How to turn your first draft into a published work

Next to tips on how to start writing, the question I am asked most is, ‘How do I know  what I’ve written is any good, and what’s next? So, thought I’d share my experiences of the writing process and what happens when you have ‘finished’ writing.

1. You’re not finished

The first, and important thing to realise is that when you’ve finished your first draft you’re not finished. There is a great quote from Ernest Hemingway that sums this up “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” SO, celebrate completing the first draft of what you have written, then put it aside for an hour, day or week. Then, re-read it, then rewrite, amend and change it.

You might do this several times, and it may take a long time depending on how much you have written.

Keep all your previous drafts until long after your writing has been published. They might come in handy, and there might be something in them that didn’t make it through the process that you want to keep.

2. Call in the professionals

Once you’ve got a final, first draft that you are happy with find a good editor and pay them to review/edit your work. This requires some bravery, humility and a good briefing document.

You need to be brave because the editor will send your document back with notations, marks and comments ALL over it. You’re polished piece of writing will look like a two-year old has picked up a red pen and scribbled everywhere. (See the image for this blog)

Editors are like us. They have different preferences, style guides, pet likes and dislikes about spelling, phrases, word usage and ideas about sentence structure. You will need to discuss your preferences and be clear about what you want the editor to do and not do.

3. Review, revise and focus on the detail

Rework you writing based on the editor’s response until you are happy with the final product. This may mean incorporating simple corrections or reconfiguring paragraphs or whole sections.

This is detail work, and not that ‘creative’. But don’t skip this step and don’t gloss over the editor’s comments. Every word counts and you want every word, sentence and paragraph to be the best it can be. Your name will be on the writing so it’s a direct reflection of you.

4. Care about how it looks

You might think that once you’ve reviewed your writing and taken in all the editor’s corrections that you’re now finished, and this is where many writers finish. But it’s not the end.

Once your piece is finished in many cases it will be provided to a graphic designer who will layout your writing according to the design template they work to. They may well add in images, pull-out text to highlight it, use different typography for some parts of the text . . . all sorts of design elements.

In doing this they may lose a letter, words, lines, sentences . . .and they’re not actually reading the text. The auto correct setting on their computer may change words (undoing the good work of you and your editor). Some even do a bit of editing themselves to make the text ‘fit’ the space they’re working with.

Once the design work is complete, read your work, again. Check it. Make sure everything is in the right place, that nothing has got lost in translation.

5. Watch out for widows and orphans

As a writer you also need to care about widows and orphans. I’m not talking about the human variety but the typographical variety. In design terms widows are a word or short phrase separated from the rest of a paragraph and left sitting at the top of the next column or the next page; orphans are a lone word at the end of a paragraph or the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a column or page. These and many other design conventions are just that. They don’t make your writing incorrect but they do help the reader read what you’ve written.

This is the time I get a proof reader to look at the final layouts. After writing it, reviewing it and checking it there’s simply no way I can ‘see’ it clearly anymore. It’s time to get someone who has never read it to check it . . .just one last time.

6. Publish it

Now you’re ready to publish and share it . . . and start the process with your next article, story or book all over again.

And remember. ‘The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike a brain surgeon.’ Robert Cormier.