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5 tips for turning your crap first draft into a decent book

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series How to Win at Authoring

There it is.

The book.

The actual work.

All those ideas and characters and plots brought together before you. For some time you feared they might only live in chaos, within your messed up head, but it was not so. Your fingers galloped across your laptop’s keys like heroes riding into battle. They freed the elements trapped in your sick head.

Now you have finished.

Off this work can go to agents and publishers. You will hit the shelves of Amazon but not for long. For this story will sell faster than the Amazon elves can stock it.

So it was foretold.

By your girlfriend and mother.

Alas, all is not so well. ‘Tis true, the words on your screen are a wonderful achievement. Enjoy a pat on the back administered by you, a loved one, or even an attractive stranger, should it please you. But know this:

A completed first draft is but one milestone on your journey to becoming a rich, successful, and arrogant writer.

There are many more to come before you arrive.

Next of these are the dreaded revised drafts. Where you may take those words banged out in drunken frenzy and remould them. Turn them into a book that readers can traverse without feeling sick, confused or bored. Or some combination of the three.

There are many methods of editing. I shan’t go into them in too much detail here. It would take a long time, and this guide is not for those seeking real help.

In time, you will find the method that suits you. When you do, the tips below will help you no matter what journey you take from first to final draft.

So, here we go.

5 tips for turning your crap first draft into a decent book

1. Go make yourself a coffee (for a month)

For those of you like me. Although, for the sake of your sanity and prospects in life, I hope any resemblance is fleeting. You’ll be brimming with ideas on how to improve your book from the moment you finish draft one.

Lemme addit, you’ll be saying to the walls. Lemme dive into that bitch and start my editing post haste. I’ll have it fixed by morning.

But it’s time to show some restraint. Save that document. Hide it away deep with those items of which you are most ashamed. Your porn, your My Little Pony teddy, that letter in which you claim Star Trek is better than Star Wars.

Get it out the way, then go make a coffee.

For a month.

See, your novel is like your friends or your family. If you spend too long with it in one go, it’s going to drive you mad.

Okay, you can manage more than five minutes at a time. But it’s still important to take a few weeks away between drafts.

That way, you will return to it with a fresh mind, ready to begin. All those ideas you had will have crystalised. Some will be no good. This you will now know. Some will be perfect as they were. Some will have developed further.

Whatever the case, you will have much wisdom catalogued away. Ready to start the infamous draft two.

2. Ignore your mother’s advice (don’t be yourself)

Leaving time between drafts is great for getting your ideas in order, but that ain’t the only reason to do it.

You wrote this book, and that makes editing difficult right from the off. It’s not like a novel you pick off the shelves. To you, it won’t seem like fiction at all, most likely.

But, when it comes to editing, it’s important to give your book a read, and see it as your readers will see it. You need to get into the rhythm of it, feel it out. You need to try and forget you wrote it.

How do you achieve this? Reading it aloud is a good one, or sending it to your kindle and reading it on there as you would a real book.

All these might work but, in truth, I’ve always been mighty shit at reading as a reader, so I can’t be much help.

Once you work out how, let me know, kay?

3. Channel your inner Mike Myers (the serial killer, not Shrek)

Imagine you live in a swamp with a donkey.

Oh, sorry, did that joke in the title.

What this boils down to is that old adage: kill your darlings.

It means in our first drafts we write free and end up with a boatload of crap in our book what don’t matter.

When you edit, do it with your finger close to the backspace key. Remember, every line should either progress story or develop character. Anything failing to do this should be gone gone gone.

It’s easy to get attached. Especially to characters. But nothing can be there because it makes you laugh or you think it’s cool. You’re not Michael Bay. It has to earn its place.

So if it doesn’t add to the story in some very tangible way – get it gone!

4. Quickly, indiscriminately and gleefully get rid of those adverbs (get it?)

Almost every article on editing your first draft will tell you to cut adverbs.

Most will tell you to treat the adverbs in your story like Herod treated babies in Bethlehem – destroy them all.

This is poor advice not because adverbs are great (they suck) but because it’s impractical.

Ain’t no way you’re cleaving every adverb. Sometimes they’re necessary. What you’ve got to do is look at each case on its own merits. Use what little judgement you have to decide what stays and what goes.

For example, there is no excuse for writing “John ran quickly down the path”. Instead, write “John belted/ hurried/ sprinted/ yodled down the path.”

A tangible example from earlier would be when I put about fingers galloping across the keys. Good, right? Much better than saying “you fingers moved quickly across the keys…”

The tool I use to remove adverbs is Hemingway App.

People get angry about this. Say it’s impossible to follow every piece of advice it gives you. Say that Hemingway himself didn’t if you paste one of his articles into it.

These people are idiots.

The great thing about Hemingway is it shows you where all your adverbs are. Where you’ve used passive voice. Where your sentences are a wee bit too long and where they’re fekkin massive.

This is what we call advice.

It’s down to you as a writer to decide what works and what doesn’t.

Having said that, it looks mighty good (ah, shit, that’s an adverb, shoulda said ‘looks fab’) removing all the red marks. Leaving only white.

5. Be proud of yourself (then tear it all up and start again)

Oh, God. Think I was sick in my throat.

But yeah, this is true.

No, you’re not done. Yes, there’s a butt load of the way still to go.

But hey, you finished the first draft.

Do you know how many people have done that?


Nah, only twitching wit’ ya. It’s millions.

But more haven’t.

And who cares about everyone else anyway?

To your mother and me, you are all that matters.

So pat yourself on the back. Say well done for ploughing through and finishing the first draft. It’s bloody good work.

Shit book, but hey, you did it.

Right, done that? Good, now tear that shit up, and start redrafting. Turn that tat into something worth reading.

Go forth, kill adverbs, and I’ll see you next month when we talk about…



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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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