So You’ve Finished a Rough Draft. What Now?

First off, if you’ve recently completed a rough draft (via NaNoWriMo or otherwise), congratulations. Really. A big, whooping, stand-up, slow-clap congrats.4 Steps to take After You Finish Your Rough Draft

Writing a book’s rough draft is a big feat, and you’ve just taken the first, most important step toward finishing your book—one that can take a lot of late nights, early mornings, blood, sweat, tears… you name it.

It’s a big deal to finish that rough draft of your book, so give yourself your props.

But then it’s time to get down to business again, because rough drafts are called “rough” for a reason.

Your Rough Draft Is Not Your Final Draft

Now is the time to take a more critical eye to your story and to make the most of all that rich potential it’s holding.

A rough draft can be overwhelming.

If you’re anything like me, your first instinct might be to hide it away in a drawer (or obscure hidden computer folder) and never look at that hot mess again.

Don’t do that! There’s bound to be a lot of good writing in that draft. It just takes work to bring your rough draft to its full, final draft potential.

4 Steps to Take After You Finish Your Rough Draft

Here are four steps you should follow after you finish your rough draft:

1. Read through the full draft

Now that you’ve gotten the words out, you’ve got to suck it up and read through them all.

It can be hard to go back and face your own first stab at a story, but odds are it’s not nearly as bad as you think.

Reading through your draft is important so you can take in the big picture of what you’ve written. As you read, consider what you want to change, and also what you like as is.

2. Find what needs to be developed more

Cut yourself some slack—a full rough draft is already a lot to pound out all at once. But odds are that there’s some room in your setting, characters or plot for some richer development.

Hopefully you identified these elements while re-reading the draft. Delving deeper to flesh them out is a perfect first step for your next draft—understanding these elements will serve as a foundation as you work through everything else.

3. Identify your plot threads

Your main plot is probably mostly ironed out, but what about your supporting plot threads? Are there enough of them? Too many? Do they all have a proper arc of beginning, middle end? Are they all relevant, offering something that drives the core plot of the story forward?

Think through what to cut, add, flesh out in your plot threads. Make the tough calls about what to keep, what to nix and what to change or flesh out more.

4. Back to the beginning

Go back to the beginning of your story again, but this time, bring your writer’s cap with you. Start with the biggest things (the ones we identified in the last two steps) and work your way down to the small.

It can be tempting to start off by changing the easy things that will clean it up quickly, like running spell check or correcting little inconsistencies.

But don’t do that—they may feel satisfying but they’re purely cosmetic, and you’ll likely have to go back through a lot of it with your big changes anyway, so you’re really just procrastinating.

Take your time with this, don’t be afraid to skip around to stay on topic as you address various points. And most of all, don’t be afraid to get messy.

A Rough Draft is What You Make It

A rough draft is a major accomplishment. But once you finally see this first step through, it can be hard to know where to go next

You’ve just got to dive right back in—and remember, the gaps and mistakes you catch when you go back through don’t mean you’re not a good writer. Every rough draft is ugly. It’s because it’s a first draft, not a final draft. Use it for what it—a foundation—and build from it to get your story to its full potential.

Have you completed a rough draft? What are your next steps to make it the best it can be? Let me know in the comments.


Find a practice from a previous post or another short piece. Then, follow step one and read it through. What needs to be developed more?

In the comments section, let us know what you learned from reading your rough draft and what changes you’ll make in your second draft.

Have fun!

About Emily Wenstrom

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

  • Melody Potter

    Hi Emily,
    My daughter is an editor and writer and my grandson is a writer and teacher. I handed my second rough draft to them. They both said the same thing–show, don’t tell. This is the hardest for me. Is there a formula for how to do this or how much of it to do? It’s clear that my next draft needs to fix this issue.

    Thanks for the ideas. I’m going to look at these factors in the fourth draft.

    • It’s hard for me too. One thing that’s helped me is the Emotion Thesaurus. It gives external and internal expressions of all kinds of emotions. With the descriptions I can show the emotion as opposed to just say what the emotion is… Another exercise I’ve heard could be watch a movie or TV show clip and write out what you see. Like write out dialogue, body language, facial expressions, voice times, etc.

    • rosie

      Yeah, the shortcut (as Crim says) is to take out any emotions, and to describe fear rather than say “she was scared.”
      Show us that her hands were shaking, her palms clammed up and she could barely breathe. Those are things you can mentally picture: “scared” isn’t detailed enough.
      This technique just takes practice, and with time it’ll come more naturally. The first time I heard this, it took a while to master!

  • I picked the practice i did for “Why We Become Writers”. On first read I saw a lot of spring and grammar errors. Joys of being a technical person. In terms of changes, I would expand on how my religious/spiritual experiences affected my development into a writer. I find I glanced at it too much, instead of really focusing on it more since it is a big influence on my writing. Besides those items… Hard to say.

  • LilianGardner

    Hi Emily,
    Your post is just what I need to convince me to take a ‘first’ look at my story.
    I was wondering where and how to begin revision of my NaNo submisson, and now I have it! I’ll follow your suggested four steps. At the moment I feel as if I’ve written pages of gibberish, and I hope that when I read through them, I’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that what I’ve written in haste, isn’t too bad, after all.
    Thanks again for your encouraging post,
    All the best,

  • Chat Ebooks

    Thanks for this. Very helpful and informative to aspiring authors like me.

  • My nano rough draft is sitting on my desk top in a nice neat folder just waiting for me to reopen it and seriously work on it again….My dilemma how do I use real live events which recently happened to write fiction. It’s not working out… I have written it as a non fiction – how I did it – type story,,, as well as a fiction here is what my character is dealing with and here is how she found answers. I need to find a way to combine them as I edit it… Nano was the fiction and currently rewriting it using 1st person, I, me, which totally changed the opening – so far….. wait a minute …. I think by writing this here I have figured out a way to combine them and using the I and me …..(yes I wrote this before coffee so it may not make sense)

    But seriously I would like to know how to use personal events in fiction writing without turning it back into a nonfiction how to type book….


    • Monica Cook

      Check out “Creative Non-Fiction” – lots of good ideas on how to write non-fiction stories with elements / techniques from fiction.

      • Thanks, I’ll do that… Earlier last night or this morning I was inspired to rewrite a mystery and I am 6 new chapters into the story and still going strong…..

        I will look at Creative Non-Fiction and see what I find.

  • JoJo Pilley

    Thank you! I’ve been hiding from my redraft for about 2 years. Tim3 to dust it off because your advice makes sense…. deep breath!