The fact of writing is this: Your first draft is only the beginning. There are more drafts to write after the first one. The act of rewriting, editing, and revising takes much of your time, energy, and insight before you can show your work to the world.
There can be no quarrel about how you get from the first draft to completion. "How many drafts?"you ask. Sometimes three, four, or five, or as many as you need to get as close to perfection as possible. Then you follow-up with this: "How come it takes so many?" The answer: "Because. This is how writing goes.”
What stage follows the first draft? I have named this next stage “being a metacritic of your own work” and consulted the dictionary and Google for the word “metacritic,” to see if it even exists in the context* that I have personally used for years. The word “meta-analysis,” pertaining to “the process or technique of synthesizing research results by various statistical methods,” is close, but it would be a stretch to apply “meta-analysis" to the meaning of “metacritic.” Here’s a better definition going back to the "Greek, from meta, beside, after. See me-2 in Appendix I." In me-2 you can take your pick from "between," "with," "beside," or "after." You are the metacritic who analyzes what you have written so that you can find completion.
What does it mean to be a metacritic of your own work? First, you are a critic beyond yourself, looking, reading, analyzing, as if you are the critic rewriting, editing, revising. Second, you read your work very carefully—every single word. Third, you follow a metacritical process that works for you. You are the analyst with, beside, or after.
Here are some of my own guidelines that I follow as a metacritic, sometimes in this order, but oftentimes in an order that applies only to a particular work. Sometimes I write four drafts, but more often, I write seven to ten, depending on the nature of the work. But many times, drafts I’ve worked on end up in my file cabinet, and I wait maybe six months, two years, or even ten when I return to them.
You read the work carefully to glean the pattern of your syntactical structures. You analyze these structures to see how the words work together in a sentence, that is, do the words in a phrase or clause make the best grammatical and meaningful elements in this particular sentence? If these syntactical structures are not working, you ask, “Why? Or why not?” Is it grammar or usage or content? You look at how the words in the phrase or clause are arranged in the sentence; perhaps they are the wrong words or the words are a clunky fit. You want the syntactical structures to hook together so that they make the sentence flow.
You look at the sentences within the paragraph and find those places where the transitions between the sentences stumble and you need to revise them so you get coherence in the paragraph and don’t mess up the coherence in the entire work. Sometimes, well, often, the paragraph doesn’t work so you ditch the whole thing.
If you get stuck, you read and reread the places where you get stuck. You read and reread the whole draft. You read and reread the draft out loud to see where you need to fix the stuck places. You ask, "Where do I hear my draft not working?" You study it, figure out why it is not working, and you rewrite, edit, revise it. Maybe the adverbial clause or adjectival phrase needs reconstruction so that it works in this particular place. Maybe the clause or phrase doesn’t mean what you want it to mean, and you need to place it somewhere else or throw it out so a meaningful construction supplants it. You look for dangling modifiers and correct them. You look for fragments to make sure the transition from the previous sentence to the fragment can handle it. If it can, great. If it can’t, forget it.
You look at your word choices in the sentence. Best word or combination of words? Grammar correct? Usage correct? Content meaningful? You look at the pattern of punctuation. You know the prescriptive rules and follow them, or you know the prescriptive rules and break them because this is your style. If you do not know them, learn them, and then decide how to use them, or not. You also look up words to make sure their definitions fit the context and complete the meaning of the sentence.
Finally, you read your story or poem, your creative nonfiction narrative or essay out loud. You hear what you’ve written and where the rhythm isn’t just so, and you listen and listen some more and figure out where, precisely, the rhythm breaks down. You fix those places and move on. If the rhythm is clunky throughout, well, you rewrite, edit, revise.
When you read your work as a metacritic, you get better and better at rewriting, editing, and revising. If you are already a metacritic, you know how much work it takes to get to the place where you can then show your fabulous work to the world. If you are not there yet, become your own metacritic. It’s a beneficent act to yourself.
*Note: When you search for “metacritic” on Google, you will be directed to Wikipedia’s entry for “Metacritic”: “A website that aggregates reviews of films, TV shows, music albums, video games and formerly, books.”