Sunday 30 March 2014

Editing Your First Draft by Radhika Meganathan #ChaBooCha

What’s not to love about a chapter book? It is a project of perfect length. Not a short story, not a mammoth epic. It is currently in demand, and it holds a very special place in a child’s heart (I still read Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood series every year). A month is plenty of time to write one, if you are dedicated enough, and ChaBooCha March is that month!

Many of you must be nearing the end of your book. Or perhaps you are only half-way (like me), scheduling all-nighters in the next few days and stocking up on Red Bulls. Congrats anyway, because finishing is the most important thing. You can't cut what's not there.

Let it rest
Whether you are writing a chapter book or a magnum opus, you have to let it rest for a few days – no leeway here! “The perspective, or the ability to see your work for what it is, rather than what you hoped it would be, is impossible to attain when you are caught up in the frenzy of the creative process,” says Ray Morton (

I can’t stress enough how important this step is. You need to step away from your story for a brief time, to let your eyes and mind switch off from writer mode and switch on editor mode. As soon as you write THE END, close the document (or notebook) and don’t open it again for a week (ideally a fortnight, but a week if you’re chomping at the bit).

Is it really a chapter book?
Time flies, doesn’t it? No, it does NOT, when you are itching to edit your chapter book. The wait is finally over, and you have just re-read your first draft. Apart from a few glaring errors, it is fine… and that was an interesting sub-plot that you wrapped up hastily to type THE END. You feel you wouldn’t mind expanding it a bit more. One of the characters also looks underdeveloped, and rectifying that might make your chapter book a longer book.

If you feel that your book has potential for more, explore it. Typical chapter books are about 5000-12000 words long. The books in the lower word count spectrum tend to be early readers or transition books, and those in the higher end might actually be early MG. A chapter book is like a size 0 model - some look great as they are, but some need to have a bit more flesh. Decide what your chapter book needs and give it to it!

First edit - Basics
A first draft should be readable, not disposable. When you read through the ‘rested’ manuscript, you will be able to fix most of the grammar, punctuation, and language issues. You may, possibly, fix more -  change a name that suddenly feels unsuitable for a character, or check if consistency is maintained throughout the story. A basic edit should not take more than a day or two.

I know most people print out their manuscript and edit it, but my MO has always been online. I find that using the comment box to enter any comments/warnings is preferable to jotting it down in a note (I tend to lose manual stuff!). Only after I do all these, I print out the manuscript, in the last stages, and do a final edit. This helps in paper conservation and time management, but of course you should employ the method that’s most suited to your needs.

Second edit - Specifics
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? I let the manuscript rest again for a week - this time a week is more than enough - and get back to it for the second edit. It’s amazing how leaving a gap between the first edit and the second edit enables the eye to distance itself from the story. Otherwise, we would still be in creator mode and utterly useless in spotting ANY issue at all (and believe me, there WILL be issues!). Some things to check for are:

PLOT: Has the main question been answered? Goal reached? Wisdom gained? Journey completed?
SCENES: Are they interesting? Static or dynamic? Filled with a good balance of dialogue and description?
SEQUENCE: Does story flow seamlessly? 
PACE: Does it go too slow or too fast anywhere?
CLIMAX / RESOLUTION: Exciting enough? Satisfactory?
GRAMMAR / STYLE: Qualifiers, adjectives, adverbs - are they all used moderately? Is there any cringe-worthy sentence usage?
SPELL CHECK: Is the manuscript entirely typo-free?

Fire up your email
And now, the manuscript is truly a first draft – a workable, edited first draft ready for beta testing. It’s okay if you’re not able to find much from the above checklist, but you MUST scan the story for these issues. We want feedback on stuff that we absolutely can’t find ourselves - we definitely don’t want our critique partners to locate issues that we ourselves could have, on a second edit.

I don’t, or can’t, self-edit beyond this point - this is when I stop working, and prepare the document to send to critique buddies / beta readers. I hope you have a critique buddy, because it is the next best thing to having a personal (creative writing) trainer, rant partner and goal motivator, all wrapped in one! If you don’t have the time to search for one, then you can look for manuscript swaps in forums like The SCBWI BlueBoards and Absolute Write Water Cooler.

Beta readers are your best friends
After getting your manuscript critiqued by a writer, now it’s time to pass on the job to a reader. The usual guinea pigs are children in the family or neighborhood, but they are not always reliable! Your writing group is a good bet; you are probably friends with them and no one will bat an eye at your request to pass your story to fellow members’ kids/grandkids :)

Personally, I have found Facebook and LinkedIn to be very helpful - there are many groups filled with fellow writers and book lovers and I select the ones with most parents and post a call. Parents usually love to pass on stories to their kids, to review - at least that has been my experience. I do make sure I research who the person is, his/her profile and connections etc., before sending them my unpublished manuscript. Here is a great article on protecting yourself and your WIP.

Happy editing! What are some of your editing techniques? Please share them below - I’d love to hear more tips from working writers :)


Radhika Meganathan, an award-winning writer based in India, has published 12 picture books, with 20 more under production. She is the host of Short Story 12x12 and Chapter Book 12x12 challenges. By the end of 2014, Radhika plans to have the first drafts of 12 chapter books and 12 short stories (for her definition of a first draft, re-read this article again!). To follow her year of writing challenges, visit


Comment on this post by noon GMT on March 31st in order to be entered to win a ChaBooCha keychain. winner will be drawn at noon GMT on March 31st. Must be a signed-up member of the challenge in order to qualify.


It's time to announce the winner of a paperback copy of "When the Butterflies Came" by Kimberley Griffiths Little.  The winner has been selected by a random number generator and the winner is: 

Deb Marshall

Congratulations, Deb!


  1. Oh how I loved reading this one! I figured I was the ONLY writer in the world who lets the MS rest a second time. Ha. Now I know I'm not. Love the paper conservation trick. I also love the end where you deem this STILL a first draft. So true, so true! Thank you, Radhika! And Becky too! :-)

  2. The link to protecting your WIP doesn't seem to be working. Thanks for the editing tips.

    1. Joanne, here is the link for protecting yourself and your WIP on the net -

  3. Excellent advice - will be giving my stories a week off to get back into editing mode. Still have a few on the go, who have had a good rest over March!

  4. Right now I am giving my MS a first rest, but now I will be sure to give it a second rest. Thanks for the tips.

  5. This is fabulous advice for drafting and revising drafts. I really need a good beta team. at the moment I have two very busy ladies who do it because its me and not because they really want to :(. I need to go revise a novel I have left gathering dust. Thank you Radhika Meganathan for this timely information.

  6. Thank you for the great advice for revising ones manuscripts. One of my favorite editing techniques is to color code my manuscripts with the advice I get back from my critique group members. I cut and paste... and date a new copy of the manuscript and add in all the suggestions from my critique group members… red for delete, blue for add, and bright mauve for comments. When the manuscript sits for a month or two and I go back to revise it I have all the information right at my finger tips and can easily see if the suggestions make sense or not and revise accordingly.

    Congratulations, Deb!!

  7. Whoa... I replied to every comment here using my wordpress account, and none are showing up! Will try again... thanks everyone, for your thoughts :)

  8. Great comments. Love the two-step edit approach!