How to Easily Edit your First Draft

Congratulations, you’ve written your first draft!! There’s no doubt about it, writing a complete manuscript is hard. So I’m here to celebrate with you… woo whoo!

If you’ve stumbled upon this post, you’re probably wondering what’s next? Let’s face it… editing a novel is a daunting task. You’re not alone if you feel overwhelmed and baffled by this next stage. As I embark on editing my fourth novel, I’m feeling the stirrings of dread. But fear not, I’m going to break things down into bite size tips to get you started.

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After completing your novel, set it aside. Yes, you heard me. Don’t immediately start editing. You’ll be too close to the story and characters to objectively see plot holes, weak characters or blundering scenes. So save your work and close down the files. I suggest a minimum of a month break, but longer is fine too. In the meantime start a new project, read books and maybe (just maybe) catch up on some housework… nah, I didn’t like the last idea either.

Grab your notebook and some fancy pens. Its time to take stock of your story. Read through the whole manuscript, let the story settle in your mind along with your ideas for change. Then repeat the process, but this time a little slower. Recount each chapter with a brief sentence or two.

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On a separate page, take stock of any red flags, structural changes, things that need cutting or rewriting. I personally also like a printed copy for this stage. I underline sentences that don’t flow, or sound repetitive and jot things in the margin. In the past I’ve made the mistake of only doing this. But when it came time to make changes, an arrow pointing to a section with ‘WHAT?’ or ‘add more’ did nothing to help me. Yet armed with my trust note book, I could look back and find the appropriate reference.

Now that you’ve made a chapter by chapter recount of your story it will be easy to reverse outline your story. Only think of the structural elements of the story and begin to deconstruct and then reconstruct. Don’t waste your time on surface editing. You need to focus on the fundamental changes first. Besides, there’s no point polishing your voice and cleaning up the grammar if your only going to cut the scene.

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Once you’ve tackled the big stuff like structural changes and plot holes, its time to work on through the remained of your notes. Focus on the surface editing, such as; sentences that didn’t make sense, the flow of your story and of course polish your Voice. Work in stages; a chapter at a time. This keeps you accountable for the work you’re doing, without overburdening yourself. Remember, edits take as long as they take. That’s why small goals help us to stay motivated throughout the process.

Yay! Pat yourself on the back, the hard graft is done. But before sending your work out to beta readers, check formatting, grammar, spelling and punctuation. This stage is also a great time to check for crutch words and anything repetitive, including repetitive body gestures that your characters use. In my first drafts, I tend add a lot of shoulder shrugging, and body parts. Cut it back or alter the overused words to make your writing flow.

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Now it’s time to send your work to a couple of trusted beta readers, or if your lucky like me, a critique partner. Use their feedback to edit your manuscript again. You can work in stages, one beta at a time, or with a small group. Remember, choose what feedback you use to alter your story, not all of it will apply. You’re the architect of your story, so you get to decide what advice to follow.

And there we have it, you’ve edited your novel! Tell me fellow creatives, what writing stage are you at? And are you a lover or hater of editing? Personally, I’ve grown to love this stage. I learn so much from working with others.

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Don’t forget to leave a comment and share your thoughts. You know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2020.

13 thoughts on “How to Easily Edit your First Draft

  1. Great advice, Lorraine. I’m still trying to complete a draft to the sequel of my first book.

    Sometimes, with other works, I’ve found sharing sections of an unfinished draft with beta readers/critique group members can also spur creativity, and help you figure out where things in the story will go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, writing groups are great for this. And I share unpolished work with a critique partner to help me structurally.
      I think issues can arise when new writers share their work before they’ve done any editing. It can ask too much of beta readers (But that’s just my opinion).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I both love and hate editing – sometimes at once. I guess it’s because it shows both the good and the bad in the story. It often takes me a while to get into it after a self-done proofread, but once I get rolling, the avalanche is hard to stop, and by the end, I’m sad to be done – even if I get stuck on the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Tell Again Tuesday Dreading the Edit | C.D. Hersh

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