writing the second draft

I had a request to share how I went about writing the second draft of my novel. As a disclaimer, this is just how I did it; I’m certain that others try different methods that work well for them.

My first draft was written during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month— I highly recommend participating) last November, 50,000 words in one month. It took another week after November to finally finish it, which brought it up to approximately 52,000 words. As expected of a NaNo novel, it had several major problems.

First, there was the pacing. I was writing furiously for four weeks to produce volume, not good craftsmanship. My first test reader said that the book felt like it needed to be about twice as long, which I agreed with. The city was an undefined blur, the castle equally nondescript. My prose rambled, got distracted, changed ideas halfway through sentences.

Some of the characters were very fleshed out. Others were flat and uninteresting. My two protagonists, Rylan and Wyrren, were not very consistent. My villains showed up when inconvenient for my heroes, the characters were sidetracked at several points. Some characters I had decided would be important, but seemed to decline their part in my plot.

And speaking of plot… the entire middle of my story sagged terribly. I had the ending I wanted, the beginning I wanted, and I got to keep my tiger-fight… and yes, I could see what I was going for in that first draft. It was also an unholy mess.

Now, I’m a terrible critic. I’ve been spoiled by literature, and I’ve read too many good books to be impressed by mediocre work. This might even be the reason that I’m so hesitant to start reading something new… I have a fear of being let down by a book, as if they were a new friend that I was entrusting myself to. When I read a book or watch a movie, I ask myself things like, “If I had written this passage, would I be satisfied with it?”

I also have an excellent memory for words on paper. I can still quote poems that I memorized twelve years ago, regardless of length. So I don’t forget the things I write in a hurry.

In January, I read over a few pieces of my printed first draft, put it away, and began writing the second draft. From scratch. No references, no list of absolutely required scenes. After the second chapter, I felt that I needed to be reminded of where I was going. Instead of going back to the first draft, I wrote a detailed outline of the book and kept going.

To those of you who practice art, I compare the first draft to a thumbnail sketch. It’s enough to let you know what you’re going for. But if you draw from the sketch, you’re just going to get a bigger sketch. Best to have worked out your thoughts ahead of time and begin fresh, looking forward to other references other than old, and quick, work. I can say that my second draft is far superior to the first in every way, but still not perfect.

That’s what the third draft is for.

5 thoughts on “writing the second draft

  1. Thank you! So, you don’t refer to the first draft at all? Must be challenging. I guess I should probably give that go after NaNoWriMo this year. We’ll see what it manages to produce. I have found in the past that when I revise using the previous draft, it just gets tedious. Perhaps this is the solution I’ve been looking for.

  2. Thanks for sharing your method. I’m getting to the end of my first draft of my first novel, and starting to think through the structural changes I want to make in the second draft to deal with the problems that I know are there. I don’t know that I’ll rewrite it from scratch, but there are a number of scenes, and entire chapters, where I’ll have to do just that.

  3. Thank you so much for this jolt of sanity. I have finished my first draft of Emi’s Battle, let it sit, and am now slogging through my 1st Draft Massacre. To quote Stephen King, “The 1st draft is like some alien relic we picked up at a garage sale somewhere.” Your method for the second draft-start fresh-is exactly what I need. Thank You!!!

    • Hey Desiree, and welcome!

      If the advice helps you, I’m all for it! I’ve now amended my opinion since then to ‘do what the story needs, because every book is different’. If a rewrite is called for, don’t be afraid of it. Your second draft will be better. And good luck with it!

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