If you want your story to be the best it can be, you have to write and rewrite your story, a lot. There are very few authors out there that can nail their novel on the first draft and those that can have been writing for so long that the final draft comes naturally to them because they have already worked the story in their mind three or four times before putting words to page.
Sadly, the rest of us aren’t so lucky.
For the rest of us, the first draft of your awesome story will be bad. Really bad. It will be filled with typos, continuity errors, tense conflicts, vague plots, and bad dialogue. When you finish your first draft though, there is a sense of giddy excitement that courses through your veins, a sense of accomplishment. You finished a freaking novel! You just graduated from the bottom 80% of aspiring writers and actually finished your work. You should be proud of what you have done!
Are you done yet? Not even close.
For the 20% of us that remain, we now have this hulking mass of story that your mother will tell you is great and your friends will nod and say they like it, but very few will tell you the truth (unless you have some very honest friends). You will even look at your novel and be tempted to think that you are done, the number of errors be damned. But this isn’t NaNoWriMo; this is your baby, your brilliance spread out into 300 pages of awesome. What you really need to do is put your baby to rest in the dark corner of your computer and leave it there, and no peeking!
For how long? At least a month, if not three.
When setting aside your novel, you need time for your work to escape your short-term memory. You need to forget the little details that you put into the story. Go do something else; write another story, play some video games, excercise, do whatever it is that makes you happy after spending months writing your heart out. And when you have reached the point that you go “Huh, I wrote a novel a while back. I don’t remember much about it. Maybe I should dig that puppy out and take a look at it.”, you go to your computer and fire up your novel for a fresh reading. Take your time to soak in all of the dialogue and plot that you spent months writing and you thought was a fantastic piece of literature.
Be honest with yourself, it was pretty bad wasn’t it.
I know mine was. I spent nine months writing my first draft of 113,316 words. I was stoked, people thought it was good, I thought it was fantastic. I then saved it onto my computer and went on with life for the next three months. I started writing this blog as a matter of fact. When I finally reached the point that I had forgotten a lot of what I had written, I opened up my wonderful first novel and read it from beginning to end. You know what? It was pretty bad. Bad enough that I cut out the last 37,000 words at the end of my novel and decided to rewrite the ending.
First draft never means final draft.
Anyone can write a first draft. It will have its issues and be a cluttered mess of what you want it to be. Second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts will help you perfect your novel so that it is a better, streamlined, and more fluid story with awesome dialogue, awesome plot, and kick ass descriptions. More drafts also means more practice, which means you get better at being a writer because you are teaching yourself what mistakes to avoid in the future.
Don’t write for perfection, draft until it is perfect.
(Disclaimer: Percentages provided are purely literary license.)