Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft

by Fay Lamb

In my writing life and both as a freelance editor and an acquisition editor, I have discovered a disturbing trend among some new and not-so-new writers.

Self-publishing is not a bad thing if the author does it correctly. However, there is a generation of authors who have grown up without accountability for what they create. Some sit down at a computer, plunk out one draft of a story, and head off to publication. There are also some who send their first draft to a publisher. When they receive a rejection, the fault belongs to a “system.” They use that excuse to self-publish.

Say what you want about traditional publishers, but in most instances, they truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing. Granted, there are authors who have studied the craft inside and out and write great manuscripts. Yet they can’t find a home in traditional publishing. The rejection has less to do with a lack of diligence on the author’s part and more to do with publishers’ trends. Those diligent authors who take the time to craft a story find new life in self-publishing by bucking those trends.

A first draft is never an author’s best friend. All it says to an author is, “I’ve taken the story from Point A to Point Z, and I have some bones to build upon.” The next draft, or drafts, however many it takes, puts flesh on those bones.

I’d like to share some very obvious clues that indicate to readers and to publishers that an author has not gotten beyond the first draft stage before submitting or publishing:

  • The author has not taken the time to get a command over the small stuff: spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency in names, hair color, eye color, even the spelling of key locations. Editors see these mistakes as lazy writing. If an author isn’t keen on these areas, finding an editor, or even a critique group that can offer this support, is imperative.
  • The manuscript usually consists only of bones, taking the form of stilted dialogue. Description and deep point of view (POV) are lacking or lax. A story that engages uses effective dialogue to relay information without the reader knowing the information is being fed to them. Deep POV is the best tool to draw the reader into the story and connect them with the main characters.
  • Speaking of point of view: in a first draft, even the most prolific authors will inadvertently switch POVs within the scene. Revisions will correct this mistake. However, an omniscient point of view is a sign that an author has not studied the elements of fiction. POV should always be one character per scene, and the character with the most to win or to lose should always be the POV character for that scene.
  • Often in a first draft, the plot will lack escalating conflict. Instead, an author utilizes contrived conflict, bringing it in and resolving it quickly before introducing another issue. One reason a synopsis is requested by publishers is to determine how well an author introduces and sustains conflict. If conflict is weak or non-existent, the story isn’t ready for publication.
  • Then there’s that old but relevant cliché: show don’t tell. A first draft is littered with telling words or phrases that draw the reader away from the story. This is easily seen in the use of adverbial time phrases such as suddenly and immediately or when she turned … Other telling words have to do with the senses: she heard, he saw, he noticed, he realized, and a host of other similar actions that tell rather than show.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that a first draft or even a second draft will produce a story ready for publication. Take time to revise and edit, to look for the minor mistakes and to implement the elements of fiction that put flesh on those shaky bones and build up a healthy story that readers can enjoy.


Writing Prompt: Rewrite the following short paragraph, utilizing some of the points discussed above to create a second draft:

Paula heard a noise that made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Immediately, she turned and peered out the window. What she saw terrified her.


Click to Tweet: “In most instances, traditional publishers truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing.” Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft via @InspiredPrompt and @FayLamb.

Time to Write with Tammy & Lisa Mayer

Tammy Trail wrote her first story in sixth grade. It won a prize and she was hooked. After life slowed down a bit, she began to dabble with writing a full-fledged novel. A contributor to Inspired Prompts since 2014, the learning still continues.

So, how does she make time to write?

Working a full-time job left me little time to write. Then my hours changed. I now work a mid-shift from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. There’s very little time before I need to get out the door.

After work, there is dinner, household chores, and sometimes Grandma time with my two grandsons. It’s a dilemma that I have yet to overcome.

This next year will be different. I usually never set resolutions for the new year. However, I do set goals. My BIG goal for next year is to go to bed early in order to get up earlier to exercise and write. This will be a huge struggle for me, but I am determined!

Prayers for your efforts, Tammy. May 2019 be the year of your break through!


