Okay, so we’ve finished creating our first written piece. Our brain tells us that it’s shiny. Now we want to let others pay us to put it in their publications. You’ve started to print it out, stuff it in envelopes, and seal them closed.
Those words aren’t ready for the light outside of your writing room just yet. The first sitting, the first writing that everyone calls a first draft, gets the idea onto the page. That’s great. This first draft now needs smoothing.
Imagine if a carpenter built a bookcase, then tried to sell it without any sanding or painting.
We can say the same for a story.
When first written, a story is rough and has sharp edges, missing pieces. No writer that I’ve spoken to, read about, or worked with has EVER put out a perfect first draft. Perhaps there’s a slip on the point of view, or a shift in the tense. Maybe your protagonist ran over the same dog three times. (If this is a Groundhog Day story, then that might be okay. Other stories, so not good.) In any case, you’ll need to get out the pen and start to “sand” the edges of your story.
During your first time going after your own writing, you may not know your personal writing weaknesses. Everything looks great to you. The more you write and edit your personal works, the more you will learn where you frequently err. That allows you to correct the problems. Even professionals will miss errors sometimes, as seen in printings of popular authors. Of course, experience will also allow you to repair those errors during the creation of the first draft, and new problems will present themselves.
When you finish writing a piece, set it aside.
Begin a new project.
Take care of that week’s worth of household chores you ignored while creating the story.
Let the words percolate on the page. Let the rush of the initial story creation leave your system. Some writers require a greater break from a piece of writing than others do. I have to let something sit almost six months before I can edit it honestly. If you go to the piece, but still feel the initial glow of creation, step away again. The idea is to get away from the piece long enough that when you look at it, the inner editor can push past the artistic creator and poke at the holes it finds.
Yes, we are about to free the dreaded inner editor.
Once you can look at the words objectively, (Oh, who am I kidding here?) you’ll want to review the story.
Read it aloud. You’ll feel foolish at first, but it does help. Listen to where you stumble. Notice where maybe you filled in words that didn’t appear on the page. Consider how you pause when you read the sentence. Does that sentence have the proper comma or other punctuation? If you have a printed copy that you can mark, do so. If not, make the corrections to your story right there. Another thing you’ll learn as you write is which editing style works best for you: on screen or on paper.
Pay attention to spots where the sentence structure doesn’t change. If a subject verb combo shows up multiple times in a row, chances are there’s a problem, unless it was done for stylistic reasons. If you start more than two sentences in a row with the same word or pronoun, it’s a similar problem. Consider how boring it might be to read something like this.
The cat walked through the room. The cat pounced on a moving object. The cat chewed the mouse. The cat walked away.
It contains little push to the story. Yes, there’s movement, but not anything that might drive a reader.
After this first pass, you can start poking the deeper problems. Does the description run for three pages with nothing else happening? Has your research taken over a character’s mode of speech so he sounds like an encyclopedia? Did you spot a plot hole that a mouse could wiggle into and start to widen?
The first draft will never be perfect. Even big writers like Stephen King and Piers Anthony both admit this in their autobiographies. Your job, once the story is written, becomes to polish it until it shines.