Wednesday, July 27, 2011

10 Things to Do After Finishing the First Draft

Maeve asked, ‘Do you have particular questions you ask yourself once you’ve completed your first draft?’ Last year I posted Questions to ask While Editing. Pop over there to see a long list of questions to get into the editing process. Today’s post is about that process:

1. Celebrate. After the mad scramble of finishing the first draft, I recommend you open your favourite sweet treat and celebrate. The first draft is something many people begin, but few finish. It’s a marvellous achievement. Be proud!

2. Take a Break. You are too close to your story to make any clear sense of it at this stage so the best thing to do is take a break. It doesn’t have to be a long break. Only you will know the best timing. Sometimes I only need a week. Other times I need an entire month to gain the distance I need for editing.

3. Read the manuscript through. Now is not the time to make little adjustments. Now is the time to get yourself reacquainted with the big picture. Make brief notes only. Try to keep your attention on plot and structure. Look at pace and timing, your beginning and end, and if there are any slow or unnecessary scenes. Make sure your protagonist is an active participant in your story.

4. Make structural changes. Still don’t worry too much about the little things such as your use of adverbs. No matter how much they might jump up and down to get your attention, there is little point worrying about that until you get the structure right. Otherwise you could spend hours on getting a scene just right only to realise you have to delete it later for the sake of tightening that structure.

5. Read the manuscript through again. Yes, read it from start to finish again making sure the overall structure is right. No skimming allowed. Some writers will share their manuscript at this stage. I did and it helped a great deal. Admittedly my poor crit partner had to put up with some dodgy wording and sentences, but she picked up some helpful pointers for my structure.

6. Start line edits. Find the pesky POV shifts that aren’t meant to be there. Root out the telling when the prose should be showing. Remove any unnecessary words, clichés, repetitions. Do the spit and polish.

7. Get another opinion. This is a great time for beta readers and critique partners. You could be taking a break while they read your manuscript. In fact, a break at any stage is also good—especially if you are unable to see the faults.

8. Read the manuscript again. Yes, read it again. All the way through. Read it out loud. Listen to those rhythms.

9. Now do your copy edits. The small details. Spelling and grammar and the fiddley little details which we inevitably miss no matter how careful we think we are being. 

10. Take another break and then read it again before sending it out. Never send out your manuscript less than two weeks after you think you’ve finished. In fact, I often hear agents say don’t send it out before two months. And always read it before sending it.

What's your editing process?


  1. I second the "read it again" advice. So many little things can sneak past us when we're editing. I also like to do at least one paper print out for this. My eyes always catch things on paper that they don't on the computer screen.

  2. Repeat process until your manuscript begins to resemble the first rough draft! (Then you know you've gone too far.)
    I usually start with revisions soon after completing a manuscript, because by the time I finish, I don't even remember the beginning. Or the middle sometimes!

  3. I'm all for taking a break and stepping back from the wip! Time and distance from my first draft really helps me pick out all the awful bits when I re-read!!

    Thanks for such sound and great advice here!

    Take care

  4. This is a great post, Lynda, full of helpful advice. It will be featured under "1st Mentions . . ." as Pam's "Favorite Post of the Week" at our writers' group's blog

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!
    Pam at

  5. So envious - finishing the first draft - about to begin book five and putting it off! :0)

  6. This is very similar to my own process-- lots of breaks and lots of re-reading! I tend to focus on certain things throughout each draft, like certain characters who need to be stronger. Thanks for sharing your process-- the taking a break and re-read is amazing for helping you find more stuff to fix!

  7. That's exactly what I'm doing right now. I'm on the third revision. I take a break after each one and work on something else.

  8. Great tips!
    I've left mine 4months... and excited to get back to it now.

  9. I like #1. I always celebrate by reading something off my TBR shelf.

  10. You've pretty much outlines my writing process. Except I do line edits pretty immediately after the month(s) long break - maybe I shouldn't. Hmm. :)

  11. Dear,

    I cant agree with you any more,as I also write some words by myself sometimes.

    Karen Millen dress

  12. And the moral of the story is- Read it again. great post. :)

  13. I am going to have to book mark this post and read it 15 years when I finish my ms! :)

  14. L G Smith, yes, a print out helps a whole lot.

    Alex, hahah I had to laugh. All too familiar.

    Old Kitty, I'm currently on a break and I'm enjoying it

    Pam, oh wow, thank you!

    Dezzy, same! Best part of writing is the celebrating ;)

    Carole, wow, book 5? Impressive.

    Shallee, yes, focusing on one aspect is a good way to do it.

  15. Christine, it's always good to have multiple projects going (well, I like it)

    Michelle, wow, 4 months! I'd be itching to get back to it :)

    Susan, yes! another great way to celebrate!

    Bethany, everyone works differently. You have to find what works for you.

    Summer, and again...

    Jessie, lol.

  16. Some excellent pieces of advice here. I have a ms sitting in My Documents waiting for me to do all that with it and I will... very soon. ;-)

  17. This is a well timed post for me, full of superb advice. I should complete the first draft of my current WIP by the weekend!

