7 Things To Do Before Editing Your First Draft

You’ve done the tough work of writing your first draft, and now it’s time to go back and edit or re-write it. It can be tempting to dive right in, start fixing little mistakes here and there, and consider your manuscript complete. But that would be a mistake. Editing your book is a big step; one that you shouldn’t minimize or overlook.

Writing the book likely required a lot of creative thinking. Now, as you begin the revision process, it’s time to turn on the logical side of your brain and consider what isn’t working in your book and what could be better—and then fix it. This isn’t an easy process, and to treat it as such would be doing your book and your hark work a disservice in the future.

1. Take a Break

First things first, take a step back from your book for a while. How much time is up to you, but just make sure it’s long enough to where you feel like you’ve separated yourself from the book and can look at it with a fresh perspective. Objectivity is one of the most important components to editing a book. You can’t do it unless you step out of the weeds for a bit and can look at your book not as the author, but as a reader.

2. Read Through Your Manuscript

Once you’ve taken enough of a break to get some distance from your book, read through it once to refresh your memory. Try to take it in as a reader enjoying it for the first time. Take notes as you go of questions that arise in your mind, things that don’t make sense, inconsistencies, and things you like or think work well. Don’t get too caught up in things like word choice or misspellings, but rather pay attention to the major things that stick out. You can fix the little things later.

3. Pay Attention to the Big-Picture

Now it’s time to go back and figure out how you’re going to address the things you noted in your read-through. If you had questions, do you answer them later in the book, or do you need to find a way to address them? If things didn’t make sense, how could you better clarify them? Could you improve your plot, format, or pacing in any way? With sections that are boring, confusing, or don’t quite fit, try and think about how you could make them better. Look at them in comparison to the parts of your book you enjoyed and see if you can glean any insight there.

4. Get Rid of Things That Don’t Work

It can be tough to delete words you spent so long writing, but often there are things that just don’t work within the context of your book and ultimately have to go. In fiction books, there may be characters, scenes, or plot points that had good intentions, but ultimately do nothing for the book as a whole. In nonfiction books, you may have stories or research that are extremely personal or important to you, but don’t ultimately help make your point. Unfortunately, these things have to go.

5. Iron Out the Details

Once you’ve figured out the big things that need fixed and taken out the parts of your book that don’t work, take some time to think through the logistics. If you delete a scene, alter your format, or fine-tune your pacing, does that affect anything else in your book? If so, make sure you take note of that so you can fix it.

6. Take Note of Smaller Errors

If you’d like, you can also run through your first draft looking for any grammar mistakes, misspellings, or incorrect punctuation. Often, this is done in one of the final read-throughs of your manuscript. It doesn’t always make sense to fix small errors when things may get deleted or re-written, anyway. However, if you plan to send your manuscript to an editor or a friend, it may make sense to fix the obvious errors, that way others aren’t distracted by weird spellings or grammar when reading through your book for the first time. If nothing else, you can simply make note of these errors so you remember to fix them if they ultimately don’t get deleted or re-written.

7. Make a Game Plan

Finally, now that you have all your notes, have worked out the details, and hopefully know all the things you need to fix in your second draft, it’s time to make a game plan. Set yourself a deadline to ensure that you’re setting aside time to work on your book. If you want, you can also set deadlines for editing chapters, scenes, or pages. You should also come up with a plan for what you’re going to do first, second, third, and so on. Make sure you’re working efficiently by starting with the big-picture things before getting into the weeds with grammar and other small details.

Don’t let your hard work writing your first draft go to waste. Take the time to make a plan and set yourself up for success with your second draft. Again, editing or revising your book is an important step that you shouldn’t take lightly. So make sure you’re preparing effectively and working hard to make your book the best it can be!

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  • This is good advice for most people, but having taught senior English class for over 3 decades, I instinctively did these things before contemplating submitting my manuscript.