After the Draft: Next Steps

Take some time off, at least a couple of weeks, preferably more, before you return to revise.

At this point, if you are brave, you may want to find one or two trusted readers, people who share your literary tastes, whom you can trust to be both honest and encouraging. Let them read your draft. Accept their feedback with an open mind—which is to say, do not expect them to tell you that it is the most brilliant novel they have every read, and that any publisher would be a fool to turn it down.

Ask them to tell you what is working and what is confusing. Ask them what the best moments are in the novel. Ask them to tell you what scenes are most convincing, and what scenes fall flat. Ask them if the protagonist sparks their interest, and whether the conflict is clear.

Only do this if you are willing to hear the truth. We writers must have time, we must have a passion for words and an equal passion for reading, we must have patience and persistence and at least a little talent, but we must also have a thick skin.

Invite your readers out to dinner, or offer to mow their lawn or organize their office, because it takes time and mental energy to read someone’s manuscript. Accept the gift of their reading with gratitude and without defensiveness.

Listen closely to your readers, hear them, but don’t rush to make every change they suggest. Your readers can help you see where your intention and the readers’ experience diverge. They can help you see what you are doing well, and what aspects of the novel you need to work on. But they cannot provide you with the definitive answer on what should be done.

It is, after all, your novel.

Your novel, at this point, won’t quite be ready to get up and walk out the door. There is still much work to be done. There is the work of revising, the work of rearranging, again and again, until you get it right.

But you should be in a very good place right now. Have a bowl of ice cream or a glass of bubbly, pat yourself on the back, go see the friends you’ve been neglecting, take a walk, take a break. You deserve it!

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