Editing + Revising: what to do after you finish your first draft

You’ve finally finished your first draft. You’ve spent weeks or months or years to get to this point, and now it’s time to revise, revise, revise. Good writers know that one story goes through multiple rounds of revisions before it’s sent off to a publisher or literary magazine, but that first round of revisions seems to be a big stumbling block for many. Luckily, there are many ways to enter into this process that will make it go more smoothly.

Take a breather

Moments of inspiration are few and far between. In the midst of one of these moments, you may find yourself struggling to stop and take a breather. Why stop when you could start editing?

Stopping, however, is one of the best things you can do before jumping into revisions. When you’ve been staring at a page for so long, your brain starts to miss not only the little details but the big ones as well.

Some writers put their stories aside for months before returning to make revisions. Why? Because they know that fresh eyes are necessary when editing. 

Set that manuscript aside for at least a week. Take a break, brainstorm other stories, catch up on sleep. After completing the first draft of a story, you deserve as much.

Then you can return to your story with refreshed eyes and a clear mind so you can make the best revisions possible.

Think big-picture 

Once you’ve taken a step back from the manuscript, it’s time to reread. Rather than jumping into line edits and grammatical errors, read through the manuscript as though you were reading for fun. 

There’s a very high chance you won’t like what you read, and that’s okay. First drafts are always lousy.

Once you’ve reread, go through the manuscript again and make notes about any plot holes, wild inconsistencies, pacing, and shallow characters. You’ll need to start making big-picture edits first because so much rewriting is done during this phase. You don’t want to edit a sentence only to delete it later.

Cut, cut, cut

One of the most important parts of big-picture editing is elimination. Changing a sentence is one thing. Eliminating an entire scene because it doesn’t further the plot is a lot harder. 

Learn to let go of the scenes and characters that don’t help your story progress. No matter how beautiful the scene or how much time you spent writing it, if it doesn’t advance the plot or add to the story in some significant way, it’s worthless. If deleting the scene hurts too much, copy and paste the scene into a different document if you have to. Who knows? It might end up being inspiration for a new story.

Cutting scenes is essential before you delve into the details. You don’t want to waste time editing scenes that won’t even make it to the manuscript.

Take another break

Just do it. A refreshed mind is always more productive.

Once you’ve taken a break, filled in the plot holes, further developed your characters, eliminated unnecessary scenes, and taken another break, it’s time to delve into the revision process. Accomplishing the above tasks will allow you to place your focus on fine-tuning what’s left after the big-picture revisions.

Still struggling with the editing process? Contact me! I'd be happy to help you no matter what stage of the writing or editing process you're at.

Maggie Elizabeth