Friday, November 22, 2013

Editing & Revision: Cleaning Your First Draft {+Giveaway!}

photo credit: zippaparazza! via photopin cc
Nothing compares to the feeling of having a clean room.

Many writers, however, do not enjoy cleaning. They would rather live in their mess instead of go through the heartache of cleaning and throwing junk away. Some of their rooms might be so messy that one would have no idea it was a bedroom in the first place!

Although cleaning involves work and is often dreadful, you have to admit—in a way, it's exciting. It's exciting because you're actually cleaning up the mess, and underneath it, what will you find? An actual room!

When we write a first draft, it's okay to make a mess. A problem arises only when we become too attached to the mess we've created.

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photo credit: net_efekt via photopin cc
For me, cutting chunks of my manuscript is exhilarating. I enjoy watching my word count decrease, just as I loved watching it increase in the first draft.

In the midst of cleaning, you find a room. Similarly, in the midst of cleaning your manuscript, you uncover a story.

Realize that your first draft is not your final draft. You only wrote it so you could have something to work with in the editing stages.

But when it’s time for a clean up, how are you supposed to know what mess to get rid of and what is actually part of the room story?

     1. Cut any scene or chapter that slows 
down the story.

If you don't want your reader to become bored when they pick up your book, then start cleaning. There should not be one scene, chapter, or word that does not move the plot forward or develop a character.

During this process, I keep a document titled "Deleted Scenes" and paste the work I cut. Yes, I do sometimes put a scene back. But most of the time, I realize the scene was unnecessary.

When I first wrote this blog post, it was originally 1500 words. I gave myself freedom to make a mess: It was only my first draft. However, after cutting unnecessary phrases, this post is now 850 words. I was still able to say everything I needed.

     2. Strengthen your first three chapters.

The first three chapters of your manuscript are either going to make or break it for agents/editors. This is your selling point. When I turned in the manuscript for my second book to my agent, she recommended that I cut the first chapter.

It made complete sense. Although my original opening scene had conflict, it wasn’t necessary. In fact, after speaking with my agent and looking back at the scene, I realize there was way too much backstory in the opening scene.

And after taking her advice, my first three chapters are much stronger than they were.

     3. Tone down your backstory.

There is nothing that bogs a story down more than when the author interrupts the flow to throw in some backstory.  

Movies only have images and dialogue to push the story further. The screenwriter doesn't interrupt the film to fill the viewer in on some backstory. Instead, it’s woven throughout the story, little by little. Authors should do the same thing: Show rather than tell.

     4. Search for unnecessary clutter words.

A few examples include:
  • She is my personal friend. If she is your friend, the reader will know that she is your personal friend. The meaning remains the same without the added word.
  • Search for any unnecessary clutter words. This was the original sentence before I deleted "any".
  • At the present time, I am doing just fine. The meaning of this sentence would remain the same without the underlined words.
  • She smiled happilyWhen you search for unnecessary words, also make sure to cut as many unnecessary adverbs and adjectives as possible. The words "she smiled" would imply that she was smiling happily without the adverb.

     5. Remove plot threads or characters that do not contribute to the story.

Again, be careful not to become too attached to your first draft. Your story may look much different by the time you've gone through the editing/revision stages.

A few months before I attended my first writing conference (where I met my publisher), Purple Moon was titled An Unwritten Melody, and the main character was not an artist. She was a musician.

However, I had to rewrite much of the book to change these things, including the title (which is now the title for my second book).

Why did I change it? Because the premise and title were far too similar to The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks: Rebellious teenager, who lives in NY with her mom, is forced to stay in NC for the summer. At a beach house rather than a lake house. And she’s a musician. Since I didn't want anyone to think that I copied the book—especially since it had just come to theaters—I changed it.

And I am so glad I did.

Do you often find yourself clinging to your mess and refusing to let it go? What are your favorite and least favorite parts about the editing stages?


  • Editing & Revision: Cleaning Your First Draft via @tessaemilyhall Click To Tweet!
  • "In the midst of cleaning your manuscript, you find a story." via @tessaemilyhall Click To Tweet!
  • There are only two days left to win a copy of PURPLE MOON! Head over to Laura Davis' blog to enter.


  1. This is just what I needed! Thanks! :D I always seem to get stuck with editing.

  2. I'm in the middle of editing so this is very helpful! Thank you so much for sharing!


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