Q: What craft advice would you give to someone who just finished their first draft?

Lauren Spieller asks: What craft advice would you give to someone who just finished their first draft? 

Thanks for the question, Lauren.

My first big piece of advice would be to take it easy on yourself when you’re reading through it afterwards and starting to think about revisions. You did it! You got all the words on the page! This is more than a lot of people get so pat yourself on the back.

My second big piece of advice would be to take a critical look at the structure of the story and go looking for places to fix. This is the difference between those writers who write for a hobby and those who want to be published. Now’s the time to make a plan to:

  • Make sure your premise is strong enough to stand out
  • Think about if you chose the right POV for the story you’re telling
  • Fill in setting and plot holes with research
  • Think about adding and how to conclude sub plots
  • Add character depth
  • Adjust dialogue to suit each character’s voice
  • Increase the stakes of the novel, build it in your second draft to have high stakes for the characters (i.e. what are they at risk of losing?)

Don’t get too worried about doing this all at once. Start by making a plan for how you’re going to execute it. It all starts with asking the right questions.

Once you have that down here are some other points to think about in your next draft:

  • Does your pace hold your reader’s attention?
  • Is there enough conflict? How many pages go between each conflict? How can you shorten this?
  • Is your main character likeable enough? Does that  matter for the story you’re telling?
  • Is the beginning and ending emotionally satisfying for the reader?
  • Is your book plot driven or character driven? How can you drive up the intensity for the one you picked?
  • Is your theme universally impactful?

Make a plan to address all of these topics and you’ll see your next draft come to life before your eyes.

Congrats and good luck! A great essay to read on this topic is ‘Shitty First Drafts’ in Anne Lamott’s book BIRD BY BIRD.

Q: What other questions do you ask when you’re editing?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

2 thoughts on “Q: What craft advice would you give to someone who just finished their first draft?

  1. Thanks – this is timely for me, with all the NaNoWriMo fun and chaos happening this month! I’m going to use the points above as a checklist for polishing draft one into draft two…next month.


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