Well, here it is. The last draft before you call your novel done. Sort of.
Despite finishing your story at long last, until it is actually published you’ll find yourself going back to it again and again, tweaking here and there. My first book took 20 years to be placed under contract. And all through those 20 years, the ‘final draft’ had been reworked over and over as I grew as a writer.
With a vocal following demanding the next book ASAP, I no longer have the questionable luxury of years to re-write. To me the final draft ultimately means I have a story I’m now willing to put out in public. Nonetheless, during the time between finishing off the final draft and when it actually goes on sale, I’m still sneaking tweaks in.
But talking about all this is putting the cart before the horse. First, you have to actually get the third draft of your book done. Let’s go over that now.
Find Your Spell/Grammar Check and Use It
Even after taking a week or so off since completing the second draft (you did take a break, right?), you’ve gone what I call ‘edit blind’. This is where, because you know how your story is supposed to read, your familiarity with it works against you. As you re-read it now, your brain inserts missing words or scans over spelling errors. You literally can’t see those mistakes even though you’re looking right at them.
So grab this awesome tool and let it go over your document now. Yes, it will find sentence fragments and bad grammar that you meant to have in there. You will be clicking ‘Ignore’ a lot. But it’s worth the boredom and minutes used to get this done. There will be plenty of ‘How the hell did I miss that?’ coming from your little writing corner. You might even feel dumb. But imagine how much dumber you’d feel if these mistakes got out.
The Spelling and Grammar Check on my Word program is one of my best writing friends. Make it yours too.
Format Your Work
If like me you write in scenes rather than chapters, you want to make your chapter divisions now. You also want to make sure you’re using a proper font and font size and have formatted your margins as well. In the old days of print books and nothing but print books, that usually meant double-spaced Courier New 12 and one-inch margins.
These days with the advent of e-book publishing, some publishers like to see your manuscript formatted for that medium. Your best bet is to visit the publishers’ websites and check their submission guidelines. And if you're self-pubbing, that means making multiple versions of your story to fit in with Amazon, Smashwords, and other distributors' demands (I'd wait until after your proofreader has had a go at it before doing that, however).
Make sure what needs to be underlined or italicized has been done (again, check the publishers’ guidelines for their druthers). Capitalize those trademark names. Get the manuscript clean and in order.
Print and Read
Yes, print it out. You will be amazed at how reading your work somewhere besides on the computer screen will give you a fresh perspective on your story. You will catch mistakes, too often repeated phrases, and continuity errors you’ve missed on previous passes.
The last work I completed, The Font, seemed to be ready to go until I printed a copy and read it. I made no less than half a dozen major storyline corrections to that manuscript after catching them on paper. I would have been mortified had even one of those problems gotten into publication. And there was an outstanding chance something would have even if I was having it traditionally published, because professional editing by the publishers has almost gone extinct.
If at all possible, read this printed version in one sitting. Doing so will best help with catching continuity errors. This is the time when you realize your main character’s yummy chocolate brown eyes somehow became periwinkle blue at the end. Or the villain’s love for musicals morphed into an obsession with pro wrestling. Or, as I found recently, a major character’s name changed midway through the book. Don’t ask me how that happened. It’s enough that it did, and it took a printout to clue me in.
Make notes on what needs to be corrected. Then get back on the computer and correct them. Also insert your header of book title, your name, and the page number on each page, unless you’d rather wait until your proofreader has done their thing all over your work (as I do).
Congratulations. You have finished your book, at least until your proofreader/editor gets back to you with what they found. Celebrate! This is a huge accomplishment, one to be justifiably proud of.