From a First Draft Into Edits

by | 26 January 2018 | Writing | 18 comments

Your novel is done. You’ve typed those two majestic words onto the bottom of your manuscript: the end.

But then…what next? Your precious baby of a novel is a massive jumble of…well…rubbish.

The time has come for edits.

If you’re anything like me, editing is a slightly daunting word. I’m fine with editing other people novels, but when it comes to my own, I’m all for writing. I just want to write the first draft, put it aside with good intentions of returning to edits, then write another seven first drafts of new novels before remembering about it again.

So, let’s dive right into what comes between finishing a first draft, and finishing the first round of edits.

[I also have a small note to make. Nadine Brandes did a woooonderful post on this very topic just a week or so ago (and if you haven’t read it yet, then shush, hurry up and do it now) and I was slightly miffed because I’d already written out on my calendar that I would do this post (which I’ve had in planning for a few months) today. But I’m doing it anyway. XD So here we are, if you’ve read Nadine’s post, you’ll probably find this quite similar since we apparently have fairly similar views on editing. 😉 ]


1: Put aside that 1st draft novel

This can sound like procrastinating or putting off the inevitable, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your novel. Finish that first draft, and then step away. Take a breath—for a few weeks, or a month, or a few months. You can work on a different story, or not write at all. Just push the finished novel from your mind and take a break.


2: Come back with a fresh motivation and view

After leaving your novel for a while, it’s much easier to see it as a whole project, not just as a blurry pile of words and emotions and tiredness. Come back and read over your manuscript, and after that break you’ll notice many more things than you would have otherwise.

In fact, you might notice so much that you hate your story.


3: Don’t let the first draft mess discourage you

This is such an important step. Reading through a first draft can be a horrible process. “Did I write that?” “How could I have thought this was good?” “This is all disgusting” “I wasted my time on this.”

All these thoughts happen, but you need to use them well. Yes, it’s a mess, but that’s why you have to edit. And when you edit, it’ll be so. much. better.

Keep your chin up, soldier. It’s time for lists.


4: Make a list of everything that needs to be fixed

List down the big plot holes, the character arcs you need to smooth out, those other scenes you want to add, that pointless scene you want to take away. Grab out a notebook and write them all down.

I actually find it helps me if I do editing plans on physical paper, but a word or scrivener document works just fine too.

Write down the problems, and then write down how you’re going to fix them. Plan out your plot-hole-patch, your smoother character arc, your less-preachy theme.

After writing everything down, sort it into groups. All the plot problems, put in one group. All the character problems go in another. All the theme goes in yet another. And so on.


5: Start with the biggest edits

From your lists of problems, pick out the problem that will make the most changes to your story. (This is most likely going to be the plot section.)

From there, all you have to do is work through your story and apply the fixes that you’ve already planned out. You can work through the plot changes, then move down to the next biggest edit—maybe a character or a theme problem.


6: Work your way down the list—one thing at a time

Don’t try work on the plot and the character arcs or theme or whatever. It might sound like a more practical way to do it, but it’s way more effective to focus on one thing at a time. Ignore all problems but the one you’re working on specifically. Some of the others will naturally get fixed during your work, but don’t get too sidetracked.

The edits as a whole will be stronger if you can give each element your full attention.


7: Keep on writing, writing, writing!

If you stick to it, before you know it you’ll have Sir Novel: draft two on your hands. Edits finished, plot holes fixed. Have a pizza party to celebrate, then start the process all over again. 😛


Editing can be tough, but it’s also rewarding. It’s so good to see a messy draft transforming into something readable.

Obviously, what I’ve said in this post isn’t the ONLY way to edit, but it’s the way I do it. It might not work for you, or it might fit perfectly. I’m not setting out rules or anything—let’s just be clear with that. 😉


Chat with me! What’s your favourite part of writing? (first drafts, editing, revising, etc.) Do you have a personal method of editing?

Jane Maree

Jane Maree

Jane Maree is an Australian writer, adventurer at heart, beloved daughter of the King of Kings, and believer in at least six impossible things before breakfast. Raised on fairy tales, scraped knees, and makeshift swords, she has yet to outgrow any of them. In her day job, Jane teaches music and freelances as an editor, but by night she crafts daring stories of broken heroes overcoming extraordinary odds.


