How To Edit A First Draft

If any of you are in the same position as me, you have a first draft written. It’s been sat in the corner for a few months, stewing and maturing, and it’s finally time to look at it again.

Except you have no idea what to do with this draft in front of you. How do you begin editing such a behemoth?

Here are five easy steps to get you started on your editing journey:

  1. Read your novel from a different medium.
    Admittedly, this is easier if you’ve typed your story. So if you have, I’d suggest that you convert it to a pdf and read it on a tablet/kindle. It’ll look different, and reading it in a different format makes you look at your work with fresh eyes – rather than hunching over the same old word document until you want to claw your own eyes out.
  2. Have a notebook at your side.
    As I read through my first draft the other day, I made a note of every tiny little thing that annoyed me – from plot to characterisation to word choices to inconsistencies to typos. I made a note of the page number, what was frustrating me, and then I moved on. Which leads me to my third point…
  3. DO NOT edit as you read.
    This read through is for you to see your story with fresh eyes and to observe. It is not to edit. There is plenty of that on the way. If you throw yourself in to the nitty-gritty of editing now, then you’ll never have perspective. Correcting tiny little words rather than looking at your project as a whole isn’t the focus here. You’ve got to focus on the Big Things: plot, character, pacing, structure. Line edits can wait until later.
  4. DO write down possible solutions.
    One thing I noticed in my read-through was that there were a lot of errors. Scenes weren’t in the right order (thanks, Past Me, for writing non-chronologically), characters were really present for a few scenes and then disappeared for a hundred pages, etc. So what I did when I was noting things down in my notebook was how I might solve it. Where might I put a scene in a different place to make sure it ran consistently? What additional scenes might I need to put in to keep a character present so the end doesn’t seem random? How might I change some scenes to help a friendship between two characters develop more naturally? These aren’t even dead-set decisions I’ve made; it’s a list of suggestions to Future Me, when she tries to tackle this beast in draft two.
  5. And finally… Open a new Word document.
    I’ve found that when I go to create a second drat, stuff stays that should disappear because I’m sentimentally attached to it. Open a new word document, and you can always cut and paste across sections that don’t need as much structural work. Then it leaves you free to add what you need, as well as not having to physically cut parts. You can’t cut it from a document if it wasn’t there in the first place!

This isn’t to say that after this you are done – by no means! But these are just five tips to get you started on your structural edit, and they’re tips I’ve used myself and really have found they work for me.

* * *

What techniques and tips would you give to people reading through their first drafts for the first time? Leave a comment below!

Good luck with your second drafts – and happy writing!

Katherine x

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