Don’t look at it. Put your first draft aside for a while. If you’re really lucky, your loved ones will do this for you in some roundabout way that will fuel future writing ideas for quite some time. But usually you’ll have to exercise some serious willpower. Lock it up. Bury it for as long as humanly possible. You need space.
Read through the entire thing once, and make notes. Don’t skim. But don’t take forever, either. The main goal is to see the forest, not the trees. Where is your writing the strongest? Where does the plot fall apart?
Quick-fix any major plot issues. I’m not talking about a massive overhaul. This is when you insert brackets in the text and say, for example: [main character needs to encounter resistance here, or antagonist needs to kill someone else here, or there needs to be a massive wildfire here]. Not the time for nuts and bolts, just get the revision framework in place. You can go back and write later.
Focus on the beginning. Now that you’ve reviewed the whole manuscript, go back to the beginning – specifically the first 50 pages. Jeff Gerke says that the first 50 pages are the most important part of the book. Done well, those 50 pages will hook your reader (plus the agent, editor, publisher, critic, and God knows who else). Read books that explain what needs to happen at the beginning. I highly recommend The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke, and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.
Find someone to review it. If you plan to pitch your novel to an agent, you absolutely must find someone you trust to read through it. An agent should not be the first reader. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott said it this way, “What works for me may not work for you. But feedback from someone I’m close to gives me confidence, or at least gives me time to improve.”
Take breaks to work on your query letter. It’s difficult for me to sustain interest in one thing for long periods of time. I like to have several windows open at once (both metaphorically and virtually). Working on my query letter is a good way to be productive when I need a break from the far more complicated fictional world in my mind.
Stay away from the candy jar. Oh wait, that’s just me. But I think it’s safe to say that you should avoid unhealthy vices and lean into what inspires. Grab an actual orange, instead of those orange-flavored jellybeans. Real and nutritious, versus artificial and empty. It takes willpower and resolve. But there’s not much value in vice. Not lasting value, anyway.
Before you know it, that first draft will become the second.