Writing Analytics
Blog | 7 October 2020

How to Keep the Momentum Going After Finishing the First Draft of Your Book

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Writing the first draft is far from easy, but it isn't complicated. You set a goal and keep writing until you've reached the end. Every time you write something, you'll see the word counter inch closer towards the finish line.

Finishing the first draft is a huge milestone, but the journey hardly ends there. Now you have tens of thousands of words. Some of them are very good. Some you don't even remember writing. Some you'd rather forget.

Turning raw material into a publishable manuscript is a complex process which may end up being just as time-consuming as writing the thing in the first place.

When first-drafting, you have a clear sense of progress as you write. As long as you keep going, the words keep adding up. Revision, on the other hand, can feel chaotic and frustratingly slow. The word count remains roughly the same. You're making changes, but are you really making the book better? It can be difficult to feel productive, and your motivation dwindles.

Here are five tips to help you stay motivated during the editing process.

1. The First Reading

By the time the first draft is done, you have spent months and years working on it. It's time to take a step back. Stephen King recommends putting your book aside at least for six weeks. Take some time off or work on something else in the meantime.

With some distance between you and your book, it's time for the first read-through. Reading your own work can be painful. You may be tempted to start tweaking things along the way. Resist the temptation for as long as you can. It will slow you down significantly, or even stall you completely. Instead, make notes of anything and everything that doesn't seem right.

At the end of your first reading, you'll have lots of notes and a pretty good idea of what isn't working. Don't worry about catching everything. You'll keep finding more and more things during the many other revisions that will follow.

Prioritise the list and put all the major changes at the top.

2. Prepare the Manuscript

Make a copy of your manuscript, backup the original multiple times if possible. That will give you the confidence to cut and replace larger pieces of the narrative. Should you change your mind later, you can always come back to the original.

After that, break the manuscript down into chapters or scenes. Even if you don't plan on having chapters in the final version, they are invaluable when editing. Page numbers will move, but chapter numbers stay the same. (When adding new chapters, use decimals to fit them between two existing ones and only re-number at the very end).

Chapters will also make it easier to track your progress throughout the journey.

3. Work in Passes

When you start editing a chapter, it's tempting to fix the punctuation first. Maybe pull up the thesaurus and vary your vocabulary a bit. Then add a bit of description here and there. However, in the early stages of the editing process, changes like this are distractions at best and sometimes a complete waste of time.

Focus on the big issues first like plot and pace. By the time you're done with those, the chapter you were polishing might not even be there anymore.

The best way to stay focused is to work in passes. Set a clear goal for each pass and don't make any other changes to the manuscript until you reach the end. You may want to add or remove subplot, relocate one of the settings from London to New York, change the personality of a character, review speech tags or your use of adverbs. Each of these would be a separate editing pass.

In Writing Analytics, you can create a new project for each pass to keep track of how much work are you putting in. Some may take only a few hours or days; others will drag on for months.

Doing your revisions in passes will also ensure the whole book improves over time, not just the first few chapters that most writers tend to comb through over and over again.

4. Avoid Daily Goals

While a fixed daily word goal works great when first-drafting. It can do more harm than good when it comes to revision.

Because of the unpredictability of the process, some days you may burn through thousands of words with very few changes made. Other days, you'll be stuck trying to resolve an annoying plot hole. You will also spend days rewriting chapters without the word count moving.

Having a daily goal can leave you frustrated even when you've been working hard and making progress because it's so hard to measure.

To help you quantify your editing progress, the Writing Analytics editor tracks both the words you add and delete from a draft. That gives you a better estimate of your productivity.

5. Share Your Progress

Writing can be a lonely process, and revisions are no different. Many writers ask someone to keep them accountable to ensure they don't fall off track.

Writing Analytics allows you to share your progress with your friends or writing group to cheer you on.

When you share your project dashboard with someone, they will be able to see your schedule, how many words you've done, and how well are you doing against your deadline. They don't need a Writing Analytics account, and won't get access to your drafts or sessions.

Writing Analytics is an editor and writing tracker designed to help you write more. Sign up for a free 14-day trial today.