A friend of mine recently asked what she should do when she finishes the first draft of her novel. I mumbled something plausible and have since formulated a more coherent and comprehensive answer.
When the first draft is done, you should:
Simplistic, but true. Now for the specifics.
The first task is to check your structure by:
• Comparing your work to what experts advise via writing books. The authors invariably explain what elements must be present regarding characters, plots, dialogue, etc. Check to see if those elements are present in your own novel, and if so, are they in the right place and proportion?
• Attend a workshop that helps you work through the three levels of editing, the first of which is structure/content. In an act of shameless self-promotion, I'll be teaching The Art of Rewriting in July in the Bay Area, while I'll also conduct an online class in March 2010 (the details of both can be found under Upcoming Workshops on this page). You can also check out other in-person and online courses through such outlets as the Gotham Writers' Workshop, Absolute Write and genre fiction organizations such as the Romance Writers of America, which runs fabulous workshops for all writers.
• Join a critique group, which is easier said than done, given the variety of factors that can go wrong (quality of critique, mix of members, style of interaction, etc.). Fortunately California Writers Club South Bay member Becky Levine has written a book to aid your journey, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, which will be published in January 2010 by Writers Digest Books, though the book is available for pre-order.
• Hire a writing coach, which is like hiring a personal trainer: one-on-one personal attention from a pro who scrutinizes your work and no one else's. Time efficient and specific, this avenue can also be pricey. Like anything else, let the buyer beware. To get you started, check out links to Writing Coaches.
After you're sure the structure is excellent, the next step is to scrutinize the way you convey the story (length, style, layout, word choice) followed by the last step in the revision process, copyediting.
If you have other suggestions to offer my friend, feel free to pipe up.
Otherwise, happy writing!