The Best Way to Edit Your First Draft


Today’s writing-related Challenge of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, requires you to shift your writer’s perspective to a reader’s perspective. That’s the best way to edit the first draft of your novel manuscript. Or any manuscript, really.

Just stop being a writer, and start being a reader instead.

If you’ve really completed your first draft, then your job as a creative writer is officially over for the time being. It’s checked off your to-do list. Congratulations!

That’s a big accomplishment, and I don’t want to downplay it one bit. To quote Tuesday’s blog:

Finishing your first draft is a momentous occasion, and definitely cause to throw an “I Just Finished My First Draft” celebration. (Yes, that’s a thing, typically observed by ordering in junk food, binge-watching Netflix and letting someone else do the story-telling to you for a change.)

However, as I went on to stress, that’s not the end of your authorial journey, since finishing your first draft:

… also means you’ve officially completed Story Writing 101, and you’re ready to move on to Story Writing 102.

You read that right. Your work’s not done. Not even close, sweetie pie.

Don’t worry too much though. You can still have a ton of fun with this next phase of your get-published plans. It’s just that first drafts are rough drafts. They require a lot of attention and cleaning-up efforts in order to advance on again to the second-draft stage.

And the best way to give them that thorough kind of analysis is to start acting like a reader first and an editor second.

(Actually, good editors – particularly editors who work on novel manuscripts, are always going to be readers first. They recognize that the story is what’s most important, not the grammar and spelling.

With that mindset firmly in place, they’ll most definitely be looking for grammar and spelling errors, fixing them accordingly too. Yet their main focus will be on how well the narrative drags them in and keeps them captivated. They know that, with the exception of their most nitpicky editorial colleagues, that’s what other readers are going to be looking for.

And those other readers are a pretty important factor to consider in the writing process.)

Consider it from this perspective: Your goal in editing a first draft is no longer to impress but to be impressed. And by all means, demand to be impressed!

Whatever you look for when you’re reading someone else’s novel, look for it in your own too. You’re not going to be able to please everyone, but that’s okay. That’s not your goal. Right now, your goal is to engage yourself.

So if you like riveting plots, then read your manuscript over for exactly that. If you’re more into the intriguing kind that makes you guess and second-guess every other page, then that’s what you should expect. The same goes for a delightful plot if that’s what you’re into.

Do you appreciate vivid characters? Good. You should.

Breathtaking settings? Somewhat muted or more understated ones?

Dry or dark or witty dialogue?

Essentially, expect this first draft’s writer to engage you, the reader, at every step. And whenever he or she doesn’t engage you, put on your editor’s cap until that section draws you right back in.

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