So You Finished Your First Draft — Now What?

So you finished your first draft.

Now what?

Everyone revises differently, but if you’re like me, you’ve got a whole list of things you know you need to fix, but you have that advice ringing in your head: let the draft sit for a couple of weeks before you tackle a revision.

You can do that. You probably deserve a break. Chance are, you’ve been slaving over your keyboard for at least a couple of months — probably longer — to get this draft finished. Yeah. Take a nap. Eat a cookie. (Maybe not in that order, unless you’ve mastered snacking in your sleep, in which case, let’s talk.) But if you have a list of things you know you want to fix immediately, and you’re still excited about the project, go ahead and fix them now.

The Revision Police won’t come and arrest you.

Look, there’s all kinds of advice out there, some of it good, some of it bad, and a lot of it aimed at people who only sort of want to be writers. But you’re here. I assume you’re serious about this writer thing. So I’m going to tell you a secret: there are no Revision Police.

There are no Writing Police. No Knitting Police. No Cookie-Eating Police. (The Grammar Police are totally real, though. *flashes badge*)

There’s only what works for you.

I can’t tell you what everyone does upon finishing their first draft, but here’s what I do, and what seems to be working well so far.

  1. I cry. (What? It helps.)
  2. Tinker with the end, because chances are I’m not ready to let go of it just yet.
  3. Look over the list of things I know I need to fix. (This only works if you’ve made a list while you were writing.)
  4. Add a few more things to the list.
  5. Take care of the biggest changes first: moving/adding/deleting scenes and so on.
  6. Take care of the smaller but still very important things: seeding information, making notes of characters’ emotional arcs for that part of the story, clarify things that lack clarity.
  7. Check the timeline/calendar for days/weeks passing and seasonal changes. Make sure things that take three weeks to happen don’t happen in two or ten.
  8. Take a nap. Eat a cookie.

Again, this is only how I work. Your process may be completely different, and that’s just fine. If you all worked just like I do, I’d assume I’ve been cloned, and frankly I find that thought unsettling.

I like to take care of what I know about while I’m still excited about the book, and while I’m still on that finishing-the-draft-high. (I know some people who just want to collapse, though. Like I said, we are all different.) After that, when I’ve had a few days to distance myself from my beloved story, I start from the beginning and tidy things up/make notes as I go along.

And when I get to one of those places I added information or already fixed a scene? Oh my commas! It’s already fixed. How about that? I love being rewarded for ignoring advice.


91 Responses to So You Finished Your First Draft — Now What?

  1. Trinity May 2 2012 at 6:01 am #

    Great post Jodi, happy birthday!

  2. Trinity May 2 2012 at 6:01 am #

    Oh oops forgot the question, first person for sure 😀

  3. Llehn May 2 2012 at 6:15 am #

    Happy birthday, Jodi. 3 rd person past.

  4. Cassie May 2 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Happy birthday! YAY!

    And the POV I prefer really depends on the book. For the most part, though, I like first.

  5. fakesteph May 2 2012 at 8:33 am #

    First person, but I want to try out out third next.

  6. KBradley May 2 2012 at 9:05 am #

    I tend to write in 3rd, but enjoy reading different POV’s.

  7. Sabrina Shields May 2 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Happy Birthday! I love the eat a cookie advice. 🙂

  8. Sabrina Shields May 2 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Oh – I write in 3rd person, but am trying to learn to develop that into a deep 3rd.

  9. Emma May 2 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Happy Birthday to you!

    I am not overly fussy about the POV of the books I read, I have read great books in all different styles, but I tend to write in first person.

  10. Amber Lin May 2 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Haha, I usually do NOT tinker with my ending. Instead I usually rush through and then my critique partners poke me until I go back. Oh, and happy birthday 🙂

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:18 pm #

      It’s hard NOT to rush when you’re that close to the end! It’s so exciting!

  11. Kimberly C May 2 2012 at 9:44 am #

    This is great advice. Thank you for the chance. Happy Birthday! first person. past.

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:18 pm #

      Thanks! I’m glad it was useful to you. 🙂

  12. Emberchyld May 2 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Happy birthday, Jodi! May the yarn gods be kind to you (and thanks for the first draft advice. I don’t cry, but I do eat a LOT of chocolate….)

  13. EMoon May 2 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Happy Birthday!

    And good advice. There really is not One Right Way to do revisions. A writer’s toolkit is individually created by each writer as she or he writers and learns what works for that writer. It’s OK to pick up other tools and try them out, but if your revision gizmo works better for you than something you read about/hear about, stick to your own revision gizmo.

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:21 pm #


      Yeah, I love how many different ways there are to write and revise and still do it right. 😀

  14. Kayla Griffith May 2 2012 at 11:40 am #

    You’re comments were spot on and tremendously helpful. I hate putting my manuscripts in the Dark Drawer of Aging, but I find I HAVE to do it or I’ll kill the project by overworking it to death. So thank you for the post, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:22 pm #

      Yep, putting it in the DDoA works very well for some people! It drives me insane (I get separation anxiety when it goes out to my crit partners), but I know plenty of writers who can’t look at their draft for at least a month or two.

