I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing and he's got quite a lot to say about the redraft phase. He explains his working method.

  1. Write with the door closed, just for him and create a 1st draft as quickly as possible
  2. Put the book in a drawer and don't look at it for 6-12 weeks, work on something else
  3. Redraft

I quite like this approach. I've found myself writing quickly, rereading and correcting typos etc. and then sending out and I've always felt that a proper redraft process would help me a great deal.

Imagine I've written my first draft and then buried it in a drawer for a few weeks. Once I pull it out what practical steps should I carry out (beyond just reading it).

What should I practically do during a redraft phase? Should I transcribe each word and literally rewrite? Should I read and edit?

5 Answers 5


Although I am a fan of King's instruction and I am also a discovery writer, I do not wait before the first draft and the second, for a very specific reason.

At the end of the first draft is when I have the most detailed knowledge of my characters, their traits and personalities. I did not have this same sense of them when I began, so the most important thing I do in the second draft is getting my main characters consistent; their voice quirks, their sense of humor, their reactions and passions.

The second priority in the second draft is correcting what I call "under-imagined" scenes; blocks of dialogue with no exposition about setting, or feelings, or thinking, or pauses: untethered to the world.

Likewise, any exposition that is untethered to characters is under-imagined; it is world-building or explanations I should delete or find a way to make matter to somebody, otherwise it is boring. This doesn't apply to "immediate" description; btw, exposition about things a character is actually seeing and processing.

But if it is explaining culture or artifacts or the physics of magic or whatever, to ME that must be done in a way that is directly influencing a character (e.g. a character learning magic, or a young prince or young soldier learning from the court magician how magic can be deployed in battle, etc).

Finally, this second draft is a good time to at least note opportunities for foreshadowing. As a discovery writer, I don't know what is coming, but at the end of the first draft I do; and I can backfill or change some scenes or experiences to resonate with things to come. For example if the plot later hinges on an unexpected development; perhaps remake an early scene to also hinge on an unexpected development the MC resolves.

My second draft is for consistency, and improvement of scenes and deletion of things I wrote that turned out, in my discovery process, to not really matter to the story; meaning they did not have significant consequences in either the plot or in character development.

Then I might put the book aside to get some distance and objectivity.

ps: To answer the direct question: I read and edit, on a computer, but make a backup first. I am a programmer and have devised an archive system that keeps every version of a file I've saved; so I forget to mention this. Sometimes when changing a scene, you want to be able to see how you left it last time.


Going over a draft the first time around, I look for the things that really don't work, things that stick out like a sore thumb. Those might be issues with the flow, internal contradictions and inconsistencies, things a character wouldn't say, wording, etc.

Sometimes, I see straight away how to correct an issue, and so I can do so at once. Most of the time, however, I only see the problem, and I don't want to spend an hour over it here and now. In such cases, I mark the issue with a brief comment describing what I want to do with it later.

Having gone over the draft this way, I have a draft that's both better than the first one (since I've already corrected some things), and I have a clear indication of what to do next, since I've marked those parts. So next, I address those, in whatever order is convenient.

Rinse and repeat.

tl;dr: Read the story. Edit where things can be improved. Mark what can be improved but not right now. And repeat this process until you're finished.

  • 1
    So your saying. Read the story. Edit where things can be improved. Mark what can be improved but not right now. And repeat this process until you're finished. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 12:13
  • 1
    @TotumusMaximus exactly. Edited it in. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 12:34

I find it important to read the whole draft from beginning to end before I pick up my editor's hat and red pen. If I sit down and edit as I read I always but always end up having to go back and fix my editing because without a sense of the scene, as a whole, I get off on the wrong track. Once I've got a feeling for the scene I can go into editing mode:

  • First comes overall tone and content, is this work worth keeping in it's current state at all? To be clear I absolutely never junk work on purpose I always keep even failed work but sometimes I do have to do full rewrites with reference to the old, defunct, work.

  • Second I look for missing material, what did I discuss and what did I mean to get on paper and miss? Usually there's a bit of missing work, so I write in missing passages.

  • Then I go after the basics, spelling is usually taken care of when material is being added in but there's always something that's been missed, and I never seem to punctuate first drafts at all so that gets done in re-drafting.

Finally I read the two versions, make sure I didn't loss something somewhere along the line. Then I put it away and do it all again in a week or two.


Sometime in 2014 I read a book called How to be a Writer by Stewart Ferris. I must have found the section about redrafting particularly useful because, according to my review on Goodreads, I took the book out of the library again, made the following notes and posted them to my blog as an article called The Twelve Redrafts of Stewart Ferris. Here, for your delectation, is the text:

Draft 1: An approximation of the whole work

Write it quickly as it flows from you. Don’t worry about stuff – toss coins to decide it. Make notes about problems. Leave it for a few days.

Draft 2: A tightening of the structure

Fill the holes in the plot according to your notes. If you need to explain why someone is the way they are, write a scene to show their development. Weave in a subplot if you need to, but make it relevant to the resolution. Prune away side-tracks if they are not relevant, or make them relevant to the plot or subplot. Make sure the novel is an appropriate length (>40,000 words). A new subplot could be 5,000 to 10,000 words. Are there enough twists? Should there be more description. Should there be more dialogue? Do characters get there way too easily? Add more obstacles and drama to increase word count by making other characters oppose them.

