Second Drafts are for Story

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With the second draft done, and now out with a few people to read, I thought I’d look back at how it went and what I learnt from it. Thinking about it the main lesson for me was:

If first drafts are about letting you suck, second drafts are for sorting out the story.

First drafts are a mess, that is fine and awesome and how they are meant to be, but they should give you a good idea of what you need to change. Especially when it comes to the story. A first draft will be all over the place with contradiction, plot holes you could fly spacecraft through, illogical character choices and much, much more.

The second draft, whether in the form of revising what you already have or going through a full rewrite which is what I have done, is your chance to sort out that mess. If you’ve outlined do a fresh one with all you’ve learnt from writing the first draft, and trust me you will learn a lot. Give yourself a break then re-read the first draft and see what is missing or what needs to be removed. If you have done the first draft like I have you will have a list of things you already know you will need to change, I kept a constantly updated set of notes as I went along, that you should have rightly ignored as you were writing it. You ignored them to get to the end of the first draft so you could get a view of the story as a whole.

Well now you are at that point, approach the second draft with an open mind. Take a look at the whole thing from start to finish. Ask yourself whether the beginning and ending are right, do the key events happen in a way that feels nature. Does it work as a story? Be prepared to cut what doesn’t work, even if you really like a chapter or scene. Do what is right for the story as a whole. Have those little notes you’ve kept in mind as you embark on the second draft and get to work on making the story work.

Don’t worry about getting the dialog or description right in a second draft, those can wait until the editing stage, take this chance to get the story in a state you are happy with. Get the pacing right, have your characters feel real, make sure the plot hits the correct notes and get the story finished. If you do this congratulations you will probably have a story you can be happy with when all that is done.

Then share it with people, it is no use writing anything if you keep it to yourself, as a writer you are too close to your work to make some of the judgement calls about the book. Give it to people you trust to get the feedback you need on the story. It will undoubtedly need further adjustments after the second draft but it should be minor to what has come before.

Be open and willing to accept peoples feedback, just make sure they are focused on what is and isn’t right with the story and not on the parts of the book you know aren’t finished. Read what they say, tweak the story as you need. Then you will come to perhaps the trickiest part of the whole process of writing a book, the editing phase. But that is a topic for another time.