  15. Ashley Maker May 2 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Great post! Your tips were really good, though I must say I’m particularly partial to #8. Of course, I just finished my last final yesterday, so naps and cookies are pretty much the only thing on my mind right now 🙂 Seriously though, I really enjoyed this and there was a lot of awesome advice!

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      You can’t go wrong with cookies and a nap. 😀

  16. Emmy May 2 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    I like to write in both 3rd and 1st, but I’ve noticed I tend to get invested books written in 1st person way faster!! Love the list and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Hope you’re eating fabulous cookies today 😉

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      Thank you! I don’t have cookies today, but I did have some chocolate. 🙂

  17. ashelynn hetland May 2 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    I tinker with the beginning after I finish! mostly because I tend to write the first chapter and then skip to chapter five while first drafting. I *really* hate beginnings.

    thanks, Jodi, and happy birthday! 🙂

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Oooh, I know that feeling. Beginnings are SO hard. But at least you know your process. KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE. Or something.

  18. Sharon May 2 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Really depends on the project, but I’ve fallen in love with 1st person present tense.

  19. Brian May 2 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Nice idea for the birthday present! (I hope I win)

  20. Jill Kaplan May 2 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    Happy Birthday! I got you a sparkly unicorn! And it’s visible! 😉 Thank you for the giveaway. You are awesome. But I’m sure you already knew that. Thanks for the advice to ignore the advice. Here’s your present *gives Jodi the sparkly unicorn*

  21. Jess May 2 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Happy birthday, Jodi! I prefer to read and write in 3rd person, but I’m getting used to 1st fr both as well.

  22. Jill May 2 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    Happy Birthday!! May your ferrets be well-behaved and your commas be sparkly.

    I see lots of answers, but I couldn’t find the question. It appears to be about POV. I’ll read anything that holds still long enough and have enjoyed 1st, 3rd, and omniscienet POV stories. So far, I’ve only written in deep 3rd.

    • jodimeadows May 2 2012 at 7:43 pm #

      Thanks!! 🙂

      The answers are because I slipped up when making the Rafflecopter form; it still had another thing up that I didn’t know to change, so . . . it might be gone now. It might not be gone. I don’t actually care if you answer the question or not. 🙂

  23. JC Gregorio May 2 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Happy Birthday!!! *throws glitter* *sends over cupcakes and fancy Fluffpony halter*

  24. Chris Omniscent May 2 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Happy Birthday Jodi!

    Interesting advice- I think once I start my new WIP, I’ll definitely start making a list of things I want to fix. I figure that’ll mean I’ll stop stressing about them the whole way through. 🙂

    • jodimeadows May 3 2012 at 10:48 am #

      Yes! The stressing about all the things I need to fix, whether I’ll remember them, whether I should fix them right away . . . it’s enough to make a writer crazy! 🙂 Lists help.

  25. DB Graves May 2 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    Happy B-day J! I would sing, but you reeaaallly don’t want that. Scary. Thank you for this post. It’s nice to see how ‘the pros’ do it and know they are just as off-center about things as I am. Ha! Totally kidding. =^) ((HUG))

    • jodimeadows May 3 2012 at 10:49 am #

      Please, please, don’t sing. O__O

      There’s really no one “right way” to write or revise. There’s only what works. 🙂

  26. Maria May 2 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    Happy Birthday to you and thank you for gifting *us*!

  27. Carrie May 2 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    The list of things to change is an interesting idea. How I’ll make it, though, is a different story. :p

    Great post! And happy birthday.

    • jodimeadows May 3 2012 at 10:51 am #

      I do all my work in Scrivener, so I keep my lists and reminders in there where I know I’ll look. It’s much easier than having fifty zillion Word documents open!

  28. Lexie B. May 2 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    I love this! I think it’s definitely important to remember that there is no one sure way to revise, no one method that will work for every writer–it all depends on what works for you.

    Also, I’m so with you on the crying and consumption of sweets.

  29. Katelyn Larson May 2 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    Happy birthday, Jodi!!! Love this post. I definitely think finding your own revising method is just part of the writing process. I try to just go with what feels right at the moment and not worry about if it’s the advice given on the internet. 🙂

    • jodimeadows May 3 2012 at 10:51 am #

      Great attitude! That’s really all you can do. 🙂

  30. Meredith Anderson May 3 2012 at 12:34 am #

    This feels surreal. I’ve been following Let The Words Flow for over a year and switched to Publishing Crawl and this is the first time I’ve actually HAD something ready to enter for a critique. This is awesome! *fingers crossed*


    • jodimeadows May 3 2012 at 10:52 am #

      Awesome!! I’m glad you have something to enter because that means you have WRITTEN! 😀

  31. Caitlin May 3 2012 at 12:37 am #

    Hrrmmm, it depends on the type of book. But for YA I generally prefer first person. Though if you’d asked me four years ago, I would’ve told you I’d never, ever, ever read or write anything in first person. Ever.

    Also, Happy Birthday 🙂

    • jodimeadows May 3 2012 at 10:53 am #

      Yeah, YA has totally changed my feelings on first person. Heh.