Lisa R. Mayer has anxiety and OCD and is a proud mental health warrior. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her husband, Rich, and her fur-baby, Scooby, catching up on her reading list, watching her favorite shows and movies, bike-riding, traveling, and going on adventures. You can learn more at www.lisarmayer.com, or follow her on Twitter @LisaRMayer2019, Instagram at author_lisa_r_mayer_2019, or on Facebook at Author-Lisa R Mayer.


Like many of you, when I look back on my life… I realize I’ve always been a writer. If I don’t write, it’s like part of me is missing. But it’s more than that. I would dare argue that making time for writing is akin to making time to becoming a better person.

Writing, just like being a better person, involves editing. We work to be a better person by editing our thoughts and actions, chipping away as a sculptor would marble until we find the best version of ourselves underneath. And we edit our writing in the same way until we find the story—our story—that is bursting out of our hearts.

All of us know why we write… because our story must be told. Not only the story of our characters, but the story of our lives, the things we’ve been through and learned. We pour a little bit of ourselves into our characters and hope that their best parts will become part of us, too. We hope that we’ll make the right decisions. We hope our books will touch lives.

I’ve learned the importance of editing as both a person and writer. I edit through my foot-in-mouth moments when all I can do is apologize. I edit when I was told the first chapters of my book were boring. I edit when I need to focus on my mental health. And I edit even when it means tearing my book apart for what feels like the hundredth time. In real life and writing… editing is hope that things can and will get better. We just can’t give up.

And that is why I never stop writing. But I also never stop editing.

Click to Tweet: All of us know why we write… because our story must be told. Not only the story of our characters, but the story of our lives, the things we’ve been through and learned. Lisa R. Mayer via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #amediting #WritersLife

Writing Prompt: Imagine your best day. Write about it: where are you, and what are you doing? (Keep it G-rated, please!)

A Month of Indie Publishing

I was indie published before it was popular—back when it was a bad, sad thing. At the time, they still referred to it as self-published, or “vanity” published, a choice for those who couldn’t get published the “right way”. So, I paid someone to publish a manuscript.

I had a whole list of reasons. Fear topped that list.

A few other reasons why:

  • I didn’t want anyone changing my “work of art”–*sigh*
  • Agents and editors told me the story would never sell
  • I had no idea what I was doing

These were not my only reasons, but I’ll stop there.

Indie Publishing is now a viable, respectable choice.

Years later, I removed those books, rewrote them, edited them, paid a designer to do eye-catching covers, and re-released them through a reputable company. You might be wondering how you find a good company? What other choices are out there? Can you do it yourself?

These are some of the questions we’ll explore and answer this month on the Writing Prompts blog. I hope you’ll join us for each one of our posts and discover what we’ve learned.

As always, if we don’t have the answer, we’ll find someone who does.

In case you’re wondering what happened with my writing journey, I met a woman who made a big splash in the Indie Publishing pond. Fellow Kentuckian, Hallee Bridgeman, heard my story. She and her husband were helping other writers get started. They were willing to help me.

Welcome to Sign of the Whale Books (an imprint of Olivia Kimbrell Press)!

Gregg Bridgeman took my humble manuscript and turned it into something beautiful with his interior editing. Graphic artist, Debi Warford gave each book a brand, spanking new cover that brought tears to my eyes. Their artistry and attention to detail far outstripped the writing in those first novels!

Make Your Story Shine

The best advice I can give, whether you choose to DIY-it, have a friend help you, or pay someone to publish it, is this:

  • Perfect your work
  • Get help from a critique group and/or use beta readers
  • Find a reputable editor and pay for editing
  • Find a good graphic artist and pay for an eye-catching cover. Cousin Lucy may not be a good choice—you want someone who will still speak to you afterwards, preferably not related to you.

We Need You

Join us here at the Writing Prompts blog as we talk about alternatives, pitfalls, and share our experiences. If you have questions or comments, please join the conversation. Let us know what you think of the industry.

