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The First Thing To Do After The First Draft | Shove It In A Drawer

The internet is replete with resources for writers. With just a few clicks, you'll find an abundance of tips, tricks, and how-tos for getting started with your first draft and seeing it through.

But what should you do when you've completed that first draft?

In my experience, many will tell you that it's time to jump into edits straight away. But as my process has evolved, I've realized they've skipped over a helpful step towards successful edits—what is, in my mind, the first thing you need to do after you've finished writing your first draft.

Well, the first thing you really need to do is celebrate because writing a novel is no small feat and you should absolutely be proud of yourself!

But what's the first thing you need to do after celebrating your writerly accomplishment?

Editing seems like a logical step. After all, now that you have a completed draft, the next thing to do is make it better. Polish it up, bulk up the weaker points, prepare to murder your darlings, so on and so forth.

I know you're eager, but before you go charging into edits head-first, take a step back.

Simply put, shove it in a drawer!

That drawer is typically metaphorical, but some writers will literally shove their notebook in a drawer to keep themselves from touching it. Some may even go as far as to have a trusted friend assign a password to the document and have them keep it a secret until time is up and they are granted access once more.

The basic idea is that once you have completed a first draft, hold off on edits for a short time.

It sounds counter-productive, doesn't it? After all of the time you've poured into this project, why stop making progress with it? Why shouldn't you jump into revisions as soon as you type THE END?

Here's a quick analogy that will help me explain!

Dough The Proofing Drawer

Think of your story like bread. If your recipe is anything like sourdough or the Amish Friendship bread my third grade class made together, you're tending to the starter daily beforehand, and doing so for a good while. Then you gather up your ingredients, measuring them precisely and painstakingly sifting the flour before mixing it all together into a plush lump. You knead it, perhaps taking some frustrations out on it along the way.

But before you can pop it in the oven, you have to let that dough rest. Depending on your set up, you might be leaving it in a bowl covered by a kitchen towel, or shoving it into a proofing drawer should you happen to have one.

See what I did there?

Proofing the dough allows a chemical reaction to take place with the yeast. The long and short of it is that giving the dough time to rise gives it structure. Skipping this step results in dense, rubbery bread. It's not pleasant.

Your writing might be the same.

You've possibly done some lengthy prep before sitting down to write the story and have spent countless hours drafting and weaving together this decent-sized stack of a document. And all you want to do now is throw it into edits.

But without giving your story (and yourself) time to rest between drafting and editing, the process can become harder to work through. You can end up slogging through a dense mess.

Editing, though sometimes tedious, is best when it feels rewarding. Those warm fuzzies you get when you finally figure out how to fix a longstanding problem

By not giving your story time to rest properly, you risk it becoming stodgy and tough to chew your way through.

Now, baking a loaf of bread and editing a manuscript aren't the same thing, taking a break before starting either step can make a huge difference!

Here are some more writing-specific reasons to shove your WIP in a drawer before you begin edits:

Fresh Eyes

Breaks serve multiple purposes, but suffice it to say they are a chance to rest, reset, and refresh.

Writing a novel requires a significant amount of time and brainpower, the demand of which can be taxing on you (especially if it's under tight constraints during challenges such as NaNoWriMo). When you've been staring at a project for too long, it can be difficult to pick out its imperfections.

Giving yourself a chance to refresh allows you to return to your WIP with fresh eyes. You'll be more likely to recognize typos and grammatical errors, plot holes, character issues, and anything else that is holding your story back from its best self.

The Creative VS The Critical

For the first draft, your job is simply to write. At the end of the day, it's about laying down a solid foundation to build off of during edits. It's a time to be creative and frolic with your ideas. To buddy up with your characters and go on an adventure with them.

But when it comes time to edit your work, you have to be in a different mindset. The process becomes stiffer. It's less about exploring and more about fixing things. You've come to the bridges you said you would cross then you got there. Now, you must be objective and cutthroat as you murder the darlings you befriended while drafting.

The shift from drafting to editing can be jarring because the both of them, though crucial, are so different. Taking a break from your story can make the transition easier because you have time to change gears.

Your Relationship With Your Writing

As writers, we often talk about how much we love the stories we're working on. Our characters become family. The setting feels like home.

But with any relationship, being so close so often can make for some frustration.

Working on the same project every day is a common cause of burnout. And when you're burned out, you start to lose your creative passion.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and that is certainly true for writers and their WIPs. Devoting so many hours to the same story and running in circles without rest can stir up odious feelings of vexation and umbrage towards it. At some point, it becomes a chore to sit down to work on it. By stepping back, you can keep the enjoyment (or at least toleration) alive.

Coming back after time away, you get to re-experience all of the joys you found while drafting. All of the little things you love about it, you begin to appreciate again.

The Details Of The Drawer

Now that we've discussed some reasons to shove your WIP in a drawer, we should consider how long to keep it in there.

This is totally up to you! Whatever your schedule and deadlines can reasonably accommodate will be some of the factors that determine the length of your break. It might last only a weekend, or you might go an entire month before starting on your edits.

Personally, two or three weeks is the ideal timeframe for me. If I'm away for longer than that, it can take a while to reorient myself and figure out where I left off (that's one of the reasons I struggled with getting back to editing Bound to the Heart this year).

The key is to leave it alone long enough to rest but not so long that your motivation comes to a standstill.

Even though you're not actively working on the story while it's in a drawer, you're not forbidden from thinking about it! This is the time my WIP-centric playlists are on full blast and on repeat, usually as I'm finding other ways of being creative. I'll also keep a running list of things I want to address when I do start edits so I don't forget them.

Taking a break after completing the first draft may seem like the complete opposite of beneficial. After all, how often are we told that we should be writing every day without fail? Shouldn't that include editing or any other part of the process on the road to publishing the final product?

Well, not exactly.

By stepping back and shoving your work in the drawer, you're able to give yourself the opportunity to rise to the occasion that is editing and have a smoother experience.

Remember, you are not completely abandoning your story! In truth, it's a productive pause. And a pause is not a full stop. It's a chance to recharge and come back stronger than ever.

(and also there's nothing wrong with taking a break during any phase of the writing process)



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