9 tips on rewriting your first draft.



Many Many drafts of Cogheart, and the proof, and a lovely fox from Kathy Evans.
Many Many drafts of Cogheart, and the proof, and a lovely fox from Kathy Evans.


A month ago I wrote a post called 7 tips to help you write your first draft. Since then I have been working on a second draft of Cogheart Book 2. A draft that I hoped would be good enough to send to my editor and agent for editorial comments. And so I thought I would write something about how that process of revising my first draft went.

If you finished your first draft since the last post – good work! Eat some cake, drink some wine, guzzle some chocs, dance, or do whatever your celebratory thing is. But I would suggest not showing your pages to anyone just yet. Not until you’ve had time to read through, revise what you’ve written, and get it to a second draft that you feel happy with. So here, because I couldn’t quite squeeze them into seven, are nine tips to help you get to that point…

1. Print out your first draft and read it through.

You might find a few story gaps. Don’t worry about those at this stage. You will end up rewriting again… and again… and again… until you’ve fixed them. Yay!

For now, just keep reading.

People often call the first draft ‘the Random draft’, ‘the Zero Draft’, or ‘the Vomit Draft’. That’s because as you read you’ll find LOADS wrong with it. There are plots that don’t conclude, characters who seem flat, and random scenes that don’t quite make sense. But don’t despair,  because you can save your story. And you will. There will even be ACE bits that you love and are worth keeping.

2. Write a note for each mistake.

Scribble things all over the manuscript with a pencil, even if you think the scene you’re editing won’t make it into the next draft.

I find it helpful to add potential corrections for all the problems, big or small. Writing notes is as much about thinking aloud, and turning things over in your mind, as it is about fixing them. Remember to leave big ticks and contunuity notes for scenes that are great but just need moving.

3. Uh-oh, big problems!

If you’re anything like me here are a few of the big problems you might find as you read through your first draft:

  • The protagonist has no single, strong, overarching external goal.
  • Or even an internal goal.
  • The protagonist takes no action, solves no problems and barely emotes.
  • There are too few clues or mystery elements.
  • The villain isn’t villainous enough.
  • A character in Chapter One mouths off about the whole plot, revealing all kinds of secrets better discovered by the readers and protagonist in tiny, hard-earned, incremental pieces.

These are head-scratchers, but keep reading and if you come up with answers scribble them in a notebook or on paper. If you can’t find a solution frame the problem as a question to start your brain turning over.

4. Put the Manuscript aside for a few more days. 

So you’ve read through and made SO MANY notes, but there are still problems to solve, or things that don’t quite sit right. Put the manuscipt aside again for a few days to give yourself time to percolate and juggle the characters and scenes around in your head some more.

I find if I try and do this at my desk answers might not appear. So I go out and do something else. Perhaps answers still don’t arrive… You sweat and worry and they still don’t make themselves known… Finally… last thing at night, or first thing in the morning, or in the bath, or on the train, or wherever, a solution to your most pressing story problem flashes into your brain, it’s much better than the previous idea you came up with and you rush to write it down…

5. Write a one line pitch.

Now you’ve written pages and pages of notes, you might start to have a feel of what the story’s actually about. Who the lead really is, and what the backbone of it will become. At this point it might be useful to write a one line pitch.

A one line pitch is 30-60 words about your protagonist and main plot. Something like:

When Jack and Jill set out to fetch a pail water, they find the Big Bad has bought the well and plans to keep it all for himself. Jack and Jill try to steal back the water,  but Jack falls down and breaks his crown. Now Jill must save him and the precious pail, before the Big Bad catches up with them both.

This is too long, but you get the idea. Take your (much better-than-this) one line pitch and stick it above your computer monitor so you can see it when you do your re-write.

6. Write the WANTS and NEEDS of characters.

As the Rolling Stones said: ‘You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need…’ WANT VS NEED is more to do with the interior of a character. I find it useful to write a little post it of what the character’s wants at the start of the story, and what they need to get to feel fulfilled at the end. These two thing are often completely different. Sometimes you won’t hit them both in the early drafts but they are good to bear in mind.

7. Rewrite your synopsis for structure.

Normally at this point, when I have SO MANY notes, I sit down with pen and paper and rewrite my synopsis/outline/map document. The aim is to fix the macro plot and include all my new stuff.

If you have some good structure books it might be worth having a quick flick through them before you do this. Personally, I try to write more of chapter outline this time. If, in refining a plot point in chapter ten, I suddenly realise I need to set something up in chapter five, I write a post it for that and stick it on the relevant page of the outline to remind myself to add it in later. My new chapter outline comes out about 10-15 pages. But, whatever your map was for the first draft you might rather revise that.