  32. Jessica Capelle May 3 2012 at 3:16 am #

    Great giveaway!! Thanks for the opportunity.
    Happy Birthday!

  33. Kheryn Casey May 3 2012 at 6:16 am #

    Thanks for the awesome opportunity, and happy birthday!

  34. Leigh Smith May 3 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Happy birthday, Jodi! What a very generous birthday girl you are! Great prize! I like exclamation points!
    Thanks for the great contest and many happy years to come:) (And books.)

  35. Lucy D. Briand May 3 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    I prefer 1st but don’t mind third

    Happy belated Birthday 🙂

  36. Sharon Morse May 3 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Depends on the book, but I ALWAYS love 1st person. 🙂

  37. Shortskie May 3 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    Happy belated birthday and wonderful post, definitely enjoyed reading it! And such an awesome prize C:

    • jodimeadows May 5 2012 at 10:47 pm #

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post. 🙂

  38. Ariane Felix May 3 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Depends on the book, but I prefer to write in first person. Maybe it’s a bit too late, but Happy Birthday! 😉

  39. Adrian May 3 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Amazing advice! But I do find that I get so invested in my manuscripts that they tend to drive me insane. So maybe setting them aside when they’re done is something I should do…

    • jodimeadows May 5 2012 at 10:48 pm #

      Yeah, I think you just have to find out what works for you!

  40. Adrian May 3 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    I do find that I get so invested in my manuscripts that they tend to drive me insane. So maybe setting them aside when they’re done is something I should do… awesome advice though.

  41. Julia May 4 2012 at 3:19 am #

    Happy Birthday!! The day I finished my first draft I thought I had reached my promised land…little did I know it was just the beginning. Thanks for giving such great pointers 🙂

    • jodimeadows May 5 2012 at 10:48 pm #

      Haha, yeah, it’s far from over, even when the first draft is done!

  42. Tracey Neithercott May 4 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Great post. Though I do have to argue one point. There is most definitely a Cookie-Eating Police (flashes badge). Someone has to make sure my husband uses a plate and/or eats slowly to prevent cookie crumbs all over my floor and furniture.

    • jodimeadows May 5 2012 at 10:48 pm #

      Ahhh, you’re right. You make such a good point.

  43. E.Maree May 5 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Great blog, Jodi! I write in first person or third. I think creating a calendar/timeline would be super-useful for keeping my story’s timeline in check.

    • jodimeadows May 5 2012 at 10:49 pm #

      Timelines are LIFESAVERS. For real. I don’t know how anyone writes without one!

  44. Eva Rieder May 5 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Great post, Jodi. I really enjoy your voice, as well as your humor (you grammar badge toter you). I can agree with a lot of this, though I do my own thing as well (eat cookies, cry, drink wine, dance around the house, triple check the list to see what to tackle tomorrow, etc…). You’ve included some fun and great suggestions. Thanks for another insightful post!

    • jodimeadows May 5 2012 at 10:50 pm #

      Hah, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. Thanks for visiting Pub Crawl!

  45. Eva Rieder May 5 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    And happy belated birthday! 🙂

  46. ~renate May 5 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    haha this is the kick in the pants I needed this week…I absolutely must put my stuff away before I start reworking it, but then when I pull it back out I’m so appalled by it that I want to shut it up again. I started the revising of my NaNo this week…ouch.

    • jodimeadows May 5 2012 at 10:51 pm #

      Yeah, getting the courage to revise can be rough. Lots of times when I turn a draft over to do another read-through, I really. do. not. want. But I’m always glad I did, in the end. 🙂

  47. J May 7 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Happy birthday!

    With a little bit of rearranging, that list could’ve come right out of my life (should I suspect spy cameras have been placed in my room?)

    Naps and cookies go first! They’re vital to any writer process! And I tend to track the calendar as I write. There’s typically no crying, either, but there might be screaming over the phone with writer friends, depending on whether they’re awake in their time zones or not!

    When I go back to start revising, I’ll read the entire story in one go to “fix” it all in my head, making any urgent changes as needed, and then I’ll add to my own List as I’m reading for “bigger” issues or potential problems to consider. I definitely do bigger changes then smaller changes like you (those “urgent changes” notwithstanding, of course).

    And, um, I appear to be having a problem seeing this mysterious question that everyone else is responding to, but with a little reverse-engineering, I have figured out it’s something along the lines of “what POV do you write and read?”. I write and read third person, but enjoy reading second and first as long as the narrative voice is strong enough to suck me in! I have tried writing second and first before, but it never fit the story, so maybe someday with the right narrator…

    • jodimeadows May 8 2012 at 9:57 am #

      There are already spy cameras in your room. They belong to me! 😉

      Don’t worry about the mysterious question. I made a mistake when I tried to do the Rafflecopter and since then I’ve been getting answers I didn’t ask for! It’s okay. Next time I will do it right. Or I will have adult supervision. Something.

  48. Ali Lawati Jan 8 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    Helpful post. I’m sure others have been where I find myself, which is after finishing the first draft only to discover it doesn’t add up. The facts contradict the plot.
    Does one try to salvage the work or start over fresh?

    A frustrated storyteller.

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