How to Start Editing Your Book’s First Draft

As you might know, I am working on my fantasy novel Watcher. I am currently editing the first draft and thought I’d share my process with you. Rewriting/editing has never been my favorite part of writing, as it felt like the ‘creative part’ of writing was over and now it was just the boring stuff. Boy, was I wrong! No first draft is perfect and first drafts are rarely even good. Your story needs editing in order to shine. It took a while, but I’m actually loving it!

Let’s get Editing!

Okay, your first draft is ready. The whole story is there, from beginning to end. Now it’s time to start polishing this rough diamond. I like to think about my first draft as material to work with, not as my book (yet). However, I do think that you should celebrate the fact that you just wrote a bunch of words. So let’s start by celebrating your story. Pop open the champagne, invite all your friends (if you have any left, I mean, I go in hermit mode whenever I write), eat cake and do a little dance. But whatever you do, do NOT touch your book! Let it sit. Don’t touch it for at least a week. I mean it. It’s hard, but you’ll thank me later. Not reading it will allow you to create some much needed distance.

Let’s actually get editing!

Okay, it’s been a week (or preferably a bit longer), now we can start editing slowly. Read the book like you’re a reader, not its writer. It works best if you print your book on actual paper, because you’ll see things differently. You’ve been staring at it for hours on your screen, but it’s much easier to edit off paper. Plus, it’s awesome to see your book laying before you. You deserve that moment where you can see just how much work you did. When you read it, write down your notes, but don’t start editing just yet. Finish the whole book this way.

Big to small

When you start editing, start big. Look at the plot, the theme, the structure and the tension curve. Look at what the book is truly about and if you’re getting that message across. Do you need to make any changes? Figure out how you’re going to do this. Maybe change the order of the chapters/scenes a bit, maybe it needs to be told from a different character’s perspective, etc…

Make it smaller

If the read thread of your story is working perfectly, we can start looking at scenes and paragraphs. Consider the rhythm. Some scenes may be dragging and some scenes may fly by too fast. Look at the time (are you writing everything in the same tense? This needs to be consistent throughout the story). Are your characters each ‘their own person’? Do they have their own voices and details? Is your scene credible and of value to the story?

It’s also important to look at background information. A scene with a lot of information and no (or very little) action gets tedious quickly. Another thing that makes a scene crawl is by using way too much detail. A good rule for this is arrive late, leave early. You don’t always need to tell how your character got from A to B. A good rule of thumb is to describe this in just one sentence.

Last tip: ask yourself ‘why now?’ Does she start crying for a (good) reason? Why is he telling her now? Make changes to your scenes where necessary.


Even smaller!

Now let’s take a look at your sentences: show, don’t tell. You can tell the reader your character was nervous, but you can also show them that your character’s palms were sweaty and they were breathing rapidly. This allows the reader to come to that conclusion for themselves. It makes your story more interesting!

Tell your story using all your character’s senses. Don’t share just what they see, but also what they smell, hear, taste and feel. Mix it up! Also, mix up the sentence length and structure. Match the rhythm of your sentences to the rhythm of the story.

Time to kill some darlings


Okay, now we get to the hardest part. Some things just aren’t necessary for your book. It might even be the sentence or paragraph that you’re most proud of. I hate to tell you, but if it’s not serving a purpose, it’s gotta go. 😉

Here’s things that you should generally ditch:

– Run-on sentences (usually the first sentence of a paragraph)
– Conclusions after show don’t tell. Your reader will get it, I promise.
– Auxiliary verbs
– He says, she says. Make it clear who is talking through what they say.
– Superlatives (I’m looking at you, very, you gotta go!)
– Unnecessary words like in fact, sort of, etc…
– Clichés

What are you still doing here?

Let’s get editing! Your awesome story deserves to be told in the best way possible. I can’t wait to see your name on the cover of that book in my local bookstore! It’s a tough process and there will be times when you’ll hate it, but it will be 100% worth it in the end. Go get’em writer!

With much love,