Editing For The Second Draft

So, you’ve gotten the first draft finished. Congrats! Now the hard work begins – editing. I thought I’d let you all have a sneak peek behind the laptop and see what steps we’re taking with the second draft of our WIP.

Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period. – Nicholas Sparks

If you haven’t yet finished your first draft, this is my best advice: Try to resist editing as you write your first draft. Otherwise it’s easy to get bogged down and then your writing stalls. Just get it out.

writing on laptopDifferent people have different methods of editing, and our second draft is a quasi mixture of steps that should be done before you start writing as well as those needed in a first edit. Generally there are two steps writers take when working on a project of any size. The first step is the BIG picture edit. Step back and examine the structure of your story – will it hold itself up? The next step is the copy edit where you’re going to take the work chapter by chapter and examine every sentence and word. Don’t try to do both at once. If you haven’t got the big picture elements sorted, the copy edit is useless.

Plot And Conflict

This is a chance to critically examine your WIP as a whole work. If there’s a scene/chapter/character that you could remove and not affect the story line, it should go. Be ruthless. Does every scene contain relevant conflict – the kind that propels or forces the characters to react or change? If not, you need to edit for that.

This point was made clear to me in an interview with Peter Jackson, Director for New Line Cinema’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy. If you’ve read the story by Tolkien, you know that the movies left a lot out. Peter Jackson said (I’m paraphrasing) that the movie focused on the path of Frodo and the ring. Everything else from the book didn’t make the cut. He had to narrow the focus of the story for the movie significantly. Big picture focus right there.


Who is your book for? If you don’t know, figure it out. And don’t just say – for adult women. Narrow it down. For more on audience, check out our Know Your Audience post. For us, we knew that we had to edit for a different audience than we had planned for in the first draft. Changing the intended audience is a huge undertaking. The first draft was written for a female Christian (uber-conservative) market, and we’ve switched to a general market audience, mostly male. That means, for us, ramping up the battle scenes, and instead of the male and female protagonists having an equal share of the time, the male protagonist gets the bigger spotlight, etc.


Determining your market is so important – especially if you’re writing genre fiction: romance, historical, horror, etc. You MUST know the genre you’re writing in.

We intended our WIP to be a historical romance with the first draft, so the focus was more on the romance in a historical setting. Now, we’re editing for a historical market. There is still a strong romantic element, but the focus has shifted from the love between the two protagonists, to the historicity: society, intrigue and politics of the historical setting. We had both read dozens of historical romance novels, but now we checked out at least a dozen historical novels that share a historical setting with our novel, and really studied how those authors described things, and made their worlds rich.


Whether your novel is plot or character driven, knowing your characters’ motivations and desires is absolutely essential to a successful novel. This is one of those big picture items that really should be solidified before you write your first draft. Editing for a minor tweak in a character’s motivation or desire early in the novel can affect his/her whole character arc resulting in significant editing to the plot and conflict. Ask yourself why is your character acting/doing/reacting that way in every scene – and what do they hope to accomplish/gain/achieve in every scene. If you don’t know, your readers won’t have a clue. Confused readers stop reading.


This is a first draft step, but we realized we hadn’t done enough research. We Googled the time period, the people groups, etc. We visited sites for historical reenactment groups. We read thesis papers about the time period by grad students. We searched flickr for photos of artefacts. We searched Youtube to see many things. We read the historians of the time. We read archaeology reports, and historical theories. We checked out books on art, we studied tattoos. We picked Marcy’s husband’s brain – as a former US Marine his experience in warfare has been valuable.

We wanted as many concrete details as we could get to make as few assumptions about this world as possible. This set us back at least 6 weeks (remember we each did half the work and shared what we had learned).

Sensory details and description

Marcy and I are sparse writers on the first draft – so we write knowing those details are something we’ll edit for. The last note I received from Marcy: You sure you want to have them climb an elm tree? I looked it up. Elm trees are supposed to smell like poop. See how much fun co-writing is? We are now going through every scene and including details that will make the world come alive for readers, to bring them into the action of the story.

Your turn. How is your WIP coming along? We’d love to hear about the ups and downs.


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

7 comments on “Editing For The Second Draft

  1. This is very helpful, a few points that I hadn’t thought of before!

    I’m still in my first edit of my NaNoWriMo from last year. It’s definitely still in the “big picture edit” stage, because I knew when I was finishing it up it needed more. A lot more. I finally figured out how to tie all my loose ends together the other day!

    That being said, I do a little bit of copy editing (as in a teeny-tiny bit) while I do my big picture edit. I mark everything that I notice, though I don’t take the time to change it, because if I don’t mark it the first time I see it, I usually miss it the second time through. I’ve had this happen before, obviously :D.

    I only change things if it’s something that I can’t understand, or marking paragraphs/sentences that would make more sense in a different order. Those are big-picture related to me, though.

    My goal is to have two edits done by the end of the year. We’ll see, though, I may be biting off more than I can chew!

    • I’m actually a little different from Lisa in that I normally do edit as I go along, so it’s really about finding the balance that works for you.

      Congrats on completing NaNoWriMo last year 🙂


  2. This is a timely article for me. I’m two weeks away from beginning my second draft edit for my previous project (I always leave some air between drafting and editing, to fall out of love with the story).

    The Big Picture Edit is going to be the biggest hurdle. My first draft has five POV’s, and whereas the point of the story was to be somewhat experimental, I’m starting to come around to the opinion that roughly half of the story has to go. Oi. It’s gonna hurt!

  3. This is a great post with great timing, because I just started revising for the second draft recently. There are some great tips in here, so thank you!

    One thing I always find interesting is how some people use the word “editing” to mean everything from big picture changes and re-writes to fine grammatical & line editing, and others (like myself) use the word “revising” for the big picture stuff and “editing” only for the fine detail stuff. I know that’s not really related to your post, but its something I’ve been noticing a lot lately, and I find it really interesting how people can use the same words and mean very different things.

  4. I am new to all of this. I am learning about the editing as i go. This post and the coments helped me understand alot. Thanks

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