Heart shaped Balloon about to be popped with a nail

Writing: Don’t jump from first draft to done

Posted on Posted in Writing Life

One of the hardest things an editor or a book coach has to tell a client is that the book they slaved over isn’t done yet.  A first draft is seldom a book.

On social media, I sometimes see posts that announce  “My book is done!” when the writer has completed his or her first draft. I smile and add my congratulations because getting a first draft done is indeed an accomplishment. This is something to celebrate! Go out to dinner. Send yourself flowers! Take a week or two off to enjoy that you have reached a major milestone in getting your book done.  But more than likely your book isn’t done.  You have much more writing and revising to do if you want your book to shine!

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” — Colette, Casual Chance, 1964

Just because you can self-publish tomorrow, doesn’t mean you should! Easy self-publishing often means authors rush to getting the book out there rather than polishing their work. You’ve probably picked up a few of those books yourself and thought, “There was potential but ….”  or “Gosh it felt like it was written in a rush!”  Don’t be that author!   If you are that person who wants your book to have award and best seller potential, know that the craft of writing is most often in the rewriting. (I know.  There are very poorly written books that become best sellers but they are the freak exceptions not the rule!)

“Once I’ve got the first draft down on paper then I do five or six more drafts, the last two of which will be polishing drafts. The ones in between will flesh out the characters and maybe I’ll check my research.” — Colleen McCullough

I don’t mean to burst your balloon of enthusiasm for your project or break your heart.

The best book rarely happens in one draft. The quotes from some best selling authors in those black boxes confirm my assertion.  Those authors spend time revising multiple drafts to complete that book you read at the beach in an afternoon.

After your first draft completion celebration, get back to work and truly make those thoughts or that narrative sparkle. The first step in editing is not correcting grammar and typos but making sure the book says exactly what you want it to say. You write the first few drafts for you to make your points. And then you edit to perfect the book for the reader who doesn’t know you and the world you have been living as you crafted this book. Editing may take 5, 6 or 10 drafts.

“The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.” — Neil Gaiman

man hunched over typewriter with mountain of crumpled paper

Are you feeling nauseated by the thought of that much re-writing?

Don’t get sick or hate me.  Consider that it is possible that in your joy of completing that first draft, you might be missing how your book could be even better.  You’ve put your heart, soul and perhaps years of your life into the draft so far, don’t settle for less than your brilliance.

“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” — Michael Crichton

Think Like A Development Editor

Let me share a few questions that can start you thinking like a development editor. (These are some of the questions that go through my mind as I am editing clients’ books.)  The list is not all inclusive but is intended to give ideas of how to approach re-writes.

Non Fiction

  • Are my points well organized?
  • Do I lead the reader through my points in an easy to follow manner?
  • Does everything I wrote truly belong in this book? (Maybe you have two or three books here.)
  • What isn’t clear?
  • What is repetitive?
  • Do I have enough examples?  Too many?
  • Did I assume the reader knows something he or she doesn’t know?
  • Do I need to back up and give more information?
  • Am I taking too long to get to my point?
  • Does this book serve me as I intended? If I want to get speaking gigs from the book, can I find 5-6 topics to speak about? Does it lead to a class I want to teach?
  • Do I come across as a likable expert?
  • Am I being me? Or trying to be someone else?
  • Have I lost my voice and what makes me unique?
  • Could I be bolder? Have I shied away from my beliefs?


  • Is my story clear?
  • How is the pacing?
  • Do I hook the reader in the first few pages?
  • Can people connect to my lead character?
  • Are all my characters multi-dimensional beings?
  • Do all my characters sound the same when they talk? How can I make each person have a distinct voice?
  • Is there enough conflict or suspense to keep my reader interested?
  • Are there things that don’t make sense?
  • Are there inconsistencies?
  • Did I focus on one particular way of telling the story, e.g., dialogue, but forget to show action or let my readers see what is going on?
  • Have I told when I could be showing?
  • Have I left out my character’s motivations or heart and feelings?

Don’t be stubborn and think that everything you wrote in that first draft is perfect and precious.

Go deeper. Take multiple passes through your book focusing on a question or two at a time.  Revise to allow yourself and your book to shine.

And just to share because for every rule, there is someone who breaks it:

“I don’t write drafts. I write from the beginning to the end, and when it’s finished, it’s done.” — Clifford Geertz

Have you read a book you wished the author had taken more time developing?  How many drafts have you done of books you have published?  Where are you in the publishing process? What do you think of this post? I’d love to hear from you!

Carol Woodliff is an author, writing coach/development editor and shaman/energy healer who helps authors bring their books to life!

Next week: Ways to get feedback in the book development process.

Photo credits:
Heart Balloon “pop”: Copyright: George Tsartsianidis at 123rf.com
Man over typewriter: Copyright: alphaspirit at 123RF.com


One thought on “Writing: Don’t jump from first draft to done

  1. And thanks to Bart Schroeven who caught a typo in paragraph one which my proofreader and I both missed. (Blushing!) This is why you need multiple sets of eyes on your copy. We are human! Even the best of us miss stuff.

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