Imagine your place on the bookshelf of the future

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Harmless Like You

How should someone approach editing their first draft?

Editing a first draft can feel like trying to scrub a hippopotamus. It seems like there’s too much to ever get clean. To remedy this, I break down the edit into components. For example—Dialogue. Or setting. Or, sentence length. Or even the particular emotional arc of just one character. On each read through, I only look to edit a single aspect. Once I’ve repeated this a few times, the writing is a lot less muddy.

Take breaks between edits. This helps you see the work with fresh eyes. By the time you’ve read it through three or four times, fresh eyes might feel impossible. Anything that forces you to read what you’ve actually written, rather than what you think you’ve written is good. I have friends who change the font of the document. I read my work aloud. Moving between printed work and on screen can really help too.

When you’ve done all this, try sending it to a trusted friend. You don’t have to take their advice in everything. But if they’re confused, lose track of the story, or don’t understand a key plot element—then consider what you could do to get them back on track.

About Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is a Japanese-British-Chinese-American writer. She has a BA from Columbia University, an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently working on a PhD at the …

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