8. Complete re-write, or patch-up job?

One last decision: can you rewrite sections and tweak the first draft manuscript, or is it better to start from scratch and incorporate bits of the original when and where you need them?

9. Sit down and write your second draft.

Whichever route you decide to go, you have your new road map documents – your notes, your characters’ wants and needs, a one liner, a synopsis, and a manuscript covered in scribbles.  You’ve taken this journey once before, maybe on slightly more meandering roads, but this time you’re no longer driving in pitch black darkness and you have much more of an idea where you’re going. So sit down and write your way through this, again…

SEED – Review

SeedSeed by Lisa Heathfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pearl is a naive and dreamy girl who has lived all her life in the cult of SEED. SEED is a commune and farm made up of a few families, who are cut off from technology and the outside world. It is run by the the enigmatic and sinister Papa S. When newcomers arrive – in the form of Linda and her teenage son Ellis and daughter Sophie – Pearls feelings for Ellis, and the things he tells her about the outside world, plus all the secrets that she gradually discovers about the cult, start to make her question everything she has believed in, and her whole way of life…

SEED reminded me of so many other great cult stories, both cinematic and written. Drop City, Sons of Perdition, Louis Theroux and his visits to the Fred Phelps Cult. I find cults are a fascinating subject, because they are a microcosm of the worst human behaviour. They are the most extreme example of the fearful and delusional stories that societies and families and religions create to control people, and they can be startling in the way people buy into them in order to survive, or perhaps because they know no different. This book takes all that cult craziness and builds it to a thrilling crescendo as the characters struggle to free first their minds and then themselves.

Lisa’s writing is so beautiful and elegiacal, and locates us so strongly with Pearl and her joyful, upbeat unquestioning character voice, and yet she still manages to make clear to the reader that there are dark motivations behind everything going on at SEED. It’s a fine balancing act and it works to add an extra layer of fear and revulsion to what it already a strange and engrossing story.

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Never Evers – Review

Never EversNever Evers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the opening with Mouse sitting in the bath – it reminded me of the opening of I Capture The Castle – ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’. Lucy and Tom’s books feel like modern updates of those classic romantic comedy stories, both literary and filmic.

There’s a such a good depiction of the bitchiness of girl gangs, and lots of stewing animosity between Mouse and her ex-best friend Lauren, who are both after the same guy, the clueless, somewhat dorky Jack. He and the boys gang of Max and Flynn, get up to a lot of gross-out or stupid inbetweeners antics, but it’s clear that Jack is the one with the good heart. Jack and Mouse meet the effortlessly cool French popstar and Bieber-alike Roland, will he be a possible love-rival to Jack or a new found friend to them both? I love the way all the character’s attempts to get it on – i.e. get a snog – end in disaster and all their social interactions come off as disjointed. None of them can read situations at all and everything requires a lot of thought and second guessing. The boys are especially clueless and are constantly putting their feet in their mouths.

This is a hilarious book for young teenagers, full of great gags and real relatable characters. It didn’t quite reach the heights of Lobsters for me, I think because the mystery of whether Jack and Mouse will kiss in the end doesn’t quite have the tension of the older storyline that Hannah and Sam have in Lobsters – navigating your first time, and what may be a deeper connection. So it felt like a lighter book, for a younger crowd, which it most definitely is, but still a lot of fun to read, with many more of Lucy and Tom’s trademark laugh-out-loud moments.

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The Girl of Ink and Stars – Review

The Girl of Ink and StarsThe Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book and its beautiful poetic writing. It’s a fantastic island setting, where you can practically feel the muggy tropical heat, and where local folk tales and superstitions are bubbling to the surface once more. I loved the central friendship between the narrator Isabelle and her friend Lupe both come across as strong hearted individuals. I loved how they work together in so many scenes and in their own way both become the rescuers and heroes of the story. The book made me think of the Earthsea quartet in some parts but has a strong flavour of South American magic realist literature also and a classic fairytale feel. Overall an exciting and lyrical adventure with two strong girls at its centre.

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Checking the final proof of Cogheart

This last week I have been going through and checking the final proof of Cogheart. There are actually more tweaks than I expected, and one minor story thread that, annoyingly, still needs some clarification in a couple of scenes. But this is the final final read through now, and after I hand this in next week that will be it! I won’t see the book again until I hold the finished copy in my hand, which will hopefully be sometime over the summer. I can’t wait for that, partly because I am so excited for the finished book, and partly knowing that I will NEVER have to edit it again!! Unless there’s ever a US edition, here’s hoping….


Final page proofs of #cogheart arrived today for me to go through… At last we are reaching the very last stage!

A photo posted by Peter Bunzl (@peter_bunzl) on


And, even though the book is still being edited, look you can pre-order it here…