Articles / On Editing

What to Do With Your First Draft


Congratulations! You’ve done something that most would-be writers have not—completed your novel. I can feel your satisfied grin from here.

So now that you’ve finished that first draft, what should you do with it? If “Publish it now!” is your first thought, I want you to take a step away from your manuscript. In fact, you should file it away for at least a month and not look at it. Two months would be ideal.


Besides the obvious that you shouldn’t publish your first draft, you simply need to take a break from your story. Go on a trip, write something else, organize your DVD collection, categorize your home library using the Dewey decimal system, or anything to take your mind off that first draft. Then, when you’ve distanced your creative muse from the story and taken a much-needed break, pull that first draft out of the drawer or that secret folder on your external hard drive and read it.

But shouldn’t I revise the story right away while it’s fresh in my mind?

That would seem like a reasonable course of action, but it’s actually not very helpful. You’re too close to the manuscript to see its flaws and shortcomings. After taking a break, the infatuation you had for your story has cooled, which will enable you to read the manuscript with “fresh eyes.” Now you will be able to see those areas that still need development, recognize those sections that are brilliant, and spot those elements that need to be cut.

Revision is not a dirty word!

I promise. While it strikes fear in the heart when whispered in chat rooms on the Internet, revision is the means by which authors polish their work and hone those words in ways that cause readers to love a book. And I’m not talking about simply going through the manuscript and fixing typos and misspelled words. No author is that good.

Whether you end up revising your manuscript three or twenty times is beside the point. What’s important is that you revise and make those adjustments: fill those plot holes, cut that backstory, develop that plot, fix issues with pacing and flow, round-out those characters, and improve your grammar and word choices.

Once you’ve made all the improvements you can find, it’s time to send it to a few pre-readers for their input. This should not be your sister, mother, husband, BFF or anyone whose honest opinion will come second to the personal relationship they have with you.

You will never get an honest opinion from someone who values his or her personal relationship with your more than giving an honest opinion about your story.

If you don’t have a critique group, find one and ask for feedback on the areas you are struggling with. Their insights could be the thing that sets your ideas free to fix the issue. For advice on how to find a critique group, check out my article How to Find a Writing Critique Group.

You may want to hire an editor to give your manuscript an assessment or critique. This route is cheaper than a full edit and may help you pinpoint those problem areas that still need development. It’s always better to fix those issues before you hire someone to do an edit before self-publishing or querying agents and publishing houses.

Remember to resist the urge to publish that first draft. Stamp it out. You owe it to yourself and to your story to polish it through revision. (Really, it’s not a dirty word!)

Go write something!


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