Sign In Sign Out

Inkers Con

Close this search box.

8 Ways to Improve a First Draft

Alessandra Torres, NYT Bestselling Author

First drafts are… as I like to warn every new author, messy. But hey – they’re supposed to be! That’s part of the creative process – the regurgitation of ideas into one big pile of words on a page.

When it comes time for you to rewrite your first draft, there are a few novice tics that can stick out like a sore thumb. Below is a list of tips that will elevate the natural flow and delivery of your writing, and make for an improved reader experience.

1. Watch your wandering body parts.

Our natural inclination is to refer to body parts in the same way as we would a person. But as you read each of these lines, actually picture the body part moving on its own.

My knee inched closer to him. << Your knee isn’t jumping off your leg and creeping toward her. Instead, I’d say… “Our knees brushed and I inhaled at the contact.”

My eyes followed her as she sprinted for the door. << Again, your eyes aren’t hopping out of your head and chasing this poor girl. Eyes, by the way, are the worst offenders. They bounce around rooms, trail after people, and linger on things. The easiest way to fix this is to replace ‘eyes’ with ‘gaze.’

2. In writing, 1+1=.5

The more adverbs and adjectives you use, the less effective they are. I try to never use more than one adverb or adjective at a time, and the true goal is to remove them as much as possible.

For example: Matt was tall, ugly, and thin.

When you use three descriptors, they all lose strength. Instead, pick a single thing or word to describe Matt.

Better: Matt was ugly.

Best: A glob of snot dripped off the end of Matt’s pimple-dotted nose. He ignored it.

3. Nix the Adverbs

Adverbs are a less effective way to describe something. It’s hard to paint a picture with a single word. You can tell an adverb because it ends in -ly and describes how an action word is performed.

Example: She exercised vigorously.

Replace with: Panting, she increased the speed on the treadmill, her legs burning with the increased effort.

4. Don’t say what you don’t have to.

A common habit is to include words and stage direction that isn’t needed. Removing it will cause a cleaner and less clunky read. The general rule of thumb is, if you don’t have to tell the reader something, don’t.

Below are some examples. You can start by watching out for sentences that start with…


Example: I felt horrible for what I’d said to her.

Replace with: Why had I said that to her? God, the look on her face, the way she had crumpled in her seat… I tried to push the memory out of my head.


Example: I heard the sound of the telephone.

Replace with: The telephone rang.


Example: I watched her turn to leave, her cart’s wheel sticking in the turn.

Replace with: She turned to leave, her cart’s wheel sticking in the turn.

Explanation: The reader knows she is watching, otherwise she wouldn’t be aware of this action.

5. Use contractions

In dialogue and in inner monologue, use contractions when possible. Think about when you speak. Do you say “He is fifteen”? Or, do you say “He’s fifteen”? Most of us speak in contractions, which is a more natural flow in the reader’s head.

You’ll want to keep an eye out for these in dialogue or inner thoughts. If you can combine ‘it is’ into ‘it’s’ – it’ll flow more naturally.

6. Don’t be afraid to delete.

You can have beautiful writing in a scene, but it could lack direction and bore the reader. While writing (or reviewing) each scene, ask yourself what its purpose is. What is the reason that this scene needs to be in the book? If it doesn’t have a purpose, delete it. If it has a purpose, are you accomplishing it? Are you takng far or much too long to accomplish it? If so, trim it down. Do not be afraid to delete words, sentences, paragraphs, or entire scenes.

7. Be light but impactful with descriptions.

90% of the time, readers don’t care what clothes the characters are wearing, or the interior decor of the restaurant they are eating in. I suggest picking out just one or two things, per scene, to point out.

For example, you could go on for three or four paragraphs about how big and grand a mansion is, or you could just have a butler answer the front door. That one fact tells the reader all that they need to know.

I’m also pretty scant on character descriptions. You can sprinkle them into a scene without the reader even being aware of them. For example:

“Get your feet off the coffee table,” I snapped at Wesley, nudging his shin with a freshly manicured foot. He ignored me, and I wrinkled my nose at the lines of dirt under his overgrown toenails. He should have skipped his video game tournament and joined me at the salon. Flicking my attention back to the giant flatscreen that hung above a pyramid of empty beer cans, I mentally counted the days I had left in this relationship.

I’ve put in bold all of the bits of character and scene description that are included. I’ve shown the reader a LOT about both of these characters and their personalities in this paragraph.

8. Remove most of the “thats” in your writing.

That is often a pretty useless word that can bog down a sentence. Do a quick search of the word and see how often you can remove it without changing the meaning of the sentence.

For example:

She told me that the pigs needed to be fed. = She told me the pigs needed to be fed.

I already knew that she hated me. = I already knew she hated me.

“Did you get the sense that he was ill?” = “Did you get the sense he was ill?”

The more you watch out for these items, the more you’ll start to eliminate and avoid most of these pitfalls automatically. You’ll also become a much more critical reader.

In the 2022 Inkers Con conference, we have a deep dive into prose (the natural flow of your writing) that is taught by Tex Thompson – who is my all-time favorite craft instructor. Seriously, she is! Digital tickets are available now, and her class (and 24 others!) will unlock on July 16th. Details are at

Update: Tex Thompson was a speaker at the 2022 Inkers Con conference (which is still available to watch). The upcoming 2024 Inkers Con conference offers dozens of brand new classes, Q&As, author discussions and more! Join us in Dallas or online!