Writing anything really can be divided into major stages:
“The Writing” and “The Rewriting.”
The writing is really all about getting the story out on paper, regardless of how ‘pretty’ the writing is.
A bit part of getting the story out is getting the words written and a bigger part of that is evading the ‘Internal Editor’.
The best way to get past an Internal Editor is just to write as fast as possible, going forward and not stopping to correct errors or second thoughts or whatever. By doing this, we get words on paper which is the entire point of writing: to have something written.
While this is great, all this fast writing often leaves us with a hot steaming pile of words that only vaguely resembles a finished novel
But it’s a first draft.
The challenging thing about first drafts is that at the end, you feel like you’ve climbed a mountain, finally got to the summit, then looked up to realize that the real summit is on the other side of a valley of revision and rewriting and then another mountain of rebuilding a second or third draft of the novel.
You realise that all the hard work you put into a draft is only the start of the process.
The end of the process is having a piece of work that you feel is as good as you can possibly make it be.
But to get there, you need something that you can work on.
The first draft is just there to get you to the next stage.
An analogy is that it’s a lot like lifting weights: it’s usually the last two or three ‘reps’ in a set that are the ones actually building up the muscle, but to get to those useful reps you need to work through the first half-dozen reps or so. Are those first reps productive in themselves, in terms of building muscle?
Not really, but it’s only by doing those reps that we can arrive at the point in a set where our muscles are aching and in the physical condition that allows for muscular growth and success.
A first draft is like those first reps. It’s not intrinsically valuable, in that it is not publishable or finished. But it is the foundation that we must have in order to reshape the story.
You need the lump of clay to make the vase.
We must learn to view the First Draft as built on sand, not carved in stone.
One of the hardest parts of looking at revision as re-vision is that we often get attached to first draft scenes and characters that we must extensively rework or even get rid of in second, third and subsequent drafts.
You want everyone you started off writing about to be there when the curtain comes down on the process, heck even at the Cast Party if possible.
But you know that even the best characters sometimes don’t fit.
But how do you go into the re-drafting process with that knowledge?
In a way it’s like leading a squad into battle and knowing that not all of them will be there at the end:
Your characters from the first draft trying to survive the editing process:
How do you stay invested in characters that may die?
I think the answer is in assuming or pretending that a character won’t die (we usually don’t know who might not make the cut in the next iteration of the novel.)
Write your characters as well as you can right from the start; it is good practice to have dynamic characters, regardless of their ultimate fate.
(And who knows? There might be a spot for them in your next piece of writing.)
And here is the part of the process that you can yield the most best results in your writing:
Take your first draft and put it away and forget about it for a while.
This is common advice; almost every professional writer advocates for this, if you can afford to.
And there’s a good reason it’s so popular as advice.
Because it works.
When you have pretty much forgotten about the specifics of the draft, you come back to it and look at it with new eyes, the eyes of the reader-writer.
You need to look at it like a reader because you need to read the work as if it is a stranger’s work, look for the parts that work for you and the parts that don’t.
Be able to say to yourself, “Would I want to read this this if I had to pay for it, either in money or time?”
Read like a writer to see if the work tells the story the way you want it to, if the story that is there is the one you want to work with.
And then make the resolution to manipulate the text and the structure to create the story you’d want others to read as a writer and the story you’d want to read as a reader.
Re-think everything if need be.
Re-affirm the parts you want to keep.
Re-linquish the parts that don’t fit in the new vision you have of the work.
Then courageously re-work the writing.
The thing is to not fear re-visioning your writing, because fearing it makes you resist the need for revision and the thought that you can get away with not having to do it extensively, when that might the very thing you need to do.