I was helping Nephew with his second (or third?) draft of his story for his sixth grade class. For the assignment, they have to do 5 drafts. His knee-jerk reaction was what most high school kids say: fix half of it now and half of it later.
Dear Writers trying to be clever and skirt the system,
A first draft shouldn’t fix the first half of the story. It should fix half of the problems through the WHOLE story. (Ditto for essays, manuscripts, etc.) It’s easy to want to skirt by on a talented first draft and a spruced-up second draft, but that’ll only get you so far. School especially is designed to make everyone competent. It isn’t designed to make the talented excellent. So if you find a subject that comes naturally to you, it’s up to YOU to force yourself to improve.
Now, for longer works like books and theses, you’ll maybe only fix one or two things per draft (no where close to half). This is OK. It’s better this way, honest.
I’ve Been There
Here are some steps for planning your revisions:
1. Take your draft one step at a time.
- Don’t try to fix the world in one step. If the world is broken into a million different ways, you can’t fix it all at once. Same thing with writing.
- Set goals for each draft. Maybe you want to go for continuity and dialogue formatting in the first draft. Then go for secondary characters and setting in the second draft.
- You can fix grammar, spelling, syntax, and phrasing along the way, but reserve your editorial proofing eye for the final drafts.
2. Stay balanced. Don’t go crazy.
- I know what you’re thinking: look at the million issues in the draft! I’ll never get it all fixed up. Chill, bro. Take a deep breath.
- Know what you can change now and what can wait for later.
- You don’t want to try to do too much at once, because you’ll split your focus and you won’t produce the best work that you’re capable of producing.
3. Be prepared for criticism. Actively seek it out.
- If you fork your story/book/etc. over to a beta reader, be sure that you warn them: you want criticism, not a pat on the back.
- Ask them to mark what they are confused about and ALSO to mark what they liked.
- It’s easy to get lost in self-doubt and criticisms, so it’s important to remind yourself why YOU like the story.
4. Keep moving forward.
- Make a schedule if you’re a Determined Writer.
- If you’re a slacker, tell your beta readers they’ll get to throw tomatoes at you if you don’t finish the next draft by the summer solstice.
- Promise yourself a bowl of Raman Noodles if you get the next chapter of edits done.
5. Get some space.
- If you spend too much time with something, you lose objectivity.
- After millenia of writing the book and another millenia of editing, you need some space.
- Remember what the sun looks like? Remember warmth and fresh air? Remember (dare I say it?) beverages that aren’t the ambrosia-tainted gift of coffee.
6. Reward yourself.
- Give yourself a treat when you finish something or make a milestone.
- This may sound like bribery. It is.
- You’re bribing your brain into productivity. You’re giving your brain a reason to repeat the torturous, thrilling, and sometimes dull process of writing and revision.
Nephew might need some more convincing. He’s only 12, and he’s more focused on finishing the assignment than getting something out of it. But if you’re reading this and you’re not 12, then you have NO EXCUSE.
Zero excuses for those of you old enough know that improvement is tough, and pride is its own reward!