You type those words, lean back, and take a deep breath. The next Great American Novel is finished . . . well, the first draft is anyway. So now what do you do? You start on the second draft, right? Well, of course . . . but maybe not. This is what you call a fork in the road. Which path do you take?
One choice is to immediately start at the beginning and reread, and edit, your new manuscript. Comb the words for weak dialogue that should be improved, poor descriptions that could be beefed up, misspelled words (I tried to misspell misspelled, but auto-correct corrected it), and inconsistent descriptions. Examples of inconsistent descriptions are a man who started out as a Brad Pitt lookalike in chapter one, but in chapter 13 he is now Danny DeVito’s twin. Another example of inconsistency is where you use the name of a minor character early on, then his name changes late in the story. He’s only a minor character, right? Readers catch these mistakes, trust me.
The other choice is to put the manuscript on the back burner while you map out the next Great American Novel, you know, the sequel to your first New York Times Bestseller. Give it a few weeks to rest on your hard drive (with the back-up copy on one, or several, thumb drives). You might be surprised when you go back for the second or third draft. It’s like looking at your manuscript with a fresh perspective. You may not make many changes, but I’m thinking that you might sharpen your dialogue, put more senses into your locations and the surrounding environment, and maybe add a new minor, but important twist to your storyline.
Read Out Loud
One last thing to consider is, read your manuscript out loud to yourself. Doing this little exercise can be revealing, especially with dialogue. If it sounds strong when you read it in your own voice, you can be confident that others will have that same experience. If it sounds weak and contrived, well, you know you have to take care of that in draft number four . . . or so.
So, finish that manuscript, decide which path to take, then get moving on the second draft, and the third, and fourth, and so on. At some point, you just have to declare that it is done. Then read it one more time. Make it your best work. It just might be the next Great American Novel.