Writing Hacks #12: Understanding the true work involved beyond the first draft will prepare you for success

So you’ve finished your novel. Whatever happens now, take a breath because you’ve done something truly amazing! The hard work and effort that goes into it, only you truly fathom (but other writers will have a pretty good idea)! Do something to mark the moment, I love to go out for a meal with my wife and son. We aren’t celebrating exactly, more acknowledging a milestone. A first draft is definitely an achievement, but if you think 80% of the work is done then you’re in for a shock.

Picture this: you’re running a 10k race, you train for it, build yourself up mentally for the distance. You feel ready and are in good condition to run a good time. On race day, you’ve run 9km, it’s gone well, you’re tiring but that’s okay, you have only 1km to go and you’re positive you can do it. Then you realise it’s not a 10km run, but a full marathon of 24+ miles.

For a lot of people, that’s what they find out when they finish a first draft. A bit of tinkering around the edges and some light editing and it’ll be good to go right? Sorry! That’s the 9km point right there, and a marathon awaits. I think of the first draft as a third of the work done. The second third is editing and redrafting. And third, promotion and publication time.

Drafting and re-drafting : During my Masters we learned about the number of drafts done by bestselling author Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth), to paraphrase; expect to write the thing two or three times over at least. So if you’re novel is over 100k words you might end up writing 200k-400k words before finding the 100k that make the final version. I experienced this a little with Orca Rising, i rewrote the final third of the book maybe four of five times (complete rewrites), not to mention the redrafts in the rest of the novel. Feedback from your agent or publisher is invaluable here, my agent was great at getting to the heart of what needed to change succinctly and why. Yes, its a lot of work, but also a lot of fun! If you expect to do it, then it doesn’t feel like a chore, I now look forward to redrafting as much as the creative process of coming up with a first draft.

Publication time: If you self publish, as i did with my first novel Perry Scrimshaw’s Rite of Passage, then this is even more work; you need to proof, do the formatting, design or arrange for a suitable front cover and organise all of your promotional activities. You can pay for people to do this for you, it depends on your financial situation. I actually enjoyed doing this myself, it was really exciting to have total end-to-end creative control. If you’re lucky enough to have a publishing house behind you (as I did with Orca Rising), you benefit from their experience and contacts. The work you can put in here is totally up to you, whether you do blog tours, radio shows, book signings, workshops, school visits, contacting local press, entering competitions, sending out copies to get reviews, organising ads on platforms like Goodreads, Facebook, Kindle etc. There’s so much you can do, and I am certainly no expert here, but I have tried all of those things and the only absolute about them is that they take time, effort and in some cases money. If you’re mentally prepared for these things then you are more likely to meet the challenges they bring with success.

So that’s today’s writing hack; go in with your eyes open, be prepared and be positive; your first draft is a massive achievement, it proves you’ve got what it takes to go all the way, however long the way may be!

Happy writing, editing and publicising