15 Ways To Edit A First Draft

15 Ways To Edit A First Draft


Have you finished the rough draft of your blog post, short story, or book? In this post, we discuss 15 ways to edit a first draft.

Writers edit.

It’s a natural progression for anyone who decides they want to be a writer.

While hiring a professional proofreader and editor is recommended, self-editing happens between the writer and their manuscript before anyone else has read a single page.

First drafts are like clay. The basic form exists, but still has to be sculpted, refined, and altered until it’s ready to move forward.

A first draft is never as good as the published work. At least, not yet. It takes work. That’s editing.

Final published writing can resemble the first version, but might also look almost nothing like draft one.

In this post, we look at ways to edit a first draft. 

Are You Ready To Edit A First Draft? 

Have you written a first draft of an article, a blog post, a chapter, or a manuscript?

Congratulations.

It’s time for a pat on the back. Feel free to have a celebratory cigarette, cup of coffee, or a cookie.

Now what?

A first draft should sit. Whether it sits for five minutes, or five days, it should be out of the writer’s head for a little while. (How long you’re allowed to ‘let it sit’ depends on your deadline!)

Next, a writer’s job is to read through their first draft. Letting it sit guarantees a fresh perspective on the piece of writing.

Some writers will request feedback from their editor, a professional proofreader, the publisher, or the client at this point. Usually, there’s self-editing involved before the writer calls in any external help.

15 Ways To Edit A First Draft 

Here are 15 steps to take a piece of writing to the next level. 

1. Fixing Formatting

Fix formatting first.

Without it, editing turns into a lengthy and difficult process where one is more concerned with line spacing or font than good writing.

Word processors can reset formatting easily. Copy the original text, and paste unformatted text into a new document.

Now, worry about editing, not formatting. 

2. Beginnings & Endings

Beginnings and endings are difficult to get right the first time. 

Pay attention to the beginnings and endings of sentences and paragraphs. Try alternate versions of them during the editing phase. 

An effective beginning sentence intrigues the reader. An effective ending sentence concludes what the reader has seen up until that point. 

Beginnings and endings have to make sense.

3. Shifting Sections

One of the greatest editing tools is also the simplest. Editing often means moving sentences and paragraphs around for a better fit.

Writing means thinking of something, and then writing it down. Then thinking of something else, and writing it down. (It doesn’t mean these sections have to appear in this order!) 

View the first draft like a puzzle. Move sentences and paragraphs around until they click together better.

4. Rewriting Chapters, Sections & Chunks

Editing means rewriting chapters, sections, and various other chunks.

It can be for consistency, or for just realising that something could be said better. It can be for adding something to the piece that should have been there earlier, or it can clarify what was there.

Sections can be too long, or too short.

There are various reasons to choose a section and write it again. It’s just a natural part of proper editing.

5. Beware The Word Pusher

Beware what I’ve learned to call the word pusher.

It’s what happens when a writer focuses too much on increasing the word count of the piece, and too little on what’s being said (or why).

While writing, it can be useful to keep writing. But when editing, rewrite or cut what’s necessary to ensure a more concise final draft.

6. Adding More

The opposite of the word pusher is coming up short.

Editing can involve adding sentences or paragraphs where needed. 

It doesn’t mean adding unnecessary filler words. Instead, take a second look at the writing piece and mark sections where you can add substance, facts, or clearer descriptions.

7. Removing Redundant Words

Redundancy is a certain enemy of good writing. 

Editing means looking for word and sentence repetition. Also look for any unnecessary words, or long-winded descriptions the piece doesn’t really need. 

Every first draft has some redundancy in it. The editor’s job is to track it down.

8. Paragraph Splitting

Readers (and editors) don’t enjoy reading what looks like a ‘wall of text’. 

It’s not pleasant for the eyes or the reader. 

Paragraphs should be split into manageable sections as part of the editing process. This can be tied into other steps on this list (such as rewriting or shifting sections around). 

The goal? 

Make things easier to read.

9. Saying Things Better 

The art of writing is the art of saying things. But the art of editing is the art of saying things better than before. This is especially true when you edit a first draft.

Editing means thinking, ‘How else can I say this?’

Look for synonyms, search for more (or sometimes less) colourful language, say things in new ways. 

10. Clarifications

The quest for how to say things better can lead to writers pushing the limit too far. 

When this happens, readers and editors ask, ‘What does this mean?’ It’s when language gets too colourful, too elaborate, or too confusing for the reader. 

Add clarifications, or rewrite.

11. More Specifically, Replacing All

Lengthy manuscripts can get difficult to edit.

When you’ve seen a specific mistake, like a word, term, or grammatical mark that’s wrong throughout the text, relax.

That’s what the word processor’s Find & Replace option is meant for.

Remember to read through carefully. This feature can also accidentally insert mistakes.

12. Altering Focus

Editing can mean more than rewriting a few sections.

The writer might also need to alter the focus of the piece. 

Let’s say you’ve written an article on Banana Sales in Kwazulu Natal. While writing the piece, you discover information about banana spiders that you didn’t know before. What if the focus of the article changes to being about Banana Spiders in Kwazulu Natal instead? 

It’s one example of how altering focus can work. 

If you’re ever stuck on a piece of writing, remember this as a way out. Change your focus.

13. Changing Voice

A story or section can also change voice or perspective.

It’s common for fiction, though perspective changes can also happen for nonfiction.

Changing perspective can require rewriting large sections or scenes, but doesn’t always have to. Outline the projected change first. It makes writing it easier! 

14. Original Writing

Writing should be original.

This is a lot harder than it sounds. 

There are millions of words in existence. More are added every day. It’s sheer statistics that means similar writing to yours could be out there. 

Always check. Websites like Copyscape allow writers to check the originality of their writing against existing work. 

It’s a good writer’s responsibility.

15. The Last Spellcheck 

Once the first draft has started to feel like a more refined, polished piece of writing, it’s time to do The Last Spellcheck.

Ensure that your word processor has been set to the correct language (for example, English UK). Use at least one spellchecker other than the built-in word processor spellcheck for consistency.

Then, send your next draft into the world.

The Last Word

I hope these 15 ways to edit a first draft help you to edit your book.

If you want to improve your writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.

 By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

If you enjoyed this, read his other posts:

  1. Epilogues, Afterwords, & Appendices – What’s The Difference?
  2. The Top 10 Blogging Trends In 2021
  3. 10 Types Of Sentences You Won’t See In Good Writing
  4. 10 Common Mistakes Journalists Make (& How To Avoid Them)
  5. Forewords, Prefaces, Prologues, & Introductions – What’s The Difference?
  6. The Essential SEO Writing Guide (With 11 SEO Writing Tips)
  7. The Definitive Plain Language Writing Guide (& 10 Sentences Decoded)
  8. 10 Essential Tips For Eliminating Distractions From Your Writing
  9. 10 Editing Errors Writers Should Avoid At All Costs
  10. 10 Bits Of Writing Advice From Stephen King

Top Tip: Find out more about our online courses and workbooks in our shop.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Cathy Cade

    Sadly, MSWord’s Find/Replace won’t help with inconsistent quote marks when the colleague you’re editing has been using straight ones and your wordprocessor is set for curly ones and you didn’t notice in time to change it in Options. 🙁

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