The first draft of any novel is bad. In fact, do a Google search and you’ll see just how common writing that awful first draft is. (As common as breathing) I’m disorganized. I think in loops not straight lines. Following time-tested ways to write is like trying to melt the snow off Mount Everest for me. After years of hating my brain, I realized that my brain is my brain. So I embraced the idea of the messy first draft by following these steps. (They’re more like intuitive approaches than set-in-stone steps.)
1. Write that terrible first draft with as much gusto as possible.
2. Rewrite that mess to make it a real story.
3. Add some style to your writing and make the characters and plot pop.
4. Hire an editor.
5. Rewrite based on the editor’s feedback.
6. Hire beta readers.
7. Rewrite based on the beta readers’ feedback.
8. Hire another editor for grammar and small details that all of the above intuitive approaches will surely miss.
9. Have a drink because you earned it.
I call this the layer method: the intuitive based approach to writing a book. Now it may sound like steps, but once you actually start to do this method you’ll realize how freeing it is. Steps say you have to do this. I’m saying you’ll do all this because it’ll make sense to do it this way.
Allison and I (Allison is the detailed oriented half of Beta Witches) have seen our clients make the same mistake over and over. They never embrace that first draft as the mess it is. (Don’t be offended all the professionals have awful first drafts too and know they’re awful. Mine was like skunk feces.) The clients really think that the first draft of their (usually premier) novel is going to give them worldwide acclaim, or at least a good place on Amazon’s best of lists.
It’s not. There are exceptions but don’t hope for that. Aim instead to write a first draft that has the elements of a good story. So many writers try too hard and forget that the story has to be an actual story not a list of everything they’ve learned in life.
The first draft is the layer where you can add all the crazy things that you want the characters to do, think, and see. Write all the clichéd plot elements you want. You may even take another’s idea and write that.
Don’t be mad. Fifty Shades of Grey was Twilight fan fiction. The Mortal Instrument books were Harry Potter fan fiction. You eventually have to change that stolen plot to something you came up with or face a legal battle. Don’t say I said you could steal a story to publish as your own either. The first layer is the draft only you'll see. Got It? Good.
My point is that that first draft of your story is all yours to do with as you please. I’m specifically saying this because the pressure of having to get that first draft perfect is so why so many authors do one or both of the following: They start with unrealistic expectations and then have very hurt feelings via editors. They don’t pursue getting published.
My first draft made my editor actually apologize for her having to tell me it was bad. My last draft made a woman in India redo her life. That’s the power of an editor. Had I embraced how bad the first draft was I’d have spared myself all the pain and mental energy it took not to give up writing. Having adopted the layer method I’m really enjoying writing book seven. It’s a mishmash of voodoo, English aristocracy, erotica, racism, faith/spirituality, social satire/ awareness, and comedy.
Allison and I had a good long giggle over my seventh book's plot holes and messy parts. This is fantastic because my next layer will be for the reader. This first layer is for me to wrap my head around the purpose of the story and to give the book a beginning, middle, and end.
Remember this method is for the unorganized, but I do write out synopses. The thing is that my characters have their ideas of what they want to do, and I go with whatever they want. It's their story. This method works well with letting them have control.
During my next layer, I clean up all those odd pieces to make a coherent book. (If you borrowed a plot/world or characters then use the second layer to remake the story your own work.)
Next, I go back and delete all of the adverbs (as much as I can) the passive voice, the run-ons, the trite expressions, and the other nonsense that we all do. After that, I go through and add my style of writing. These two steps are one layer for me, but they might be two for another writer.
Some people may have style as early as the first draft, but I can’t. I’m not a naturally good writer (dyslexia). My vocabulary is a jumble in my head. For me adding the style later gives the book a clear personality. This way I can concentrate on how to word something instead of what I want to say.
Notice that I’ve done all of this before I hire my editor. Not a beta reader but an editor who checks the book for content: characterization, plot, tone etc. Please don’t skip this step because beta readers are not editors. If you can’t afford an editor then save for one. Do not put an unedited book on Amazon. The Indie authors are all getting flack because so many do it. It’s not good business. I have to pay in installments over the course of months (or years) to hire who I need to hire. My book is that important to me, and your book should be that important to you.
After the editor comes the tiresome rewrite. I promise you will be tired. Writing is a job. Writing well is a lifestyle.
Once you’ve done the last step use your sleepy brain to hire beta readers who will give you honest, constructive feedback. All beta readers can’t read all books. Allison and I turn down books. It happens. Once you feel that you’ve hired enough get another editor or beta reader to read for the small changes.
After that last edit, you’re probably ready to publish it and tear out your hair. Been there. Still there with my first book.
And that’s it. A bunch of steps that aren’t really steps. I can’t promise you’ll write a bestseller, but you’ll have the best book you can write.
Layer one-tell what you want to tell
Layer two- make it into a cohesive story
Layer three-write with style
Layer five-beta readings
Layer six-last edit for grammar and small errors