Breaking Your First Draft Apart

Sometimes, the editing process can be more difficult than writing! It’s hard to take the things that you wrote and change or get rid of significant chunks. Today, NaNoWriMo participant Rosario Martinez reminds us that it’s ok to break apart what you’ve written:

You’re finished with your first draft, and you have no idea what you wrote. You just spent a month (several actually, but who’s really counting) writing this story, and now you feel like you can’t articulate what it is that you wrote. 

This happens, and it’s okay. Take a breath, take a few days to relax and not think about what you wrote. Detach, but keep in mind a date you’ll like to return. Always keep in mind a date you will return to your story. What I find helps the most is using the calendar feature on my cell phone because I have it with me most of the time. No excuses, right? (Sort of.) 

Don’t worry, you can do this. You wrote a story, your story. It’s done. Now you have to read and fix that story. But how?

This is the part where I tell you how you can fix your story. But actually, each story is different and will require different approaches to edit, revise, and rewrite. There is so much information about techniques on how to approach your first draft that just looking at ideas on where to start can be overwhelming. Just remember you already have words on the page. Words you can read and make better because these words already exist. This is just my suggestion on how you can begin to approach your novel edits.

1. Break your novel into parts. 

What I’ve found most helpful is breaking your long, messy draft down into parts. It’s easier to manage visually and in terms of workload. You can divide your manuscript into the typical beginning, middle and end sections. Or simply into sets of equal number chapters—whatever helps you. 

2. Determine the state of your draft. 

Basically, assess the damage. Were you able to finish the story? Or did you only complete the word count? These are two different things. Different genres have different word counts, so let this be your first guide. 

3. Read your novel.

Now that you’ve divvied up your story into parts, here comes the fun part: actually sitting down and reading it. This can be a difficult exercise because while we’re writing we have this epic—I repeat—EPIC idea of what our story is, and we often genuinely believe that is the way we wrote it. So, reading it for the first time is a bit of a rude awakening because, well… it’s not epic. Reading your first draft is the hardest, because it makes you realize how much work is still ahead. It’s okay to feel down and cry. (I don’t think we talk about this enough as writers.) 

4. Come up with a plan for your story.

All things take time. Breathe. And come up with a plan to make your story like you imagined it. Whether you dive straight into editing, or you choose a particular thing to focus on first, make those marks on the page with your favorite pen or use your favorite editing software to fix mistakes.  

5. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

Did you read something that was already somewhere else in the draft? Are you repeating a word or a phrase too much? Cross it out. Is your main character meeting a lot of other characters? Make a list and (for the love of your future self rereading your draft a third or fourth time) make notes on where and when these characters first appear. 

Write in the margins, circle, highlight, correct, revise words or sentences that don’t make sense. Write neatly so that it’s legible when you come back for another round. Be as specific as you can when you’re making these notes. Accept that it might take more read-throughs before you feel comfortable having someone else read it. 

6. Find the best editing process for you.

Research your favorite authors that write the same genre as you, and find out how they approach their drafts. You might discover something that will work with your own approach. Your approach to editing is your own, just like your story is your own. Only you will know what it needs and what it will take to get to the end each time. But whatever it is, take it bit by bit and you’ll make progress.


Rosario Martinez is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and their four sweet but demanding cats. She’s currently working on her debut YA fantasy novel. She has too many flannel things and believes a good bowl of nachos is life. To follow her journey to publication, visit her literary lifestyle blog or find her on Twitter @rosariomwrites and Instagram @rosariomwrites.

Top photo by Lujia Zhang on Unsplash.