In an earlier post, I talked about what I call, The Seven Edits of Highly Effective Authors. Basically, it’s the seven revisions I do to ensure I’ve done my best to get my work ready for publication. I’ve had people ask for more detail about each of these revisions, so over the next seven weeks, I’ll touch in more detail on each of these revisions. All seven edits apply to fiction, but most still apply to nonfiction in some way as well.
The first edit, the fill the gaps revision, is sort of an extension of the first draft. And though it sounds simple, its an incredibly valuable tool.
What the first revision allows me to do is focus my first draft on writing without stopping, all the way to the end, no matter how much I get tangled up in the story.
I don’t consider myself fully outliner or fully panster. I think I’d have to call myself a mental outliner. I get all the major elements of the story mapped out in my head before I sit down to write. Once I feel like I have a grasp on the story, I sit down and write as fast and furious as possible. Nanowrimo is perfect for this, because it gives me a tight timeframe with a specific deadline. If it’s not near November, I usually model my schedule after the rules of Nanowrimo. With the first draft, I never let myself stop writing (such as for research, or to double check something from earlier in the draft) for more than about ten minutes a day. The consistent flow has to be there for me.
As I write, I make sure to hit each of the major checkpoints of my story. No matter how detailed my plan, however, there are many times in my first draft when I have to simply write something like, “Have Jimmy do something cool to escape the bad guy,” or, “Give more description of the place.” I’ve found that for me, continuing the flow of writing is crucial as I write the first draft. Then I place an asterisk next to my dummy text so I can easily find it later with a ctrl-f search. If you decide to follow a similar pattern, you can use any typographic character you want, but I recommend picking only one character (instead of various characters for different purposes), so you don’t miss anything later.
I once had an author coming to me for help, because she was stuck at a certain scene in her first draft. I suggested she write herself a note, and then finish the draft before coming back to it. She responded, “That’s a good idea, but my mind works so consecutively, I can’t get my mind comfortable writing, ‘fix this,’ and then moving on with a gap in my story.”
I asked her what was happening in her story, and she explained that her protagonist was trapped in a castle, but she didn’t know how to get her out of the castle so she could pick up where her outline continues.
“Just write something quick that keeps you writing in consecutive order,” I suggested, “but without all the detail, such as, ‘Then she found a secret door behind a bookshelf and it led her out of the castle, through a cave, and into the forest just beyond the walls of the city.’ Then make a marking to come back to it later and continue your story to the end. You can fix the scene after you finish your first draft.”
She brightened, and smiled. “I think that just might work!” And she was suddenly excited to write again.
It’s perfectly acceptable to have sentences in your first draft that say, “I don’t know what to write here, and this whole scene is stupid. Our hero suddenly finds herself in a totally different situation, and we continue with her at that point.”
The point of a first draft is to write to the finish.
With the first revision, however, you go back through and fix all those spots. There’s something about finishing a first draft (albeit a horrid, broken first draft) that fuels the creative juices. Suddenly those sticky or blank spots aren’t so hard to fill up. Plus you know what’s going to happen later, and you can throw in precursors and character development in with your patches that will help the reader as they progress in the story.