After having waited for three months for the first draft of my novel to "cool off," I've finally decided to work on the second one.

But now I'm presented with two options:

1) Edit the first draft until I'm totally satisfied

2) Edit the first draft, skip those parts I'm having problems with, and try to figure them out on the third draft.

Pros of Option 1:

  • I won't have to read my novel 6 or 7 times until I get sick of it (not that it has happened to me before. Maybe it won't).

  • I'll finish editing a bit faster.

Pros of Option 2:

  • Because I distance myself from a scene immediately after writing it, the third time I'll have a fresher mind to decide whether the scene is a good one or not.

  • Since there are some scenes I want to rewrite completely, I'll be less likely to remove scenes that I wrote until satisfaction, thus wasting my time.

Have you faced this dilemma before? Which option you practice, and why do you think it's better than the other?

  • 4
    Why don't you just do improvements whenever you see them? Some convention might have established themselves to allow a writer a perspective of consistency. Continuously adapting your script would be like a painter who keeps modifying a painting. Most people work well in small granular approach. You don't have to stick to convention. You can cut corners and mix granular approach with staticizing approach. You should begin your writing career with writing so much and experimenting so that you cultivate diverse styles. You don't have to write a whole novel in the same style, do you? Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 7:38
  • 1
    It's a first draft that you are talking about. Doesn't that kind of answer your question already?
    – user
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 7:39

5 Answers 5


Sounds like you are paving your road to hell.

Some ugly truths:

  • To err is human. You are a human being. So by definition you will make mistakes and you will never ever create something that you are totally satisfied it. Let me stress that: Never Ever! You are seeking perfection, but you are human. By definition an erroneous creature like you would need indefinite time to complete something perfect. You can rewrite forever, but you will never find total satisfaction. The thing which has already found you is procrastination (or Resistance as Pressfield put it). Follow this route and you will never finish, never publish, never be satisfied.

  • Rewriting is a skill for its own. You cannot "rescue" your manuscript (if any rescue is necessary at all) with rewriting if you haven't mastered that skill at least to some degree. So don't overemphasize rewriting. Do what Lauren suggested. And keep writing! (Not rewriting). Writing is the essential skill for writers. Concentrate on that.

You will never be totally satisfied. It will never be perfect. Nonetheless go and publish.

  • Thanks for your feedback. Sorry, I think I wasn't clear enough. By satisfied, I meant something like: "OK, looking good. I'll come back to it in the next draft." As opposed to: "Mmm, this doesn't look good. It's OK, I'll fix it in the next draft." I'm aware art can't be perfect. Like Leonardo said: "Art is never finished, only abandoned."
    – wyc
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 12:50
  • I kept my first story, which I come and "fix" every few years. And each time I look at it with horror: "How horrible it is! How did I let such abhorrent errors through the previous time?!"
    – SF.
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 14:20
  • 1
    @AlexandroChen: Maybe I wasn't clear enough: you do not say "looking good, I come back to it". You hate in one day and love it the next. The third day you wonder how you could have ever written such a nonsense. There is no metric which can be used to identify "good". Writers make bad judges. At least when it concerns their own writing. No one can please everyone (look at one-star reviews of bestsellers) and that is true for oneself, too. You cannot suit yourself. You love a chapter one day and hate it the next. Cool-down phases do not change that. Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 14:21

This is a Your Mileage May Vary question; there is no one right answer. My suggestion would be to go through the draft once more, fix what you think needs fixing, and then find a beta reader and/or an editor for the next round. You need input from outside your own head.


Since it's been 3 months, you've had your cool-down period. Now you need to go through it once like a grammar teacher, letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence. Typing, spelling, and grammar mistakes are not acceptable in a published document. Then go through it like a literature teacher, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. Does each sentence/paragraph say something or do something? If a sentence/paragraph has no purpose, get rid of it. (Or, less often, add something to fix the problem.)

Then go through the book like a cheap movie producer. Pretend every character has to be played by an actor, who must be paid. Axe anyone not necessary. (Novels can carry more characters than short stories, obviously.) Lastly, go through it pretending to be one of your target readers. Will they find it interesting? Confusing? Funny in the right places? Sad in the right places?

This is very hard work, much less fun that writing, but you need to do it.

  • 2
    I think this is in the wrong order. If you fix every spelling and grammar mistake first, then go through cutting paragraphs, haven't you wasted time fixing mistakes in the paragraph you just cut? Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 22:24

Don't rewrite unless you have to. Read it over and fill in missing details, edit the work you've already done, and hand it over to an editor or a friend and have them read over it. They might give you more ideas to go with, and might see things that you haven't yet.


There are five levels of editing. Most people think it is only the SPAG (spelling, punctuation, and grammar) at the lowest level. You need to do your development editing first. In the middle you may iterate development editing. But you never do SPAG until you have a final draft.

  • Could you please edit your answer to expand on what you're referring to? In particular, what does SPAG stand for? And what are each of the five levels of editing called, and what do they involve? Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 12:21
  • 1
    @ChappoHasn'tForgottenMonica SPAG in this context stands for "spelling, punctuation, and grammar". I can make that edit for the OP, but I concur with you: they need to make the rest of your suggested edits.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 13:02

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