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I just finished the first draft of my novel, and Im going to put it away for at least a month.

The book has a lot of spelling / grammatical errors, as in true Nanowrimo style, I kept typing without fixing anything.

When I return, what should I focus on: Fixing the spelling and grammar first?

Or, should I read through the whole book, and look for plot/characterisation holes?

I know there is this question, but it focusses more on editing other peoples work, not your own.

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There's no point in polishing work that you're not going to keep for the final product. I'd work through at the macro level first, cutting/adding/moving big chunks, and then I'd go back and look at the medium level stuff (style and flow, etc.), and then polish up whatever's left.

That said, my first drafts are pretty clean. If your spelling and grammatical errors get in the way of your critical reading, you may need to fix them first just so you can see what you've got for the bigger issues.

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I agree. Attack the big stuff first. Flag or fix typos or grammatical errors on the first round only if they impede reading for content. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 11 '11 at 19:22
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My advice would be to sit down after a month and read through your draft with a pen or pencil (or, if it's digital in Word format or something similar, use the note-tracking facilities available to you) and jot down all the ideas that come to you, focusing specifically on the story itself, but perhaps highlighting spelling/grammar errors along the way. Treat the grammar and spelling as secondary to the main goal of identifying problems with your story. Grammar and spelling errors are relatively quick and easy to fix, but intrinsic story problems - dialogue, characterisation, setting, plot holes, continuity, etc. - are far more demanding, and will likely alter many sections, thus altering any spelling and grammar mistakes you find anyway.

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Forget the grammar and spelling unless it gets in the way of fixing the other stuff in some way.

Focus on your characters and your plot first.

Also look at the overall structure of the novel before you get down to the nitty gritty. You might want to delete chapters, switch them round, write new chapters... no point spending time fixing spelling in chunks you might change in a bigger way anyway.

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Drafts are for refining concerns such as organization, plot, characterization, etc., not for mere mechanics. What you tackle on each draft is up to you; personally, I tend to start with a general "let's see what I've got" pass to fix up obvious structural problems at the sentence, paragraph, and even scene/section level, while making notes about what I need to improve in other regards.

Ideally, your grammar and spelling would be just about perfect in every draft, because they've become automatic. Grammar and spelling are bare minimum skills for being a writer. You wouldn't try to be a carpenter if you couldn't reliably hit a nail; you'd practice hitting nails first. Similarly, if you can't always correctly spell the word you intend to use (typos† aside), you should learn to do that first. You will be a lot less frustrated by the process of revising, in my opinion, if you are not trying to deal with macro and micro issues at the same time.

My philosophy: assume that you'll run up against deadline and your current draft will end up having to be published, even if it's your first, and try to write so that you won't be too embarrassed if that happens. There are plenty of published writers who have inconsistent plots and cardboard characters, but very few who have consistently bad spelling.

† Typos are when a word gets scrambled (or lost) on its way from your brain to your fingers. Happens to everyone. Not knowing whether to use "their" or "there," or how to spell "minuscule" (an old nemesis of mine) is not a typo.

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There's different schools of thought on this one. Some people argue that their creativity is limited if they worry about mechanics, or even structure, at the early stages. For those people, the first draft works best as a VERY rough version of their story. If you work well with a tighter first draft, that's great (it's how I work, too) but I don't think it's universal, or 'ideal'. –  Kate Sherwood Jul 13 '11 at 18:06
    
I think the value of the advice depends on whether you're writing to a deadline. But if you aspire to write for a living (or a significant portion of one) you will eventually have deadlines, and at that point, being able to turn in publishable copy at any time is literally a valuable skill to have. –  kindall Jul 13 '11 at 18:23
    
Is it just me, or does this idea substantially contradict what you said in an earlier post (writers.stackexchange.com/questions/761/the-rules-of-writing/…)? Have you changed your philosophy since December, or am I misreading one of these posts? (also, does html not work in the comments?) –  Kate Sherwood Jul 13 '11 at 19:18
    
Good question. I suppose I was in a more "don't scare off new writers" mood when I wrote that. :-) Here I'm talking more about an ideal, a goal to be striven for (in, as always, my opinion) than what's actually feasible for a given writer. And even if you get there, there's still a vast gulf between "this won't embarrass me too much if it gets published" (the ideal first draft) and "this is pretty much the best I can do" (the ideal submission). –  kindall Jul 13 '11 at 20:59
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Typo: short for "typographical error," an error made while typing. You knew what word you wanted, and how to spell it, but the message didn't make it from your brain to your fingers. If you would choose the same word or give the same spelling e.g. when asked to respond aloud or when writing with a pencil: not a typo, just plain old misspelling or word confusion. –  kindall Feb 12 '12 at 17:31
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