You accepted the challenge of National Novel Writing Month and came out of it with a novel. Everyone told you that first drafts were rough, but you didn’t believe them until you went back and read your book. The first time you read one of your first drafts is always a traumatic experience. The good news is that your novel doesn’t have to stay in that rough shape. There are ways to make it better.
The first thing I do is let the writing sit for a few months. I always have several projects on the go, so put the book on the shelf and do something else for a while. Then come back and read it. For this first read through I like to print it and use highlighters and a pen. I have a red highlighter for stuff I’m deleting. It’s terrible and it’s going. I use a green one to mark stuff that I like. I want more of that, but for now I just mark it so I know it’s there. The pen is to make notes in the margins. Comment about gaps in the plot, descriptive needs, characterization, anything that you want to add to the novel.
When that is done, I go back to the computer and work through the draft with that marked up copy on my desk. At this point I rename the file so I’m not saving over the draft. I may need that someday. It’s a good idea to start a new version for each major revision. I delete stuff, move things around and add what I need to add. If you aren’t sure you’ve got everything at the end of the first read through. Do it again.
If you think you’ve got a decent quality draft, it is time to get someone else to do a similar process. That’s your content editor, me. I will not only focus on the good, the bad, and the missing, I will talk about structure, plotting, voice and a lot of other things. If you pay me to look at your book and comment on it. Expect to work hard when you get the book back. You don’t want me to send it back saying “It’s great.” That doesn’t help your story improve. I may tell that parts are great, but I’ll also suggest ways and methods of making them better.
If you aren’t sure about what I can offer you. Send me a chapter and I will comment on it free of charge.