  1. J.A.Penrose

    Aaaah, another post on edits! Yay!
    I hate editing my first drafts. It is so painful and… Ugh. But it does need to happen. And between yourself, Nadine, and another writer email I get, it sounds like there are a lot of tips for it.
    Really great ideas. The main thing I struggle with is the first step. Getting the motivation to sit down and read through it, noting the problems.
    Thanks for the advice!

    • Jane Maree

      Aww, thank you. That’s so encouraging to hear. ^-^

      I hope this helps your editing ventures in the future. 🙂 Motivation is a tough one, but you need to always remember how much better it’ll be once you buck up and do the edits. 😛

  2. Quinley

    This is awesome advice, Jane!:)
    When I am editing my novels, I often either write what I want to change or what I have changed.

    • Jane Maree

      Thanks! 😀
      Ah yes, that’s always so helpful to keep track of what needs to be done.

  3. Catherine @ The Rebelling Muse

    Hmmm, definitely shtashing this post for future reference…great post, Jane!


    • Jane Maree

      Eep. <3
      I hope it helps with your edits, friend.

  4. Jenna

    So what if this post was similar to Nadine’s; great minds think alike right?😉
    My favorite part of writing is for sure first drafts. Editing and I aren’t great friends. Sometimes I think of it as a necessary evil. VERY necessary. *sighs* anyway, I don’t think I have my own way of editing since, I haven’t written a novel yet, just a really short novella.

    • Jane Maree

      Awk, now you’re making me blush. *hides* I couldn’t possibly be compared to Nadine.
      First draft buddies!! I loove first drafts because they’re much faster and they’re brand new and keep me interested and I can do whatever I want. 😛
      Ah well, you’ll get there eventually! Best of luck. 😉

      • Jenna

        Yeah sometimes I just wanna quit outlining and planning and just WRITE! But I know a better first draft will result from more thorough planning.

        • Jane Maree

          Hehe saaame. Although…sometimes I do just write them after two or three days of planning. XD And then there’s always a rewrite on the horizon because the novel turned out as a big mess. 😀

  5. MiddleEarthMusician

    Ooh! Yay!!! I’m a LONG way away from this, but this will be SUPER helpful when I do get to that part of my novel(s). Thanks for sharing! XD

    • Jane Maree

      You’ll have a finished first draft before you know it. 😛
      I hope this helps for when you do need it. 🙂

  6. Hannah Gaudette

    Great advice! I’m just about at this point now with my novella. The first draft is just a few chapters from completion, but of course, those last few chapters are like pulling teeth and hair. Agony. 🙂

    But it’s coming slowly. This is quite similar to the process I’ve used – finish it, give it to an outsider to read, then set it aside for a couple months. And yes, when I go back to it, I just about hate it. 🙁

    We writers must be very determined creatures indeed to keep writing/editing after that first draft!

    • Jane Maree

      Ahh that’s so exciting that you’re almost finished!!! *throws confetti*

      Don’t give up on your novels, Hannah. <3 There's always potential that you don't originally see in there. 🙂

      Yes, we must! It sounds so easy...but it's really not. XD

  7. Jem Jones

    When [if…] I finish a first draft, I’ll come back and study this post. xD

    • Jane Maree

      You can do it!! Keep on writing, writing, writing. 😛

  8. Aposhipolepo

    Another interesting post Jane.
    I think my favorite parts of making stories are world building and character development. Some of the things you mentioned (especially point 1) remind me of the methods suggested by Kendra E. Ardnek (knittedbygodsplan blogspot) she has repeatedly and vividly stressed the point of locking your first draft away in a box for a time.

    • Jane Maree

      Character development is one of my favourites too! It’s just so fun to play with all the precious characters. 😛

      Ah yes, that step IS hugely important because otherwise it’s so easy to get burnt out and run out of motivation. Giving yourself a break leaves you much better physically and mentally to tackle the next draft. *nods*

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