Editing 101: The First Draft

I told you I cheated just a bit and printed my current novel-in-progress (Feeling Himself Forgotten) before I was done with the first draft. Normally, I don’t print a single page until I’ve typed THE END on the last page. I also cheated and skipped ahead a bit and wrote the ending of this novel before I had completed the last few chapters. But at 200+ pages I felt the need to go ahead and press PRINT and start reading from the beginning, mainly just to reacquaint myself with the story. After all, it’s been four months since I wrote that first page.

I also did it because I was at a loss on how to wrap up the ending. I thought going ahead and rereading it and working on the first draft might help me discover how the ending should play out, and it did. Now that my first edit is done, it’s time to start transferring my notes and changes to the manuscript, and to fix all those errors and grammatical problems I found. Remember what I said here: I never go back and do any editing on what I’ve previously written while I’m pounding out the novel.  So yeah, there were some problems to fix.

Here are the most common mistakes I find that I make  in my first draft:


Misspelled words is the most common mistake to look for. Not sure if you spelled something right?  Just circle it and check it later. I also have a tendency to type the wrong tense of a word meaning I might type “get” instead of “got” or I might type “leave” instead of “left.” I also sometimes type a word twice, especially “the” or “in.”  Or I forget __ type a word.  My fingers just get ahead of my brain.


My biggest problem here is that I use commas too much or I always mess up my punctuation when doing dialogue.


I like short sentences or sentences with just one comma or one semi-colon. After that, I’m chopping those sentences up.  When writing contemporary fiction, I also like short paragraphs.  Heck, I even have paragraphs that are just one sentence and some are just one word.

Like this.

I think that improves the flow of the story, or it does for me as a reader at least.


This gets into just making sure the details of your story match up.  If a character has blue eyes on one page, if you mention his eyes again later they better not be brown. Doing outlines or character sketches where you write down all the details about each character helps here.  I don’t practice this myself, but I often underline details while editing if I want to remember to check them later. Using the “Find” option in Microsoft Word can help you quickly locate key words.  Just type in “blue eyes” in the search field.


I’m also always finding places where I need to flush out more details, or explain something, or just add a bit more to make a scene better.  I rarely do it while I’m drafting, but I make a note on the paper to “add more here” and move on.


That’s about it for a first draft.  The important thing is to not get bogged down too much in fixing things.  It is the FIRST draft after all.  Fix the main things that stick out like grammar, spelling, and punctuation but move on.   I also only edit about five chapters a day.  There are about 35 chapters currently so I wrapped up the first edit in about a week.


The part I hate….taking your notes and changes and transferring them to the manuscript.  But more about that in another post…

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