You’ve finished your manuscript. Congratulations. I hope you gave yourself a break, at least a day, and treated yourself to something (sleep?).
Seriously, do give yourself a reward. You deserve it. Really! You’ve done what a lot of people only dream about.
After that treat — be it a chocolate sundae (my favorite), a new shirt, a nap (also a favorite), a walk around the mall, a new book, half an hour of uninterrupted tv watching, or whatever — then it will be time to get down to the real work. You should wait until the next day to begin editing at least so that you have time to detach from the work.
The point is that you need a break to calm the active imagination portion of your brain so that you can think logically and make sure your book is lined out well — that’s the left brain’s job.
Hopefully you’ve made a list of notes of things that need to be fixed in the story. If so, it’s a good idea to review those now. If this is your first book or even second, I highly recommend going back and writing a one – two page synopsis of your story. For those of you who don’t know what a synopsis is, it’s a summary of your story which tells a publisher what’s going to happen in the book. For our purposes though, a publisher will never see this version. It doesn’t matter if your copy is single or double spaced. Reveal all the details. This is meant for your eyes only. This is your road map for editing.
Don’t force yourself to try to remember everything in the story. Skim through the manuscript to see what happens. That way you can see if it has a beginning, middle, and end. If it ends up being a series of events rather than a character’s struggle to reach a goal, you have a problem. It means the plot of your story isn’t mature enough yet and you need to rethink what danger your character is facing and why it matters to your character.
There’s an excellent book by James Frey called The Key. He takes the heroic structure of story based on Joseph Campbell’s work and sets it into an easy to understand format. You can follow him along as he sets up a story using the hero’s journey.
I’m sure I said before that I don’t plot out my books using an outline. I do however use the hero’s journey to give my story structure. This usually happens when I’m writing the story. If I trust the process, I will come to a point at which I want to understand the direction I’m going. I have a sheet worked up with the hero’s journey lined out on it. I’ve attached a PDF of the file I use — you’ll probably want to create your own in your word processing program so you can easily edit it — just always to remember to save it with a different file name so you don’t overwrite your master file (not that it’s hard to recreate).
I know a lot of people who recommend putting the manuscript away for at least three months and working on a new manuscript during this time. I’ve never been someone who can do that. Even if you do decide to put the story aside for a while, you should at least write the synopsis before you do.
Keep working at this until your synopsis confirms that your story is strong.