Visit this blog's 'Write a book' category page for previous posts in this series.
Perhaps the best kept secret of the book-writing fraternity is that – contrary to the belief of many non-writers – the vast majority of finished books are not written in just one draft. Few authors, including the best of them, have a 'gift of the gab' that allows them to churn out golden words like the mint churns out golden coins. It doesn't work like that.
What makes a 'good start' into a 'good book' is the re-writing. This is where you take your draft – your rough piece of clay – and shape it into something beautiful.
The task of re-writing is easier than you might think. It is so much simpler to work with a draft than it was to work with a blank page.
After completing your first draft, put it aside (if time allows) for a few weeks. This gives it time to marinade and your head some time to clear.
When you're ready, open the draft on your computer and start reading it from the beginning. Try to read from your audience's point of view. You will immediately start to find phrases and paragraphs here and there that aren't as clear as they could be. Pieces of argument that don't make sense.
Whereas during the draft phase I encouraged you not to review or critique your work, now is the time to dive into review and critique with gusto. The benefit of having held yourself back during drafting is that now, with the full draft in front of you, you have a much better context for making changes.
Here are five common areas you can look to improve as you re-write your book.
Tone and voice
Check that the tone of the writing is consistent. For instance, if you are shooting for an informal, approachable style, make sure you have maintained that. If pieces of the writing lapse into formality, re-write them. Similarly with 'voice': look for consistency in the way you address the reader, e.g. are you addressing them as 'you' ("You should remember...") or in the third person ("The writer should remember...")?
As we are discussing non-fiction writing here, it is obviously important that you present your information and ideas as clearly and logically as you can. As you re-write, look out for any areas where you assumed knowledge on behalf of the reader. Remember: they don't know what you know. In particular look out for terminology or jargon that is second nature to you but may not be to them – these may need to be defined.
Along the same lines, re-writing gives you the opportunity to stand back and review the overall structure of your book. Is the order of the chapters still making sense? Does the book get straight to the point? Or do you spend a couple of chapters on background before getting to the meat of the matter – a common failing in first drafts?
Gaps and excesses
First drafts are great for revealing holes in your outline. Have you skirted over some of the issues – again perhaps assuming too much knowledge on the part of the reader? Is there something important that you completely overlooked at the outlining stage? Conversely, are there areas where you've gone a bit overboard – a pet topic, perhaps, or a section which is simply too wordy? Overall, make sure your book is 'balanced' in the sense of chapters and topics being given proportionate emphasis.
In very book there will choices to be made in the area of 'style'. No – not what you'll wear to the book launch. Rather decisions on certain spellings, (US vs UK English for instance), punctuation (e.g. single or double quotes) and so on. It's worth starting to unify the style of your book from your first re-write as this will reduce the amount of work that needs doing later.
Get help if you need it
The re-writing stage can be a good place to get cost-effective assistance with your book. You save money by having done the bulk of the writing yourself in that first draft, but get the benefits of professional input and 'polish' that can make your book more readable. Not to mention independent advice on the five areas above and other related issues.
Having a writer help you may also provide your project with the impetus it needs to get it finished – many a book has stalled after the first draft.
Click here to learn more about our re-writing service.