Have we helped you? Let us know. If you have a comment or a question that doesn’t seem to fit the post you’re reading, use the contact tab above. We’ll do our best to get the answers you need.


Click to tweet: I was indie published before it was popular! #IndiePub #Writing

Writing Prompt: It was the desire of Julie’s heart—to see her book in print—not just for herself, but for…

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Clean it Up!

By Harriet E. Michael

These are words I’ve learned to dread when coming from an editor. Cleaning up a manuscript is no fun. At least it’s no pleasure cruise for me; I understand there are strange people in this world for whom these words sound like an order to have fun. These people are sometimes called editors and they are an alien breed to me. At the same time, I need them desperately and am glad they exist.

I recently released my debut novel, “The Whisper of the Palms” published by Olivia Kimbrell Press. When my editor first received my novel, he sent it back to me telling me to clean it up. pc-1207686_1280Thankfully, he gave me specific things to do to clean it up. Here are two of them, which may help any writer trying to present as clean a manuscript as possible to an editor, whether it be a large manuscript like a book or small, like an article.

 1)      Change passive verbs to active. My editor had me doing word searches for all being verbs: is, was, were, am, are, be, being, been. He asked me to change these to active wherever possible.

2)      Do not start sentences with what he called the FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Again, my editor had me doing word searches for these words and asked me to change it anytime I had started a sentence with any of them. (And this is my favorite vice! I love starting sentences with and or but. Ugh!)

 A couple of weeks later, I was practically cross-eyed from all the word searches but I had a cleaned-up manuscript!  

Click to tweet: Cleaning up a manuscript is no fun.

Three-word prompt: I’m editing because …

Add your 3 words to the three-word prompt to create a six-word short-short story! We’ll publicize our choice of the best one on Facebook and Twitter and other outlets. One all-around winner will be chosen at the end of April!

The Whisper of the Palmsa new release from our own Harriet E. Michael!

Africa beckoned but would Ali have to go alone?

Growing up in the foothills of North Carolina, Ali Blackwell dreamed of going places she had only seen in books and magazines. She lived in a small farmhouse that her farmer father had built with his own hands, and the prospects of ever leaving her little town of Union Mills appeared unlikely. Her family barely scraped by on the sale of produce grown by her dad and brothers and the supplemental income they earned working at the nearby textile mill.

Kyle Edmonds, a few years her elder, lived in a larger house in South Carolina. He possessed things Ali only dreamed of—extra clothes and shoes, a house with indoor plumbing and electricity, a family car, a bicycle and other toys, just to name some.

They could not have been more different.

However, both heard God’s still small voice calling them to foreign missions. How will their paths cross? What obstacles will they face? What will their future hold?


Born in Nigeria, West Africa, as the daughter of missionaries, Harriet E. Michael is a writer, gardener, wife of 38 years, mother, and grandmother.

She holds a BS in nursing from West Virginia University but has discovered her passion for writing. Since her first published article in 2010, she now has over a hundred and fifty published articles and devotions.

Harriet is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Louisville Christian Writers. She is the author of three books, “Glimpses of the Savior” published by TMP Publishing and “Prayer: It’s Not About You,” a finalist in the 2011 Women of Faith book contest, published by Pix-N-Pens Publishing Company, and her debut novel, “The Whisper of the Palms” published by Olivia Kimbrell Press.

Her stories, articles, and devotions have appeared in publications by Focus on the Family, Lifeway, Standard Publishing, David C. Cook Co., Bethany House, American Life League, Crosswalk.com, Christian Communicator, Judson Press, The Upper Room, Pentecostal Publishing House, Smyth and Helwys, and more.

She is also a Christian speaker who loves to talk to women’s groups about prayer or other topics or speak at writers’ conferences on free-lance writing, non-fiction writing, and devotional writing.

You can also follow her at www.harrietemichael.blogspot.com

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Tech Talk with Fay Lamb and Precarious Yates

home-office-336377__180Throughout the month of August, we’ll be posting interviews during our popular Saturday segment, Tech Talk. We’ll speak with editors, photographers, and other people who help writers become the best they can be in their chosen field. 

