After the First Draft

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Your draft is finished! You’ve accomplished something that many people only think about but never actually do. Congratulations! It really is a cause for celebration, but… You know there’s more to do before your draft becomes a published novel, right?

For the last two weeks, I’ve been talking about feedback – why you need it, who to get it from, and what you should do with it. You can check those articles out here: Feedback – Why We Need It, and Sorting the Feedback: the Good, the Bad, and the Nasty. This feedback, from beta readers, critique partners, the hive mind on Inkitt, or an editor, will help guide your editing process.

Some writers dislike editing with a passion, but I invite you to approach it with a positive attitude, and here’s why…

  • Editing allows you freedom while drafting. We don’t have to worry about perfection because we know there will be a chance to fix things. That knowledge also offers us the opportunity to take risks with our writing because our draft isn’t written in stone.
  • The bones of the story are already there. We don’t have to start from scratch because we’ve already built the infrastructure for our story. We know the major players, the supporting cast, the big conflicts and resolutions. Now we can work to make sure we’re telling our story in the most dramatic and compelling way possible.

Okay, hopefully I’ve convinced you not to dread the editing process. Now, here are my thoughts on an effective approach to editing…

Step away from your manuscript.

I’m definitely euphoric after typing the last word on my document. You should be too! Pop a bottle of champagne and take some time to celebrate this achievement. I’m also tired, both from writing a first draft that’s taken me months, and from the story itself. I need distance from it, a fresh perspective. Take a break. Work on another project. Read your favorite author’s new book. Spend time decompressing. Make space in your head to integrate the feedback you’ve received and to allow the creative energy to flow again.

Make the big changes first.

I like to identify those bigger plot angles that didn’t quite work and fix them first. Often this will have a trickle-down effect. I’ll then need to trace the plot thread throughout the story and make adjustments. Once I’m satisfied that the action and infrastructure of my story works well, I focus on each character – on their reactions, relationships, and inner thinking. Readers connect to our story because they care about the characters. Take the time to be sure your characters are well-developed and have compelling arcs showing change over time.

Don’t be afraid to cut.

I tend to overwrite the first draft. I love the Terry Pratchett quote that says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” We need to get everything out onto the page, but that doesn’t mean our reader needs to know everything, and certainly not all at once. The dreaded info-dump will have readers skipping pages with boredom. It’s tricky to know what to cut, but I’ve put together a pretty good guide here: Does it Make the Cut?

Finesse scene by scene.

Once the plot and characters have all been sorted, a scene by scene read-through will help smooth things out, locate any missed inconsistencies, and give you a chance to see how the changes you’ve made integrate into the whole. Your eyes shouldn’t be the only ones on the manuscript for this read through either. Someone who isn’t so close to the story is still likely to pick up on things you may have missed.

Editing can be as creative and satisfying as writing a first draft. Don’t be afraid to dig in and take your story to the next level.


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About Author

Tabitha Lord is the award-winning author of the HORIZON series. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, two spoiled cats, and lovable black lab.

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