(Well) After NaNoWriMo: Editing my First Draft

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I used National Novel Writing Month to pen the third book in the Wolf Dasher series, Roses Are White. (You also know I overdid it and made myself terribly sick for the better part of two weeks.)

The thing about writing a novel (that they often don’t tell you for NaNoWriMo) is that you’re not done when you finish your first draft. The initial writing of the book is the hard part, but your work is really only beginning when you finally type, “The End.” Of the three novels, one novella, and three short stories I’ve published since becoming an independent author, every one of them has gone through a minimum of five drafts before release. Authoring a book is as much about rewriting as it is writing.

Yesterday, I finished reading and editing the first draft of Roses Are White. I never let anyone read my first drafts. It’s not so much shame or ritual as it is practical. I don’t want someone else to read it before I’ve had a chance to look at it myself, and, when I inevitably find things that need fixing, there doesn’t seem to be a point to letting someone else read it before I address them.

Frankly, my first drafts always contain the seed of a good novel (if they didn’t, I wouldn’t finish), but, like any first draft, they are usually clunky. There are story elements that need smoothing out. There are structural issues that require adjustment. There are typos and continuity errors. When I’m writing, I just focus on getting the story told, figuring I’ll fix problems in my later drafts.

So I was very pleased upon reading Roses Are White to find it in pretty good shape. The plot is not as action-packed as the two previous Dasher novels, and I was worried while I was writing that the book would be slow and need some real tuning. But as I read through it, I found the pacing to be swift and interesting. While Wolf is the main character, I deviate from his point of view a lot more frequently than I did in the first two books, and that enabled me to introduce numerous subplots and keep things fresh.

As I read on, it became obvious to me exactly when I became obsessed with trying to finish the book before the end of November and when I fell ill. Not only does the pace of the storytelling pick up in the last 10 to 12 chapters, so do the writing errors. My brain moves faster than my fingers when I type, and I often skip over articles and prepositions. But in the last quarter of the novel, I was forgetting bigger, more important words. In the last five chapters — those written while I was getting sick and recovering — I typed the completely wrong word several times per chapter. It was clear my concentration had deteriorated.

That led to a few structural issues too. The final three chapters barrel swiftly towards the climax, weaving together three different plot threads. Ordinarily, I would shift back and forth between scenes and points of view, cliffhanging each one and shortening the chapters to create excitement that makes the reader want to keep turning pages.

This time, my mania to finish was so strong (both pre- and post-fever) I wrote long chapters to get from the start of a scene to the end, staying in the same POV. The end of the book is still exciting, but it needs some tuning up. Chapter 37 deals with Wolf trying to thwart Dexter Rose, the villain, Chapter 38 focuses on Dragonblade’s quest to find Mother Gladheart, and Chapter 39 is all about Wolf’s climactic battle with Rose. I’ll be breaking those longer chapters up and weaving the scenes back and forth so that it reads more breathlessly.

But all that said, Roses Are White is a pretty strong novel for a first draft. That I was able to pull that off when I was obsessing on word counts and daily production is pretty amazing to me. At almost 100,000 words, Roses Are White is also the longest book in the Wolf Dasher series, which also seems incredible given that I was madly trying to get it written in a finite period of time.

Perhaps the best part of reading through that first draft, though, was that I did not get sick. I had a head cold courtesy of my mother, who brought it with her when she visited for Christmas, and that delayed the start of reading/editing the book for the first two days. But, once I began, no illness arose to smite me.

So now it’s time to start the second draft. That happens today. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll post here on my progress.

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