Stay tuned each Saturday for a new interview!

Today we’ll speak with two editors who help author’s manuscripts look their best. Welcome, Fay Lamb and Precarious Yates!

As authors, we need to present our best work to publishers and readers alike. Editors help us do that.

Welcome to the Writing Prompts Blog. First question. Do you have a specialty in the editing work you do?

Fay: Yes, you won’t normally find me editing non-fiction. When I write non-fiction, I do it in the same way that I speak, and I write it in regard to only one subject: writing fiction. I feel that an editor must have an expertise in what they edit, and to edit something without a knowledge of the structure or the element that goes into that type of writing does a disservice to a client.

As far as fiction, I’ll edit most genres. However, historical fiction authors might find me a bit tedious, especially Biblical fiction. I’m a little picky about the finer details.

Precarious: I specialize in editing speculative fiction, although I’ve edited many a romance story. I edit both grammar and content, as well as provide story coaching when requested. Another of my specialties is my effort to help an author find and preserve his or her unique voice.

How do you go about an edit? Read it first, then edit. Or read and edit together?

Faye: I generally read and edit at the same time if the author is one that has presented a clean manuscript and if the story is not a complex one. On occasion, following that first read and edit, I’ll change the track changes to “final” so that my edits will appear incorporated into the manuscript. I’ll then read it again for areas that I might have missed. I do this especially for complex story lines or if I have found a few inconsistencies in a plot line. The clean document helps me to find any areas I may have missed. After the second read-through, I show the original markup and send the manuscript on its merry way.

Precarious: I do a bit of both. For line editing, I note grammar and plot line anomalies during the first reading, as well as suggestions for rhythm and cadence.  I see all this much clearer during the first read-through.

After I read through the story the first time, I have a clearer understanding of where the author wants to take the story. Once I know where the story is going, I can give clear advice about how to repair any faulty or weak plot points.

What are the components of a strong story?

Fay: I believe there are seven key elements to fiction. How an author uses those elements brings about the author’s voice, but all seven of these elements are key to strong storytelling: plot, pacing (to include genre-specific and bringing back story into the present without jettisoning a reader into the past), conflict, character (I include description under character because I believe it is the character’s job to provide description and not the author), showing (no telling), point of view (the deeper the better), and dialogue.

Precarious:

  • The hero has to be decisive – not necessarily opinionated, but not floundering.
  • The plot needs to pull the reader along, where the reader is desperate to know what happens next.
  • The prose needs to both paint pictures in the reader’s mind and dance through the reader’s mind.
  • The character needs to dredge up as much of my sympathies as possible.

Share three words of wisdom to help every writer.

Fay: Develop your craft.

Precarious: Don’t. Stop. Writing!! Find a trustworthy editor who likes the genre you write in. Trust your instincts about your story.

Where can we contact you?

Fay: You can find me at my personal Facebook page, my Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. I’m also active on Twitter. Then there are my blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. If you are interested in either my freelance editing or coaching, please feel free to contact me at fay@faylamb.com.

Precarious: Right now, the best way to contact me is through Facebook, either my author page: www.facebook.com/precariousyates Or through my personal page: www.facebook.com/shulammite33

I try very hard to have a quick turnaround time for manuscripts. Anything under 80k words I can often return within a week, especially if it’s for a proof read.

Thanks so much for hosting me today! Blessings!


 Fay LambFay Lamb is an editor, writing coach, and author, whose emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on three romance novellas: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt,A Ruby Christmas, A Dozen Apologies, and the newest adventure The Love Boat Bachelor. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.
 Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

pennybird-5783 (2)Precarious Yates has lived in 8 different states of the Union and 3 different countries, but currently lives in Texas with her husband, her daughter and their one mastiff and four Pyrenees dogs, three sheep and nine chickens. When she’s not writing, she enjoys music, teaching, playing on jungle gyms and reading. She holds a masters in the art of making tea and coffee and a PhD in Slinky® disentangling.