So, you’ve finished your first draft - hurrah, hang out the bunting, drink some Champagne!! You’ve spent months, possibly years, depending on how slowly you type/think, getting to this point. But, now what?
Things you are likely to feel:
Elation - unbridled, euphoric, happiness. All of the sweat, tears, cramped fingers, sore neck, and lack of socialising has been worth it.
Pride - even if you usually find it hard to give yourself praise, in this instance I’m sure you can manage it. You have done something awesome; you are awesome.
Shock - you never thought it would happen. You wanted to believe it would, but you never thought you’d manage it. Now that you have an entire book sitting in a Word document/Scrivener/million notebooks you can’t quite get your head around the significance of what you’ve achieved.
Excitement - you can’t wait to start editing. Your goal of having written and published a novel is within reach. You probably start to research editors and cover-designers, and think about what you should charge for your eBook version. You know you should slow down, because there’s still a long way to go, but there’s just so much to be excited about!
Sadness - you miss your characters already. They have been living in your mind, talking, moving, living their lives, every single day for months. And now they’re not. But, it’s okay, they are still there and you will talk to them again when you start on your second draft. Also, between you and me, you can still have conversations with them in your head - no one will know and, I promise, I won’t tell.
Fear - what if it’s not as good as you think it is? What if you read it and find that the entire thing is terrible and you need to start all over again?! You try to remind yourself that this is not very likely and, even if it needs work, a first draft gives you something to work on so it is better to have one than not to have one!
Things you should do:
Print it out - this may seem like a massive waste of paper but reading your work in a format that is different from the one you used to create it will help you to take off your Writer’s Hat and put on your Editor’s Hat. It will also give you warm and fuzzy feelings when you see it ‘in the flesh’. Tip: use 12 or 14 font size and double-line spacing. Single-sided is also great because it means you can write notes on the back of each page if you need to.
Bind it - this is optional, but highly recommended. Having everything nice, and secure, and held together means you won’t risk losing pages or, more important, any notes or comments you’ve scribbled on those pages. It’s also very satisfying and easier to carry around than a wedge of loose sheets of paper that will get crumpled and creased. Tip: if you Google, you will find lots of online companies that do comb binding, but I can recommend going to a Ryman’s store if you have one near you - they charged £5.95 to bind 267 pages and did it in 15 mins while I had a coffee in the Costa across the street.
Ignore it - yes, that’s right, imagine me being very stern and frown-y as I say this: Leave. It. Alone. Lock it in a drawer, carry it around with you if you must, but don’t be tempted to read it. Not yet, anyway. You need to give your brain time to exit Writer Mode. How long does this take? Some people suggest months, others say weeks. I say, as long as you can bare! A couple of weeks at the very least. Tip: if you can’t bring yourself to exit Writer Mode just yet, try making lists of any niggling questions you have for yourself and areas you know you want to go back and readdress in the second draft.
Do something else - maybe this will be writing-related, maybe it won’t. Maybe you haven’t bathed, showered, or seen your friends for weeks. Start with those. Go outside, go for a walk, watch some trashy TV. Try to switch your brain off from your story. And, if you’re getting writing-withdrawal, tinker with something new or different. Perhaps you’ve got an idea for a short-story lurking in a notebook somewhere? Perhaps you just fancy trying some free-writing. Tip: If you do decide to start a new writing project, try to choose something that you won’t get too carried away with. You want to practice your writing skills, but you don’t want to abandon your first draft completely!
Read - This is the ideal opportunity for you to remind yourself why you love books. Read, listen to podcasts, listen to audiobooks… all of these things will keep you firmly planted in the Author-Zone. Tip: if you haven’t already, reading something like K. M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel will give you lots of things to think about when it comes time to read your draft back and start editing.
Congratulate yourself! Don’t underestimate what you have achieved. If you have writer friends, they will understand how much emotional resilience it takes to write an entire novel, they will understand how difficult it is to push through the times when you just don’t feel like writing, or find solutions for a hole in your plot. Non-writers might not get it. But don’t judge them too harshly. Instead, take the time to tell yourself ‘well-done’ and marvel at how flipping great you are for getting this far. Maybe buy yourself a new notebook, or glittery pen, as a celebratory gift. And remind yourself that you can now, officially, say, “I wrote a book”. You will not be one of those people who spends their life saying, “Mmm, I reckon I could write a novel,” because you have actually done it and that is amazing.