    Ellie Garratt

  18. #1 is so important, I think. I usually purchase a new book and a new color of lipstick. Or shoes! Makes a girl feel totally accomplished when her feet look fabulous. :)

  19. Great list! Thanks for sharing.

  20. This is very much like my process, though I have a second peer review round because by then I know it so well and sometimes the changes cause continuity stuff, but I don't see it. (I also confess to an inability to tweak a little when I am supposed to be just reading the darned thing)

    That step #2 is ESSENTIAL. I recommend critiquing for someone else in that gap--it allows you to put on the objective editors hat and I think it STAYS on when you come back to your own.

  21. Lynda, thank you! This is great advice! I do some of this, but not in an orderly fashion (also, I'm going to bookmark this page for reference.)

    PS - You got honorable mention on my blog, recently. :)

  22. Good advice for what to do with a finished draft - celebrate the milestones and then get back to work! Thanks for this post.

  23. A great list of tips for any aspiring author.

  24. I sure wish I could NOT edit. It's one of my greatest failings. I tried printing it out thinking I would just proof. Nope. The ms bled red.

  25. Lynda, thank you for answering my question(s). Great post/great advice. This is why you have people coming back to read your blog. You know what we need, you give us our answers and then push us along. Thank you - Maeve

  26. Great tips! If this was my writing process, I'd add 'times a hundred'. Argh!

  27. My routine with essays recently involves: First, I typically go to bed, because I've finished because everyone is asleep. The next day, I'll review a hard copy. Let it sit. Then, review it again. If I'm lucky, I can share it with a critique group I just began working with. Sometimes, if it's a subject that involves him, I'll let the Hubby read it.

  28. Wow, I'm actually finishing up another draft of my current project...your post are always so well do you do it? ;)

  29. Ha, yes! definitely Celebrate. And take a break. Like you, sometimes I only need a week. Two weeks starts feeling long if I'm not writing. ;o) Good point to re-read the WHOLE thing. I think I tend to fiddle as I go along, and lose the Big Picture. Structural changes are more important!

  30. Great advice!

    I work like that except that I'm planning on repeating the cycle of reading, revisions and edits three to five times before I send my WiP off. Want to make extra sure that it's perfect.


  31. Similar -- don't rush is my motto these days. Lately I've taken to revising my dreams. It's kind of cool though.

  32. Rosalind, enjoy your break first :)

    Ellie, how awesome! Good luck with the editing.

    Alyssia, shoes!!!!!!!

    Hart, haha yes! I make changes and my crit partners notice something is missing and I think, but wait, I had that. Then I realised I deleted some key info and forgot to put it back OOPS.

    Jessica, oh wow, thanks so much!

  33. Donna, hahaha yep, I can relate. I do the same thing. If it's a quick fix, I'll go ahead.

    Maeve, you are welcome :)

    Talli, yep, I should have added, 'rinse and repeat'.

    Stacy, those second opinions go a long way to help.

    Mark, I can read your mind...

    Carol, yes! Structure is soooo important to get right.

    Misha, oh yes, I definitely repeat as well.

    M Pax, It's a good motto

  34. Good advice! Haha, will be remembering this post when the end of my first draft comes! (Which is hopefully sooner rather than later) :D

  35. Good list, but it doesn't always happen in order. I'm working on a manuscript that I started in 2007, and I'm only just starting to realize what structural changes I need to be making. Sigh.

    If you get a chance, check out a fellow writer's zombie story and help me make him wear an embarrassing shirt next year! Details are here:

  36. My desire is to start edits straight away but I fight my desire and place the manuscript away in a drawer. To distract myself, I write another novel.

  37. After finishing my first draft I celebrate. Then I edit like a hundred times before letting anyone see it. Can't wave my trash before the world. It has to be half-way decent. :)

  38. My process is similar. I'd only add that after I think it's done, instead of those two week or two months, I give it to a final reader to check for anything I've missed. That person always finds something.

  39. This is a thorough and very helpful list!

  40. Ha! I've run through this process at least 100 times already. It's exhausting. Will I ever really come to a point where I think it's done?

    God, I hope so!

    Thanks for another wonderfully informative post. Another to add to my Great Tips for Writing file.

  41. Devin, good luck finishing your first draft

    Kelworthfiles, my first novel was like that...and my second...

    Clarissa, yes! That's what I do :)

    Laila, yeah, I don't care anymore. I just send it off and warn my CPs if it's a first draft.

    Theresa, yep, that's definitely a good way to do it.

    Nancy, I think I'm where you are at the moment ;)

  42. Once I've "finished" I print it off and start looking for things to cut and to add. I try and think about if I have hit all the senses in the story. (PB)

  43. Can't express how much I agree with the importance of no. 2.

  44. Sharon, yep, printing it out makes a world of difference for spotting mistakes.

    Suze, breaks are essential

  45. I go through with a chart and mark on it pages and line places where there are problems to be addressed/rewritten. My sections are on World, Character, Storyline, Theme etc.Then I read through again and this time make my edits (I do this in handwriting and have a printed version of my MS). Then I do another read through, fix any typos bits and send it out to my beta readers confident that it's perfect.
    Then it comes back and I have lots more editing to do.

    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  46. Excellent advice :D If I ever get around to completing a damn manuscript then I'll definitely take your tips :D

  47. Charmaine, that sounds like a great system you have.

    Jamie, hehe, I know the feeling. It took my about 9 years to finish my first book lol ;)


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