6 Helpful Tips for Editing Your First Draft
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett
Congratulations! You’ve written your first draft, put it out of your mind for a few weeks (or months) and are prepared to dive back into edits. You’ve got your colored pens or highlighters at the ready; your characters eagerly await your return. But where to start?
Every writer has a different process, and they should! None of our brains think the same way (thank goodness). Some writers like to focus on big picture edits the first time around while others read the story and take notes before making and changes.
However you plan to edit your first draft, the six tips below will help you focus, work efficiently, and get the most out of your editing experience.
#1) Give yourself space from the story before editing.
It’s important to take a healthy bit of time away from your first draft to clear your mind. In fact, reading a book or two between writing your first draft and editing it can be a great way to distance yourself. When you come back fresh, you will see loopholes, repetition, and other mistakes much clearer.
#2) Print out your manuscript.
You’d be surprised at the errors you can find on a physical page versus reading on a computer screen. And, even though it’s a first draft, there’s something special about holding your story in your hands. Make sure to double-space your manuscript so you can write in line edits, too!
Bonus tip! Amid COVID-19, several big-box office supply stores with printing services (like OfficeMax and Staples) offer curbside pick-up and shipping. Save your ink and print there.
#3) Find a quiet, private place to edit.
Nothing kills productivity faster than distractions, whether it’s another person, phone notifications, or your own wandering mind. Create a space with little to no distractions (phone turned to silent, closed door, etc.) to settle and get into the mindset of your characters or the world in which your story takes place. Sound is up to you—some writers have story-based playlists, some listen to classical music or white noise, and some prefer complete silence. Go with whatever creates the most beneficial environment for you.
#4) Keep a notepad next to you.
Use the margins and line leading on your printed draft for grammar mistakes and give yourself space to expand on new ideas and plot twists in a separate notebook. This way, you can dive into how your thoughts will blossom and affect the book as a whole without the constraint of space.
#5) Laugh at silly mistakes.
Let’s be honest, there will be at least one line in your manuscript you’ll read and say, What was I thinking?! Those are the best moments, so savor them. Learning to laugh at yourself is so important! Not to mention, sometimes the lines that make you scratch your head turn into some of the best lines in the book once rewritten.
#6) Be open to change.
I opened this article with Terry Pratchett’s quote for a reason. Many times, you’re still discovering the story in the first, second, and even third draft. That’s the beauty of editing—you get to enjoy the story you’ve written while searching out opportunities to make it better. While you’ll likely have to “kill your darlings” (or at least a few of them), your work will be better for it. And if you’re stuck or need motivation, reach out to a supportive writing group, like the Bookstagram community or Scribbler’s Facebook Group!
Editing is both daunting and exciting. I hope these tips prove useful to you as you embark on your editing journey!
Good luck, future bestseller! You’ve got this.
Written by Katarina Betterton
Katarina Betterton is an aspiring adult fiction author. She works for an editorial content agency and specializes in SEO outlining writing and editing. She's also a part of Scribbler's editorial team. When not reading or writing her hobbies include cooking learning new languages and crafting. Follow her writing journey at @iamgirlofwords on Instagram.