5 ways to revise a 1st draft


Diving into my first draft revisions this time around feels freakishly different than last time. The last time I started a second draft, it was 2012-ish (...WHAT IS TIME, YOU GUYS). I had never revised a novel before, and I thought I was going to shift a few commas around and have a bestseller on my hands.

It took me five drafts and three years to figure out that I am not, in fact, historical fiction Jesus. So, like, my first drafts? Yeah. They don't come out perfectly the first time.

I know, right. *brains* *'splosions* *side-eye*


This whole learning-to-revise process has been really humbling for me, because I spent all 1.5 years of Privateer's first draft season getting instant feedback from my incredibly generous beta readers on Figment. A lot of it was positive. So I somehow got into the mindset that I was going to have minimal work to do, if any.

...omg, though.

as i start hail the pumpkin king edits, i want to be reasonable about my expectations.

But I also recognize that this novel is not like any I've written before. It's a patchwork book. By that, I mean I didn't write the first draft in chapters like I usually do; I wrote it as one long, 108K-word chapter, basically, with scene breaks every few pages or whenever I felt like it. I also wrote it entirely in lowercase (aside from names), without thinking about the nightmare that it would cause when Word decided to literally stop working.


Since my sole strategy for the first draft of HTPK was to finishI decided I needed to have a couple of strategies for the second draft. I'm posting them here just in case any of you find them remotely helpful:

read aloud.

Hey, you know that girl who's talking to herself in the corner of the coffee shop, plugged into her laptop and totally oblivious to any and all annoyed stares? Hi, that's me. Reason #4203984 why I should not be allowed out of my apartment.

In my defense, reading out loud helps me catch errors. Of which there are many.

I type really fast - like, up in the 100 WPM range - and I still skip words (usually articles like "a" or "the", but sometimes I will also start sentences in the middle of other sentences, like a boss), because my fingers don't move as quickly as my brain does when I get excited. I have the freaking cerebral cortex of a goldfish on speed.

I didn't realize how often I skip words until I had a college writing professor actually require us to come to his office and read our final essays out loud to him while he sat and listened. True story. But because I got/get serious stage fright reading my own work out loud, I would practice beforehand. Just sitting at my desk, mumbling. It wasn't a good look for me.


the post-it technique.

There are a lot of variants on this technique, but here's how I do it:

I summarize every scene so that each fits on a single, color-coded Post-It note. And then I arrange and rearrange them on the giant blank, white wall in my room that I procrastinated decorating, until my novel's structure freaking makes sense to someone other than me and my goldfish brain.

Blue is main plot/present time, green is flashback/historical anecdote, pink is dream sequence (this is specific to this book... there are a lot of dreams), yellowis a fairy story/interlude (also specific to this book).

y'all, my room currently looks like it belongs to an actual crazy person.

y'all, my room currently looks like it belongs to an actual crazy person.


The reason why I'm doing this is because Post-Its are movable. As in, you can pick them up and put them down, shuffle and reorder them. With your hands. And as I have some kinesthetic learning tendencies, it helps me remember all my subplots to have to physically write out what each scene is about, and then cluster pieces of colored paper into chapters so I can see where there's too much of one color or too little of another.

Admittedly, I'm also doing this because I am obsessed with Post-Its. And most... office supplies.

furnish the room.

I totally cheated on world-building when I was first-drafting. I focused on character voices, and shied away from digging into the world of the fantasy land I'd created. This book may be character-driven (like most YA), but that doesn't mean that the world should exist solely as an empty room to hold them.

The world of a novel is essentially another character in and of itself.

So this time around, I'm going to dig in. I'm going to ask the 'why' questions (Why does this happen instead of that? Why is this a tradition that is accepted by the characters? Why does magic function in this way in this world?) and I'm going to ask the 'how' questions (How did this character relationship come about, even if it began "off-screen"? How do the rules of the world shape the interactions between two characters from different social classes? How is the environment of this world playing into the power dynamics that move the plot forward?). 

I'm going to throw things. I'm going to cry, probably. It's gonna be great.

save the narwhals.

I have a habit of cutting words without saving them, thinking I'll never need them again. Even after doing five drafts of the same novel, it's still not second nature for me to save my cuts. It's astonishing. My subconscious is determined to make my life difficult.

So in this draft I will save my cuts, but more than that, I'm saving my gems, my little unicorns that appear out of the depths like magic and remind me that I can occasionally write a thing. I'll appreciate the shockingly coherent lines that I wrote at 2 AM and forgot about. I'll save my literary narwhals, and I'll hopefully remember why the hell I am putting myself through this again.

enjoy the pancake.

A few years ago, I sat in a room with Neil Gaiman while he spoke to a group of nerds (I am included among said nerds) and said this about first drafts and revisions:

"Remember, if you’ve ever made a pancake, there’s always that first pancake - where it turns out like something that doesn’t look like a pancake. It’s lumpy, weird, and black, and you either feed it to a child or eat it yourself. Writing is like that. Rewriting is about making yourself look clever."

So. I'm giving myself permission to do a read-through without editing.

This. Is so. Hard for me. (Come to think of it, this should have been step #1, but my life isn't in order so why should this list be.)

I haven't touched this book since October 2015; I need a little refresh before I can properly become a Post-It-obsessed lunatic. I need to give myself space to find out what this book is really about, see the themes that I accidentally threw in and didn't develop (as I always do), and fall in love with it again. Enjoy the lumpy, weird pancake. Etc.

Those are my strategies for Draft 2. Do you have different strategies/goals for different drafts? Or do you have one blanket set of rules for revisions? Share them in the comments! I'mma steal them. #SaveTheNarwhals #LumpyWeirdPancake