Reading over my first draft (and how to review yours)

I feel like I’ve finished my first draft. It’s like 10, maybe 20, thousand words long, which is like a short novella. That’s okay, though, because this story has morphed into something completely different to my original idea, and now I don’t have a plan to follow. I know I’ll be able to bulk up my story massively once I have an idea where it’s going. I don’t yet. I needed some time out before reviewing my first draft. Hence my putting my draft to the side for a couple of weeks and instead focusing on my fan fiction. Now, I’m ready to start revising it. Wish me luck!

Reading my first draft

Okay, so the first time I read my draft, I did just that. I read. No distractions. No highlighting. No annotating. Just reading.

Oh, the horror! My first draft is, without doubt, one of the worst things I’ve written in quite a while. I even switch tenses occasionally, something I’ve never had an issue with before. Reading through it the first time, I had to restrain myself from clicking on ‘delete’ and giving up. PLEASE DON’T EVER DO THIS. There are- and there always will be- gems amongst the rubbish. Even if it’s just one sentence, you will look at part of your first draft and think yes, nailed it there.

For the second read-through, I recommend you find yourself a rainbow of coloured pens or else make acquaintances with the editing functions on your word processor. I work on Microsoft Word, which means as well as the varying text colours and highlighting options, I can click on ‘Review’ and make use of various functions, such as ‘Comment’, which means you can select a piece of text and make notes in the bubble that pops up beside it- basically annotating via computer; ‘Track changes’, where any altering of the document is recorded, so you know exactly what you’ve changed about it, and can therefore revert back to the original if you so choose; and my new favourite ‘Start inking’- probably best if you have a touchscreen laptop as I do, or else a very steady hand on the computer mouse!- which gives you options for a pen, a highlighter and an eraser (with options for colour and thickness) to annotate and highlight to your heart’s content! (I assume there are similar functions on other word processors.)

Basically, your second read-through is the time to cover that black-and-white document in annotations of every colour. I had a colour code for things I liked and things I disliked, and I made comments on each of these things explaining why I did or didn’t like them, for example- “really in character”, “doesn’t fit here”, “hurried- work on pacing”. That way you know what you’ve done well, and what you need to work on when you move onto your second draft.

Third time round, have a notepad handy. In it you should jot down anything and everything that comes to mind as you read over your document and the annotations you made last time you read it. This can include notes on continuity errors, ideas on how to make things you dislike better second time round, thoughts on other scenes you could include etc. I actually ordered my notes chronologically, so I had a title of a scene then details about things that could be improved, then ideas about how to link this scene to the next, and so on. This way you get a ready-made, detailed plan for your second draft.

After reading through your first draft, try not to be discouraged- first drafts aren’t supposed to be perfect! I’ll be posting soon with ideas on how to go about writing your second draft. I hope you all had a good Christmas; please feel free to comment below any suggestions you have for writing and reading first and second drafts!

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