Finishing a Novel
As if finishing a novel isn't a hard and long enough process, there's drafting (editing) to look forward to a few weeks or even a few months afterwards. For the writer, it's like climbing up Mount Everest, only to realise that K2 awaits a little farther off into the distance. But rather like our imaginary mountaineer, we need to give ourselves a little rest before we attempt our next summit, otherwise we are in danger of burning ourselves out. This rest can last weeks or even a few months (though you should be writing something else during this period, be it a novella, a few blog posts, or even a few poems), but it should be long enough to ensure that you are mentally-relaxed enough for a few months of hard, solid, often-frustrating drafting.
But I don't need to draft - I'm a writing genius
The first rule of writing is that everybody needs to draft. We only become perfect by being perfectionists, and by respecting the metaphorical mountain enough to go back and re-read what we've written. And this doesn't just apply to relative newcomers like myself (I put my first novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant through approximately ten drafts), even the likes of Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, and a lot more besides hammer and chisel away at their manuscripts until they are satisfied enough to pass it onto their publisher.
How do I draft?
Ultimately, what method your drafting takes is down to you - you have to do whatever you are comfortable with, so long as you are giving your would-be masterpiece a thorough sifting through. For example, when I put Jack Strong and the Red Giant through its first re-draft I printed the whole thing out and read it all from the first page to the last, making notes as I went along, before (slowly) typing up my alterations on the computer. That wasn't the end of the story of course: after that there were months of reading and re-reading ahead, until finally I was happy enough to declare it finished. As for how many drafts it will take, that's up to you; it just depends on whether or not you are satisfied with the finished article. If you're not then keep on hammering it into shape until you are.
What am I looking for when I draft?
When you put your novel through a series of drafts you should be focused on it much like a reader would. Try to ask yourself some of the following questions: Is the story original, believable, does it make sense? Are the characters likeable? How will they be perceived by the reader? Does the dialogue jump out at you, light up the page, and even direct the narrative? Is it grammatically correct? How long are your paragraphs - are they too long? Can they they be broken up? Is there any 'fluff' that you can cut out (I must have cut close to 40,000 words from Jack Strong and the Red Giant)? The list goes on and on, and a lot of the time it all depends on you as a writer and the kind of novel, character etc that you are trying to produce. For example, partly as a result of my time reading and writing poetry I am very keen to get as much colour as possible into my writing, I find that it helps the reader picture what I'm writing about that much easier.
The Final Draft
Now when you've finished your final draft and all those nasty, little kinks have been ironed out you may think, (quite like I did when I finished the first Jack Strong book), that you've finished, that it's over, and that you can now plough onto the synopsis and the query letter and ping off some e mails to some agents and publishers - but you'd be wrong, dead wrong in fact. What you should do now (as I have just done this week) is give it one more check for punctuation errors, because it may just be that a few - or perhaps more than a few - slipped you by in the drafting process. Then and only then should you consider approaching agents and publishers, or publish on Amazon etc.
When it's done, it's done and there's nothing else you can do about it. Try to resist any further alterations or else you will be tinkering with it for years. After that it's up to the reader to judge. But even if you're initially unsuccessful in finding a publisher (Stephen King's first two books The Running Man and The Long Walk, were both rejected) that doesn't mean that you should give up (I haven't). The more you read and write the more you will learn and the better you will get at it, until one day you write something that is EXACTLY what someone in the publishing industry is looking for.
If you want to read my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space check out the link below: