The first draft of my humor novel Royal Flush took me 18 days to write.
I wrote it for a contest. 18 days before the deadline, I decided to turn a series of short stories I’d been working on into a novel. I started writing, at a rate of 10-15 pages a day. I had no social life for the duration.
When I finally submitted it—after pulling an all-nighter and writing the final word at 6 AM the day of the deadline—I was incredibly satisfied. Well, actually, I was incredibly sleepy. I slept most of the day.
After I woke up, though, I was incredibly satisfied. “Awesome!” I said to myself. “One novel down! Done! Completed! On to the next one!”
But I didn’t move on to the next one—not that summer. I took a writing break. (I don’t recommend those, incidentally.) And when the contest was announced, Royal Flush got an honorable mention but did not place in the top three.
My great expectations were summarily deflated. When I received my manuscript back from the judges, I opened to the beginning, incredulous that my work hadn’t been lavished with praise and money (the top prize was $5,000). And then I spotted it: a grievous typo, right on the first page.
I experienced a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. How utterly unprofessional. I continued reading. There were at least three or four mistakes per page, of both the grammatical and the orthographical kind. Some of these completely changed the meaning of what I was trying to say—or to have the characters say.
There were also a lot of plot holes and contradictions. Characters that completely changed their views throughout the manuscript, without cause. Timelines that overlapped. Weeks with two Thursdays. That kind of thing
Gradually, it dawned on me that this book was far from “completed.” And, as I started editing and revising in earnest, I realized that most of my work was still ahead of me. In fact, having written three novels by now, I think it’s fair to say that at least 90% of the work awaits a writer after the first draft is complete.
As Ernest Hemingway so eloquently put it: “The first draft of anything is s**t.” (Note from Lillie: I like Lary Crews’s term, “pure green dreck.”)
The last thing you want is for your reader to get jerked out of the story’s flow because of a glaring mistake. But that’s what you risk by failing to edit properly.
I ended up going through ten drafts of Royal Flush. But don’t just read a manuscript over yourself—have multiple others read it as well. As a self-published author, I haven’t had the benefit of a professional editor to review my manuscript. However, over 100 people have read my early drafts—this includes friends, family, coworkers, and users of Authonomy.com. Whenever I give my writing to someone else to read, I always ask them to give me honest feedback, assuring them I can take it. Honest feedback is the only kind that’s of any use to me.
I generally don’t request that others read my work—I’ve been lucky enough that a lot of people have taken an interest in my writing over the years and have asked to see it themselves. But I do have three or four ‘first readers,’ who I feel comfortable asking to provide feedback on new work. The reason I feel comfortable is that I reciprocate—these are fellow writers, for the most part, and they know I’m always willing to review their work, as well. I’d recommend putting in the time to cultivate these sorts of relationships.
Even after all this effort to ensure your manuscript is thoroughly edited, chances are it will still contain a few mistakes. Every book is a work-in-progress—‘finished’ is just a word for when you’re able to let it go. But proper editing is about drastically reducing the probability that your reader will get yanked unceremoniously from the world of your story.
Scott Bartlett has been writing fiction since he was fifteen. His recently released novel, Royal Flush, is a recipient of the H. R. (Bill) Percy Prize.
Royal Flush is available in print and Kindle editions.