When to Edit Your First Draft

I'm facing a bit of a dilemma. I want to continue on writing my novel (I have 21 pages so far), but I'm feeling a strong urge to rewrite what I already have. It feels clunky and awkward, the dialogue is stiff, and the characters are flat and somewhat cliche. At least that's the way everything seems to me.

The beginnings of my stories are always awkward. I'm meeting these characters for the first time, and it takes me a while to get to know them and learn how they behave and talk.

I've always been of the "grit your teeth and muscle through" school of writing. I don't revise until the end of a story. But now I feel like I should stop and revise what I have before moving on. I might even create little character profiles to help me flesh out the characters.

How do you handle this situation, fellow writers? What do you recommend?


  1. Press on! (says this unpublished novelist). It is very likely you will have a better idea for the beginning later anyway. Either that or the substance is fine and the execution is not, and the first draft is about the substance, not the execution. At the moment you are warming up and need to keep on doing that.

    Character sketches sounds good, it´s creative and similar to writing. But full on editing could stop progress and make your head go all analytical-left-brain.

    But this is all suggestion. My beginnings are always bad too, and so is the middle, and so is the end, (until I start revising) so I may not be the best person to advise in this situation.

  2. Alice, thanks so much for the advice. I'll force myself to get over my doubts and keep plowing through. I was having one of those days yesterday where I was second-guessing everything. "This sucks, it's dumb, the characters are flat, I don't like the dialogue, no one wants to read this..." Well, of course they don't want to read it. It's a first draft, and you're right, first drafts are usually bad. My beginnings are especially bad, and I'm still on the second chapter.

  3. I feel your pain. It's important to find your own process though. For my first novel, I edited as I went. I simply COULDN'T imagine the next scene until I was satisfied with the one I was working on. Muscling through it would not have worked for me.

    However, in my second novel (work in progress), I found that I did not want to do that much editing and occasionally jumped whole scenes to write whatever called to me, knowing that I would 'fill in the blanks' later.

  4. I think that style works best for me as well, at least on my work in progress. I was having a bad day when I wrote this post. I skip scenes and write down what should happen, and I write in the margins how a scene should be revised, even if I've just finished writing it. I realized today what my main problem was: my characters lacked motivation. Now I know what the main character's motivation is. I'll still create character profiles to help me.