When you've finished your rough draft... stop. Take a breath. Cool down.
|Have some hot chocolate. Seriously, you earned it.|
That's why, before you do anything else, you need to save your rough draft, make a backup of that save, and then shut it in a drawer for a while. Don't dwell on it, don't look at it, and don't go on to other people about it. You just spent a huge amount of time turning this thing from an idea into words, and now you need to rest before the next step.
Come Back With Fresh Eyes
How long you wait before moving on to the next step will vary by writer, the size of the project, and how long it took to complete. For example, if you took a few hours to research and write up a blog entry or a basic article, then when you're done with it you should walk away for a little bit. Make a sandwich, have some chips, or check your mail. Then, once you've had a chance to take a breather, come back, pick up the red pen, and get back to work.
|Holy shit, what was I drinking when I wrote this intro?|
The bigger the project, and the more time you've spent submerged in it, the more time you should take between when you finish the rough draft, and when you start the edits. If you spent a few days, or a few weeks, hammering out a short story, then you should take a few days to recuperate. If you've just finished a novel, then chances are you've been submerged in that world for between a season, and a year or two. Take a few weeks. You just incrementally pulled a hundred thousand words (or more) out of your guts. Take a drink, and collapse for a bit.
Also, if you've finished a bigger piece of work, you should consider doing something else in between the end of your first draft, and editing. If you just finished an epic space opera with ancient villains in star-destroying ships, maybe write a short horror story about two kids who go into a haunted house on a dare and get more than they bargained for. If you just finished writing a short story for an anthology about robots, then start another one about an Afghanistan war veteran dealing with feelings of existential dread. By submerging yourself into a different world, you pull out of the one you previously spent so much time in. The result is that when you come across a sentence the seems out of place, you're more likely to catch it, and fix it.
If you've pulled completely out of that world (or as completely as you can), then you come at your rough draft as a reader, instead of the creator. Which, trust me, is a godsend for sanding off the burrs and tightening up your narrative.
While you might be tempted to just skim the work, and ship it off to an anthology call, an agent, or a publisher (or just put it up under your self-published works), you really want to take a moment. You're drunk off the creative process... sober up before you decide to show off your latest creation to the world at large.
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