I have spent the last two years working on my very first novel. I made it through the first draft and three rounds of editing so far. There was a round of beta readers in there somewhere, and along with hours of researching various articles on what to expect and how-to-write’s I found out that they all pale in comparison to actual experience. But there are some things I’ve learned along the way, both from experience and research that might help the next author-to-be.
The First Draft
First drafts suck. They just do— it’s how the universe wanted them to be. I believed everyone that told me this, but I didn’t realize how bad I would have to let myself be just to get my word count down in time (my first draft was ~74k words). But it was worth it, and in the end, I was able to correct what I needed now that I had a baseline to go off. When you get to the writing, you just have to write. But I do recommend planning it out. And when all is said and done, you can move on to editing.
Editing your novel will take… so… much… time. But that’s because it’s the most important step, and near any source will tell you that. It’s worth every minute you spend, because this is where you fix those mistakes you made in your first draft—the accidentally omitted scenes, the poorly named characters, and even rewrite what doesn’t sound the best it can be (which could be anywhere between none to all of it).
You must do this before you send it to your beta readers (which I will talk about below). There are two reasons for this. The first is out of respect for their time and effort. Your beta readers, unless you have money lining your clothes, are volunteers doing nothing but helping you out. It’s just common decency to make it the best you can before you involve them. It’ll save them time, and it’ll help you get the feedback you need – which is the second point for this. If you have countless spelling errors, you haven’t edited right. If you have countless spelling errors and turn it in to your beta readers, that is what you are going to get feedback on and they will completely miss overall themes, character development, plot, etc.
Critiques and Beta Readers
Whatever you expect from your beta readers, don’t. As I pointed out earlier, beta readers are volunteers who are lending you their time. Unless you set out a strict guideline for what you want them to critique (and somehow get them to agree to it), you will get whatever they decide to give you, and not every beta reader will fill it out. Things pop up and people forget, so make sure you have a backup plan in case your beta readers can’t get back to you in time.
When you do get critiques, some of them are going to hurt. I had a very difficult chapter to write and asked my girlfriend to proof read it so I knew what to work on. Her first response was, in the nicest tone she could muster, “I love your book, but if all of the other chapters had been like this one, I would have tried to persuade you to work on something else.” It hurt, but after a few rounds of editing it was a solid chapter. And that’s how it will be. Not always that bad, and not always that important. But you have to decide which suggestions will make your book better, and which you will ignore.