First Draft Read-Through: An Editor Free Zone

By Megan Burkhart, a professional writing student at Taylor University.

So, you’ve finished your novel! Congrats! Whether it’s your first, third, or seventh novel, it’s still a huge accomplishment. You’ve taken an idea and breathed life into it. Where there was once a blank screen or piece of paper, you filled it with a world and characters only you could think of.

However, your feelings of euphoria are quickly fading at the thought of (cue dramatic music) editing. You don’t know where to begin, but you know it must be done–like doing your taxes every April. On the bright side, I can assure you that editing will be more enjoyable than doing your taxes, or at least, less painful than doing your taxes.

You have to start somewhere, and I start with doing a dry read of my novel from beginning to end. Put the whispering editor in the farthest corners of your mind and just read. But if you’re locking the editor up, what are you supposed to do with this first read-through?

1. Ask Questions.

Approach your draft as a first-time reader would. Pretend you are new to this story world and let yourself get caught up in the story. Notice things and ask yourself questions such as:

-Where is the plot too slow?

-Does the backstory make sense or does it feel forced?

-Is this character necessary?

-Are the characters properly motivated to do what they’re doing?

Make a mental note of these things, but don’t edit just yet. Allow yourself this fresh, raw read. You may find yourself laughing, crying, or falling in love with the story all over again.

2. Hear Your Story.

You may feel this process is a waste of time. Reading your entire novel without making a single edit seems like you’ve accomplished little. But, the first draft is simply you telling yourself the story. You need to read it and hear the story now. What are you saying to your readers? Is it what you wanted to say or did things change along the way?

This is important because you have to be sure your vision is still there before you start editing. Is your message or theme clear? Do you feel moved by your story? This is your free pass to let your emotions be expressed before the logical editor comes in and starts hacking away.

3. Recognize Your Story’s Worth.

Part of the joy of writing is being able to read what you’ve written and feel proud, happy, and satisfied with what you have created. You created something to say something, and you should recognize the value in that. Your words will impact others, and this is why each pass through your manuscript is vital. Each pass makes your story clearer, tighter, and polished.

So, allow yourself the luxury of a dry read. Not everything is going to be good, but the first pass is going to set the stage for the rest of the revision process to come.

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