My first rule of first drafts is to put everything down. I wind up with a pile of raw stuff, but if I don’t put it down when I think of it, I’ll loose it. It won’t be there when I want to work on it later. Having done that, I take this pile of stuff, and do of things with it.
I cut out whatever does not serve the story. I tighten by finding better ways to say things that take fewer words. I develop lines of story or character or setting further, and show instead of tell whenever possible. I expand by adding scenes or descriptions or dialogue that make the story more complete. I fill in holes when I discover that I have glossed over something or left something out. I do special passes to add weather, physical senses, time of day, lighting, mood, and so on. I reorganize phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or even some times whole scenes, so that the story flows according to the character’s experience. I revise dialogue, description, action that isn’t clear, so that it can be understood. And sometimes I have to rewrite completely, by throwing out what doesn’t work and doing it all over again.
But just doing a second draft, or even several drafts, isn’t enough. I have to read it again, perhaps several times, with certain specific objectives, such as narrative language vs dialogue; progression of time, place, or weather; phrasing for fiction rather than non-fiction; checking continuity; phrasing for visualization, clarity, brevity; checking for grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, word choice. Then I read for story, for narrative flow, temporal flow, progression and growth, strong opening, satisfying ending, and so on. And then I read for performance, as if I were reading aloud to a critical audience, or for books on tape, to catch anything that makes me stumble.
If at any time, anything makes me stop, feels rough, or just feels wrong, I have to fix it. If I read it through, and it all flows, then it’s probably okay. If, on the nth reading, I’m not bored with it, but enjoy reading it yet again, then I know it is good. If, when I read it, I feel a thrill, then it’s damn near perfect.
At least, that’s what I try for.