Editing – Part IV: the First Pass
June 4, 2011
June 19, 2011
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First Draft

Experienced writers often advise new writers that they should wait to get feedback on their work until after the first draft is done. When the ideas are still developing it is dangerous to share them too early because a well-intentioned friend may shred something that simply hadn’t had enough time to progress into something whole. I think it can be especially risky to share with a friend or family member who doesn’t write. People who don’t write don’t realize the amount of revision that your early draft will endure. A non-writer may look at your first draft and be expecting to read Grisham or Patterson. They might not realize you will rework and polish that piece of writing countless times.

My suggestion is to figure out your purpose before you ask someone to read something. If you want encouragement, someone to tell you that you should keep going, think about whom you want to share it with. My mom will tell me I’m wonderful, my husband will tell me the truth! Sometimes I need to hear praise, sometimes I need honesty.

With that said, the only people I share an early draft with are the three women in my online writers group. From them, getting an early read on the beginning of a project is extremely helpful. I have a wonderful writer’s group, small but mighty, and their advice often helps me work through early problems that I didn’t realize were there.

Here is a perfect example. I’ve started my second book in the series. I loved my opening scene because it’s been with me for quite some time, in the back of my mind, waiting to propel a new book forward. When I was finally able to connect the scene to a full-fledged plot I was thrilled. However, I shared it with my three writer friends and discovered they all had issues with the beginning. They all agreed – the beginning wasn’t engaging enough. My main character wasn’t conflicted enough. And, this first scene was driving much of what followed in the book. Hearing that early on, I was able to make a swift in-flight change and my book will be much better for it. Linnet, Merry and Mella – Thank you!

Ultimately, that opening scene spun out the entire plot for my second book. I’ve since reworked the beginning and I believe it’s much stronger. Instead of a catchy opening, I hope to develop a scene where the main character has so much at stake that the reader can’t help but to keep reading. Half way through the book now, I’m going back to the beginning to make sure the protagonist is not only engaged with the investigation as a cop, but also on a personal level. Every murder can’t involve a close friend/family member, and it may not even put the cop in grave danger – but the cop better have something at stake. The reader has to be rooting for them – hopefully sitting up late at night, worried what might happen next. I’m not there yet with this book, but I’m working on it.

Next week: Word Choice