EDITING KNOWHOW Tackling your first draft


So you’ve finally reached the point where you can write THE END at the bottom of your manuscript. But the work’s not over yet. In fact, it’s just beginning. SCBWI's Claire Watts shares her top tips for tackling a first draft.


1.     Put your book to one side for a few weeks


Work on something you wrote before, write some short stories, just read – concentrate on anything that will clear your book right out of your head.


2.     Read your book from beginning to end like a reader


You could print it out or change the font to something you would never use. You could read it out loud or get the computer to do so. 


Don’t stop to correct anything, just take minimal notes on paper or another document. Think about the big stuff:

·      Plot holes

·      Inconsistencies

·      Plot points that go nowhere

·      Where the pace is too slow or too fast 


3.     Read scene by scene


Fix the issues you noted if they’re straightforward. 


When it’s an issue that needs more consideration or that will have a knock-on effect elsewhere in the book, add notes to your manuscript.


Consider the pace of each scene: 

·      Does it drive the story forward? 

·      Does it reveal something about character? 

·      Is there anything that could be trimmed?


4.     Deal with the issues that require more thought or rewriting


5.     Look at the beginning


·      Are you plunging the reader into the story right away? 

·      Have you set up enough questions that they want to read on to answer, but not so many that they haven’t got a clue what the book might be about? 

·      Will the reader be able to tell what kind of book they’re reading from your opening?


6.     Look at the ending


·      Is it satisfying? 

·      Have you resolved the issue you set up at the beginning of the story? 

·      In the case of a series, have you resolved enough, while leaving something or setting up new questions for the next book? 

·      Has your protagonist grown or changed or been through something and arrived at a point of rest or return?


7.     Read from beginning to end again


You may find you need to repeat steps 2 to 6, or you may be ready to concentrate on issues of grammar, spelling and style.  

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash


Claire Watts is a writer and editor of fiction and nonfiction for children. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @evangelinecluck.



Jo E. Verrill is an enthusiastic writer of humorous books for children, an advertising and broadcasting standards consultant and Words & Pictures’ KnowHow editor. 

Got an idea for KnowHow, or a subject you’d like to hear more on? Let us know at knowhow@britishscbwi.org.

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