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!

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.

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