do a lot of tidying, humour injection and rewriting in the first edit, but it’s useful to get an idea of how strong the structure of the book is first with this initial read-through.
It’s during the first read-through, too, that my book often turns from ‘the worst thing I’ve ever written’ to ‘not that bad actually’. The novel I’m working on now needs a good deal of tightening. It needs a decent timeline, clearer motivations for my protagonist’s actions and a few additions to bridge the chapters better but, fundamentally, it’s all there. It has a beginning, middle and end. It’s funny in places. The story is compelling and it works. It needs a huge edit and a whole lot of polishing, but that’s okay; now I’ve got the bones in place I can put the flesh on it.
It does make me a little cross though. For the last month I’ve been terrified about my novel – occasionally scared to write as I thought I was wasting my time. I was in such a state of fear and loathing my work that I was in a constant state of wanting to give up. Yet, as soon as I wrote ‘The End’, all of that disappeared. The only reason behind the shift, that I can think of, is that when you finish you get a new sense of perspective. You’re able to see the overview of your work and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
Now that I’ve done the read-through and I know what I’m up against, I’m excited for the editing to begin. I know where and what I need to do to fix and how to make the novel structurally sound. I’ll then edit it over and over again, each time refining and polishing, until I think it’s the best book I’ve ever written.
Does your perspective of your novel dramatically shift when you finish the first draft?