Draft 3: Development of the characters

Keep accurate records of all the decisions taken about characters’ lives. Complete a character questionnaire (from http://dev.stewartferris.com/ (link now dead)) so that you can refer back to it to know how they react to decisions. Make them believable, with flaws enough to make the reader care about them. Be able to recount their life story up until the time of the narrative. A character arc: put your hero up a tree, throws stones at him and then bring him down as a changed person having learned valuable lessons about life. The reader must root for them and then have a sense of satisfaction as they see the maturity they attain. Every character that appears more than once must have an arc. They must have wants and needs that, if they are fulfilled, make them happy, or if not, they learn that this kind of fulfilment is actually empty and other things matter more. If they fail, they will either be depressed, or will decide that the failure has brought about success on another level.

Draft 4: Improving the dialogue

Have the aim that if you deleted all the characters’ names, it would be obvious who was talking by means of vocabulary, accent, favourite phrases and manner of speaking, so that each has complete originality. Do not render accents phonetically. E.g. some have catchphrases; some cannot finish sentences; some are cynical in speech; some have formal tone with correct grammar and long words; some use the latest slang; some have an agenda that taints what they say.

Draft 5: Working on the language and imagery

Look for words that are repeated and replace them with synonyms (how much like cheating does that seem). Change basic phrases into some, more elegant way of using language. Find more interesting words, similes and metaphors than the ones you have been flogging like a dead horse hammering like a dying starter motor. Whenever you spot a cliché, change it to something more original. Read objectively to see if it sounds like mature writing, or a story written at school. Eliminate clumsy phrases and awkward paragraphs. Re-write lines that don’t make sense, revise non sequiturs, and deepen all those shallow descriptions. Revisit the places and people you have described and make sure that none of the senses (touch, smell, vision, hearing etc.) have been neglected.

Draft 6: Restructuring parts of the work

Consider if the story would benefit from changing the order in which events are described (either linear or ‘time jumping’). It may be an option to start with the second, more dramatic, chapter and either re-write or lose the first. It may be possible to start with the big conflict in the penultimate scene, and then jump back to relay the events leading up to this. Another option is to repeatedly use snippets of history to show how the current situation mirrors events faced in the past and demonstrate that lessons learnt then can help now. Think about scenes too – every section should start at the last minute and end as soon as possible, hence omitting anything superfluous or irrelevant to the story. Skip the goodbye at the end of the conversation.

Draft 7: Adding layers of conflict

Add as many layers of conflict as you can. No-one wants to read a story about a walk in the park; they want to hear that you fell in the pond and got soaked on the way to that big interview and that a dog chased you up a tree just after that and as the clock struck quarter to your interview, you were still … but you didn’t give up in your titanic struggle against all the odds.

Draft 8: Improving the crucial opening pages

Come up with an amazing first three pages to hook the reader in. Jazz up any dull description; recheck for clichés and weak language; do anything you can to make those first pages shine. The first sentence should electrify so spend days and days on this alone. Something should happen in the first page that symbolises the theme of the book. By the third page, something should happen that sets the rest of the story in motion and hence keeps the reader licking her finger to turn the pages. Make someone’s day with these three pages.

Draft 9: More work on the character development

Show that you have lived with these characters; each line of dialogue should show who is talking by reflecting their personality. Make sure it isn’t the writer’s voice, but the character’s that shines through. Check that character arcs are believable to the reader and tweak if necessary. Interconnect characters in surprising ways to add strands of meaning. Make one or more character turn out to be the opposite of what the reader expects and thus make them feel that anything could happen from now on.

Draft 10: Logic and consistency

Check that events happen and information is revealed in a logical order and that characters are consistent in terms of how they speak and act. Make sure that any re-writes do not create logical inconsistencies and rectify any forgotten consequences of these changes. Make sure characters have time to move from A to B; don’t describe sunshine in the night-time; and, of course, never wear sunglasses after dark.

Draft 11: Proofreading for mistakes

Fix any mistakes as you spot them. Look up any words you’re not sure about in a dictionary. Check for typing errors. Don’t just rely on your grammar and spell checkers – watch out for things like ‘their’ and ‘there’. Keep an eye out for repeated words; not just consecutively, but using the same descriptive word twice in the same paragraph, and replace these with synonyms.

Draft 12: Read the work aloud

Either read the work aloud yourself, or set software loose on the text so that you can sit back and listen to how it flows. Keep an ear out for missing words, repeated words and other anomalies. Another option is to read the story to someone, or even to get someone to read it to you. Take careful note of any comments and feedback. This should be the first time someone else should see your work. Digest the feedback and then make changes the next day, if you feel it is wise to do so.

I hope that you find something useful there.


The first draft is like the word says: A draft!

The draft is the basic skeleton of your story, not much detail, not much deepness, just in everything: not much

This is a fact. Like you said in point 2: Let the work lay down and do something else. Your mind is setting this matter aside and you have a much fresher view on the same thing again after some time. The next part should be redrafting. In this case you take on the whole story with a fresh aspect and write again. Wipe out parts that don't make sense, polish characters, deepen the environment and setting, and so on and so on. Redrafts are commonly the phase where you polish out your story. Make the chapters larger, add more details, flesh out everything. Then you repeat part 2 and 3 so long, until you think you are finished. Then it would be a good thing to let others read your work. In most cases you have to do a final draft again and then the story may be ready to submit.

But drafting and redrafting is a whole process that works over months and could even end with a whole rewrite of your story. But in most cases it is just the improvement of your story

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