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What to Expect From Your Novel Manuscript’s First Draft


Today’s writing Definition of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, is for “First Draft.” Which – let me tell you – is a big, big deal.

If you’ve completed the first draft of your novel manuscript, then congratulations! That’s awesome!

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 for a change.)

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

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

To fully understand why that’s the case, let’s get down to it and establish what the definition of a first draft really is. Below, you’ll find Innovative Editing’s take on the subject.

First Draft:

In any piece of writing, whether a novel manuscript or a blog post, the first draft is also known as a rough draft.

From start to finish, it’s technically a complete piece. It has a beginning that moves to a middle that concludes with an ending. But it’s a messy complete piece. There are still thoughts to ground, sentences to be revised for maximum reader engagement, and spelling errors to fix.

Which is why a rough draft should never, ever, ever be your final draft.

I’ve been writing novel manuscripts since I was 18. I’ve had years and years and years (and we’ll stop there) of experience creating first drafts. Yet I would still never, ever, ever even dream about publishing one of them as-is.

These days, they’re admittedly much better than they used to be. But they’re still first drafts.

That means my dialogue on page 17 might be absolutely abysmal. It could sound stilted and unnatural, as if I haven’t learned a thing about how to create engaging dialogue throughout the years. As if I don’t tell others how to do it all the time!

Moreover, the dialogue on pages 8, 19, 33, 34, 35, 42, throughout all of chapter 16, and a bunch of pages after that all need to be touched up as well – just little changes here and there that need to be made if I want to come across as a respectable, professional published author instead of my 6-year-old past-self writing my very first story.

Meanwhile, there’s far too much narrative in the first three chapters. Yes, I have to set up at least a bit of backstory, but that stuff needs to be broken up somehow, someway.

And the plot details I established midway: Do they really mesh with the conclusion? Or do I need to just cut them out?

The characters are awesome. As usual. Though I could probably round out that particular one a little more and make him a little less flat. Sure, he’s a villain, but I don’t want him to come across cartoonish.

As for setting? Do I need more of it? Should I cut details out?

I can’t stand that inner debate in my head, but it must be had. And so I need to squint at those sections, trying to envision what my setting-hating editor and my setting-loving creative writing friend might say about them.

Is there a way to make both of them happy? Let’s try and see…

All of those issues and questions I outlined above? Those are what make up a first draft or rough draft. It’s a work in progress: a manuscript that still needs a good bit of editing before it can graduate to becoming a published novel.

But it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating nonetheless.

So first draft finishers? Congratulations! You deserve a cookie (or five).

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