3 Ways to Revise Your First Draft

As I near the end of my revisions to Manuscript: Beta, I have begun to reflect on the process itself. Jessie called me crazypants when I told her I was rewriting The Warden of Everfeld: Memento to prepare the second draft.

So I thought I would compare this process to the other paths I might have taken. At its most basic, there are really only three ways to revise a first draft.

3 Ways to Revise Your First Draft

Obviously, there are endless combinations and varieties of the revision process. The path you choose really depends on how deep you need to go.

In-Line Editing

This form of revision is most useful when the revisions you are making are cosmetic. Perhaps you’ve had your first draft reviewed by a proofreader, and you just want to tighten up the language and punctuation for your second draft.

Too many adverbs or gerunds? Frequent comma splices? Too many questions in a row? You can probably get by with making the corrections directly to your first draft.

Consider yourself fortunate.

Rewriting while using the First Draft as a Template

Do you like what you have in your first draft, but the content or even the plot need some work? Print out the first draft, mark it up with any corrections or notes you have, and rewrite it in a new document.

Why worry about cutting and pasting sections or chapters in the right order when you can start clean and fresh?

This has been my strategy for Manuscript: Beta, and I think it has gone very well. Because of the deeper narrative and character revisions I knew I was going to make, I was concerned that in-line editing on my original draft was just going to get too messy.

Boy, was I right. There are sections I’ve cut out entirely, and there are some that are nearly identical to the originals. Either way, I can rewrite them, clean up the language, and help it flow in one process.

Rewriting from Scratch

This is what I would consider crazypants. Maybe your novel needs a complete overhaul. Or maybe you’re changing POV characters entirely! That will take a lot more work, but starting from scratch may be your best bet.

The upside of this tactic is that you can start with a clean slate, while understanding the shortcomings of your first draft. You’re wiser, and your second draft will almost certainly become a more matured version of your original story.

What’s Your Revision Path?

All of these revision strategies are valid, but they work for different levels of revising. If you’re changing the POV character for a chapter (or an entire book), then trying to implement in-line edits would be too difficult. That new POV character would observe completely different things, and react in different ways than in the original section.

In the same vein, if you just want to clean up the language, then maybe rewriting the entire draft is unnecessary.

How did you revise your first draft? Or How are you planning to?

Steve D

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