Should you Wait before Revising Your First Draft?

You’ve just finished a first draft.  What now?

When do you start revising?

I’m typically of the opinion that you need to gain some distance and objectivity before delving into revision. However, in the spirit of arguing with myself, I also understand the desire and potential need to begin revision right away. You’ve spent weeks, months, or years inside the minds of your characters, so you’re in a very unique position.

Jumping Straight In

If you jump straight into revision, your brain will very keyed into the plot and the conflict. This will give you a substantial edge in recognizing issues that you already know exist. You’re close to your writer’s brain, so you might have an easier time remembering character details and all of the things you wanted to do but weren’t sure you accomplished. You can always do a cursory edit for the things you know you messed up… like those two chapters you ended in the middle of an incomplete sentences…

Sometimes this is how it feels to dive in.

Waiting a While

Getting some distance is VERY important. You want to be able to open your book and read it like a typical reader would. As a college professor of mine once said, “You need to be the best reader of your work.” You can’t depend on beta readers to catch everything that needs catching. You can’t even depend on Holden standing in a wheat field.

If you step away and come back to it, you do so with fresh eyes. This allows you to read your book like a reader would, and you will pick up on a lot more than if you started revising the day after you finished the first draft.

All clocks should look like this. Hypnosis….hypnosis….hypnoss.s….s….


The truth is that you should do both.

If you really want your book/poem/script/thesis/etc. to succeed, you have to do multiple revisions.

So you can go through right away if that fire is biting your heels. Just make sure that at some point you get some distance and go to reread it. It’s vital, and you’ll be surprised at the unique and new experience of reading something you wrote with some distance.

Go through and do an overview revision (plot holes, character development, etc.) and then do a close revision (typos, chapter length, dialogue formatting). Then do both of them again. Then let a new beta reader sink their teeth in. Then go over their critiques!

Any way you look at it, you’re in for a road of revisions. If you truly want to write something worth publishing and worth reading and enjoying, then you have to put in the hard work. Some people find writing easier than revision, some people thing revision is way easier. It all depends on you, but you’ve got to do both!


7 thoughts on “Should you Wait before Revising Your First Draft?

  1. Pingback: Do You Prefer Writing or Revision? | words — and other things
    • Agreed! I typically go through right away and fix a few of the things I know I messed up (like if I changed a character’s name). Typically, I fix up the mistakes that would make it difficult for beta readers to understand what’s going on. Then I go on a forced vacation where I will do my best to stay away from it for at least two weeks. I’m at a week since finishing the first draft, and I’ve managed to not change anything for two days so far! 😛

    • I think maybe never? But then that’s terrifying, so I’d say when someone pries it from your hands (like an editor if the gracious gift of publishing happens). 🙂

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