When the First Draft is Done

Once your first draft is done, whether it’s the end of NaNoWriMo and you’ve just completed 50,000 words or whether you’ve just written a short story or poem, the next step in the process is the same: to take your first draft – your scrawled ideas racing each other to fall out of the tip of your pen – and set it aside while you think for a while on these four things:

Organisation

How is your manuscript organised? Is your story in chronological order or does it contain flashbacks and flash forwards?
If you changed the way it was organised, would it improve the flow or spice up the plot or would it increase suspense?

There is no harm in actually experimenting with organising your manuscript different – just make sure you save an original and reorganise a copy rather than the real thing. This makes it easier to see what any changes would look like.

Voice

Whose perspective does the story come from?
What is the overall tone of the manuscript – is it teaching or chiding or something else?
Would it be more interesting if the voice was given to another character?

I always find it interesting to think about a story from the perspective of every character. I think about where each character comes from and what they bring to the story and I think about what makes them unique – how would the story benefit from their perspective? Or maybe it wouldn’t benefit. Why? Telling the story from a unique perspective is more likely to capture attention.

Word choice

Is there a word that just doesn’t sound right? Is there a better word to replace it with?
Are there places that sound clunky because of the words that have been placed together?

When you are writing there are always instances of not being able to think of the right word to fill in the blank space in your head. This is where you have put down the closest word you can think of in your draft, and now is the time to think about how you could change those words to make them better.

Sentence fluency

Does each sentence transition smoothly from one to the next?
Is there a sentence or paragraph that doesn’t fit that should be moved somewhere else?

Sentence fluency is really important in a manuscript, because any rough pieces make it harder to engage with the text and readers could get frustrated and put it down, never to pick it up again. Today, when more people watch movies than read books, it is important to continually hook your readers’ imaginations and keep them interested in reaching the end.

Think on these things and implement them in your writing. Don’t be afraid to cut your pages and rearrange sections all over the place to make things clearer, avoid repetition, or add some suspense and mystery. No manuscript is perfect at first draft stage – none. And no matter how you work, so long as you keep copies of your previous version, you can always undo the changes if you don’t like them. At this stage of the writing process, it’s all about experimenting and thinking about things you could do differently.

How do you go about revising? What is the first thing you do? Share in the comments.