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Editing your book – Second Draft Rules

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

I just got back from the annual month-long writing residency in Greece, and I read a LOT of working manuscripts there. Many authors came with their WIPS (works in progress) - some just starting out and other on their 4th drafts of a book. On most of the manuscripts I made similar red marks, and made similar comments. I have found over years of editing books that most early drafts has some fundamental flaws - and they go into a few clear categories. And so below I have given you a list of my most frequent comments... scribbled across pages in a red pen.



  1. Blah blah.... More heightened EMOTION EMOTION EMOTION!

  2. Rewrite this entire chapter using dialogue (SHOW DON'T TELL)

  3. OK this bit is BORING / More action less thinking

  4. Lost the reader here

  5. What is going on here? I am confused (as a reader)

  6. CONFUSED .... I am lost again (as a reader)

  7. Dropped threads (by this I mean a person or idea you introduced and then never mentioned it again.... what happened to Joe / Sally / the Red Chevrolet?)

  8. Slow down, slow down. Hold us in the big scenes longer. You are rushing them.

  9. You are missing a sub-plot.

  10. Bring in another POV characters here, we need a change of pace.

  11. BORING PART CUT IT OUT (okay this once comes up a lot)

  12. Bring in more setting ? Where are we and what is going on? Okay I do say some nice things too... like 'love this' 'this part is working' 'great chapter' ​ 'love this dialogue'. So how do you make your book better? You rewrite! Ok so you have a first draft. That is a good year of your life sitting in that folder. Could be a few year's it has taken to get there. Well done ! This is a massively big deal. And it is also just your first step on the journey from writer to author. Yes, sorry to be the 'bringer of sobering news'. Pat on the back and then time for the next marathon? Your next step is to get back on your computer and start to fix all the errors. It is in the rewriting and editing phases that you are going to slow down, see what you have, take stock and make that draft infinitely better. You will intensify the conflict, tighten dialogue (or add it in), cut random characters or scenes, insert some scenes, clear up timelines, and fix glaring errors. The aim with each rewrite is to make it better, tighter, more compelling, more focused and more publishable. I personally do around 5 versions of any book before I send it to the client (if ghostwriting) or beta readers. Some books I looked back and see I did 10 drafts. That was entirely unpleasant SOME THINGS TO NOTE ON YOUR REWRITE Ignore spelling mistakes and typos. This is not the time for a copy edit and that will come at the very end of all your rewrites. We know it’s hard, but don’t get hung up on those smaller details yet. Only tackle the big stuff. If you can see a huge plot hole, start with that. You may find you lack a strong subplot, or the book just doesn’t make sense. There is no point in fixing your character’s physical descriptions or small inconsistencies when the whole story is not making any sense. You need to be ruthless. Clean it up. Pare it down. Cut out any duplication. Cut any unnecessary descriptions. Cut anything that does not push your story forward. Cut out characters or stories that leave you wondering – erm…what’s the point of that again? Write in plain, clean, English. If in doubt, leave it out. Work steadily and systematically. You are working through your notes with an editor's eye. Be consistent and steadily build a better book. You need to finish up. Give yourself a tight deadline in which to finish this edit. Set a clear goal. Ideally your edit takes no longer than four weeks for your second draft. You can spend the next 10 years changing and improving your book. It may always be a dud. It may be a masterpiece. There are only so many rewrites you can do, and now we need to move forward to a point when you can send your book to a publisher. Make a reminder list. These are things you have noticed about your writing in general. It can be what it needs, what it is lacking, or what you feel you want to work on. These can be on post-it notes that you stick on your desk, but make sure you can see them the entire time you work on your rewrite. I like to use these words for myself "HEIGHTEN ALL EMOTION' KEY POINT You are now rewriting your manuscript. Most writers never get to this point! You are going to do this again and again until you get to the final version. Each rewrite gets faster and tighter. I suggest you do at least three rewrites before you get to a point where this is your best version of your book. Only then you may want to send it off to a trusted “beta” reader to give you feedback as you move ahead with the next few steps.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO? * Join the Writing Room Community- we meet once a week and for a monthly 'Writing Binge'. Online * Writing a Novel? Novel in 100 Days online mentorship * Write a Non Fiction? Non Fiction Mentorship * Book a session or mentorship package to chat and go over your work SOME MORE RESOURCES How to write an incredible back cover blurb https://www.thewritingroom.co.za/writingtips/tricks-to-write-a-back-cover-blurb How to write a sellable non-fiction book proposal http://www.thewritingroom.co.za/writingtips/how-to-write-a-sellable-non-fiction-book-proposal How to write a query letter http://www.thewritingroom.co.za/writingtips/how-to-write-a-query-letter Sending off your book: How many publishers should you approach http://www.thewritingroom.co.za/writingtips/sending-off-your-book-how-many-publishers-should-you-approach How to work out your estimated book sales http://www.thewritingroom.co.za/writingtips/how-to-work-out-your-estimated-book-sales

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