Updated: Jul 3, 2020
With the 4th of July coming up, and me being the American history-obsessed individual that I am… it only seems right to use the Declaration of Independence to funnel into talking about editing a first draft.
This isn’t to say I’m comparing writing the Declaration of Independence with writing a novel's first draft. Only that I’m pointing out some similarities. As you would between a pebble and a boulder.
They both have the same basic properties, but one is enormously more significant than the other. Obviously. So here are some of those small-scale similarities to ponder between America's founding document and the novel manuscript you just finished:
There was a lot of thought and effort that went into them.
No matter which way you slice it, they were written for personal purposes.
Finishing up the document didn’t and doesn’t mean the job is done. It’s only just begun.
In the case of the Declaration of Independence, the job, of course, was – and is – to secure freedom. Writing it up and announcing it wasn’t good enough.
Further action was required. There's always something looking to diminish freedom, after all.
The same basic idea applies to writing a first draft. It’s not good enough as-is. It’ll take editing a first draft… a few times over… before you can convince the powers that be of your story’s worth.
How was that for a 4th of July salute?
And here’s one more for the road: The Declaration of Independence turned the Founding Fathers from mere rebels into flat-out traitors.
They were already intensely flirting with the noose when they took up arms against the crown to demand their rights as British citizens. But they signed the legal papers to wed that rope when they signed their names to the Declaration document.
In so doing, they had to change their whole entire mindsets from British to Americans.
Thanks to them, you don’t have that same heart-wrenching, gut-roiling gear change to make. You only have to do the following.
Once you’re done composing your first draft, take your writing cap off.
Writing a novel is an awesome endeavor that’s (usually) fun and engaging and lets your creativity come out to play full force. But at some point, you write out your first draft’s “the end,” which means you’ve got to switch gears.
Once you’re done composing draft No. 1, it’s time to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like an editor. Or, better yet, like a reader. Your good opinion should no longer be the only one you’re striving for.
There’s now something and “someones” much bigger to take into account.
I can’t say I’ve ever been in the Founding Fathers’ shoes – a fact for which I’m forever indebted to them. But I do know something about switching between writing a first draft and editing a first draft.
I’d better, since I’ve done it 15 times now (and published 12 of those “switches”).
Admittedly, it can be a bit of a shock staring down at your supposedly once-perfect first draft. Reading over what you wrote is bound to bring out some flaws.
Sometimes some really, really big ones, at that.
But as we'll discuss tomorrow, that’s okay. You’re going to be fine, and so is your manuscript if you just give it the editorial care it needs.
Again, just remember to think like a reader as you’re editing that first draft of yours. Set your writing ego aside as much as possible, asking your reader-side whether you’re entertained enough...
Whether you’re informed enough... Whether you’re inspired enough... You know. All that good stuff.
If the answer is no, then change something to turn the answer to yes. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
Lucky for you though, editing a first draft? It has nothing on editing an international perception like our Founding Fathers set out to do those 224 years ago.
With that said, a very happy July 4th! Thanks to them, it can be... if we're willing to continue their work.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on editing a first draft here.