What to do after your first draft is written

Hand holding red pen over proofreading text in office

After a well-deserved lie-in or even a day off, I gird up, send the draft to my Kindle and read it through without interruption (apart from comfort breaks, food and sleep).

I jot down quick notes or chapter references and then motor on. This way, I get the flavour of the book and find out if it works as a complete story.

Doing this when the first draft is fresh in my mind has saved me hours of wasted writing time because any large faults leap out and hit me between the eyes.

The objective here is to ensure that the story hangs together as a narrative. This is the time to sort out any structure problems and whether your story has pace and whether the characters get from A to B.

Next, I print the whole thing out in 1.5 line space. Lover of my Kindle that I am, I know I spot more little horrors on paper. One thing I particularly check is each character’s individual time line. I use the back of previous printouts as if lessens the ecological impact (and saves money).

Next, I settle down to remedying the bumpy bits. Perhaps some places need a linking scene, or a couple of lines of description. I visualise each scene in my head and remind myself that readers need me to show them where the characters are and why they are there. The other danger with a book in a series is that not all readers will have read the previous ones. So this is the time to make sure necessary bits of backstory have been dripped in so the scenes are set properly but without unloading one word more on the reader than is necessary.

  1. Check your printout is complete – printers can miss a page!
  2. Go back and do the research the fine points – somebody will take great delight in pointing out a certain vegetable or fabric wasn’t known at the time of your story.
  3. Check the eye and hair colours and the height and build of your characters are consistent.
  4. Make sure a character doesn’t know something before they’ve been told/found it out.
  5. Make sure you don’t have it snowing in June in the northern hemisphere.
  6. Fill in, yes add, description/narrative/dialogue where you skimmed over it and where it’s necessary.
  7. Check your author voice is consistent and that characters use the correct register in their speech – are they educated/illiterate/speak a variant/use technical vocabulary/ have a warm and friendly personality / speak in a clipped voice?
  8. Substitute dynamic, strong and specific verbs for boring or general ones and turn passive sentences into active ones.
  9. Examine every ‘very’, ‘then’, ‘mostly’, ‘quite’, ‘really’, ‘nearly’, etc. Most can be deleted. The only exception is in dialogue. And cast a stern eye over adjectives while you’re there. Do they enhance or pad?
  10. Make every sentence a true gem – no clunkiness, no gratuitous or padding words. Ask yourself if each sentence is necessary. If it doesn’t contribute to the story, then delete (however beautiful it is).
  11. Read it aloud, all the way through – no cheating!
  12. Make your eyes bleed by checking that every single comma, semi-colon, colon, speech mark, exclamation and question mark is necessary, in the right place and correctly typed.

After that, repeat 1 to 12.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA,  Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, starts the Foundation stories. The sequel, EXSILIUM, will be out in January 2024.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

10 comments to What to do after your first draft is written

  • Cat

    This is self-inflicted torture!

  • Alison

    Ah, but what are writers if not masochists?

  • Erm, “star chamber”? What is a star chamber?

  • Alison

    Haha! Never ask a historian to explain anything unless you have a lot of time.

    Very briefly, the Star Chamber set up in 1487 as a fast-track system to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against prominent people, those so powerful that ordinary courts could never convict them of their crimes. Court sessions were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. Like many things that seem a good idea at the time, it got political and led to abuse and misuse. It was abolished in 1641.

    Today, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called star chambers. It’s a bit pejorative, but apt for those fluffy, puffy hanger-on words like ‘very’, ‘then’, ‘mostly’, ‘quite’ and ‘nearly’.

    History lesson over. 😉

  • And the difference between Carabiner and Carabinieri?

    No, just kidding, Alison, a most useful check-list. One I’ve saved to file for future reference (I know no higher accolade!).

  • Alison

    Thanks, Philip. Glad you found it useful.
    I expect you’ve looked it up, but here’s the carabiner explanation…

  • Yes, I endorse all the tips in your blog. Trouble is, I need tips on what to do after 25th draft is written! Do I say ‘enough is enough’ or do I still keep twiddling with it, which might possibly be a procrastination ploy not to get on with next novel?

    But nice blog, Alison, and useful if one follows all the advice therein!

  • Alison

    Maybe a good ploy is to leave the 25th draft in the drawer for a while, at least two months, six if you can.

    If it still looks fine when you read it again, either submit it until you can’t bear it any longer or self-publish it.

    In the meantime, you will have written the next novel…

  • Sue Clark

    This rings so true. The first draft is only the start of the journey. As many have said, the magic comes in the editing. Thank you for the check list.

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