Tackling The Dreaded Second Draft
Updated: May 27
I made the bold step three weeks ago to stop thinking about it and start writing my second draft. While my novel is finding its home in the world, I’m working on a memoir about travelling the world with a small baby. But the second draft always makes me nervous. In some ways it’s scarier than the first, because it needs to be better. If I stumble over a word or know there’s a massive hole in the first draft, it doesn’t matter. It’s all going to be rejigged anyway. But now, this is where things start to make sense. But what if they don’t?
In terms of preparation, perhaps I overdid it. There were the giant notes to myself, the scribbling I did over a map of the world, plot diagrams, notes on my first draft and planning tables. I even reread Wild and created a complete structural map of it to look at how she’d created narrative tension in a factual book.
Analysing how other books have been put together is a really useful way to approach the second draft. But don’t spend too long on it!
At some point, I just had to reopen Scrivener and get on with it. I find myself a delightful 15,000 words in. That lovely point where you’re still excited about the possibility of it all and you’re not wading around in 40,000 words wondering what the hell you’ve missed out or included or are you in fact just repeating yourself? Even in these first few weeks, there are a few things that have helped me through.
1. Write It Out Again
This is heartbreaking. All those lovely words, and it’s so tempting just to cut and paste, fiddle around, make some changes. But it just won’t do. It needs to be written out, word for word, from the beginning.
Although the blank page was terrifying, I actually found that I enjoyed (mostly) adding in new bits and finding new angles and anecdotes. It will definitely mean that the second draft is a proper change and improvement from the first, rather than a lightly neatened up version of the first.
The dreaded blank page! But once you get going, you’ll soon find them filling up. Photo by MESSALA CIULLA on Pexels.com
I like to have a print out of the first draft with notes on to help me out (as well as all the other bits of paper) but I know some people work well with the first open in one window and the second in another.
2. Focus On The Big Stuff
It’s so tempting to fix the tiny errors. Look, it’s better! you can say, without putting in a lot of effort. But now is not the time. You can pick up stuff like grammar and the perfect sentence later. For now, iron out the continuity errors, the plot holes, the structure of it all.
I’ve made a list of the key ‘threads’ I want to develop throughout the book and am making notes as I go, so I know how much of the backstory or idea has been revealed. This means I can build on it in the next chapter without having to do constant rereading.
There’s no point in trimming the hedges unless there’s a clear route to the end of the story. Photo by Enric Cruz Lu00f3pez on Pexels.com
3. Have Clear Goals
I didn’t want to spend another year fiddling with the second draft. It’s going to need some more work even after this full rewrite, so I don’t want to labour over it too long. I set myself a three month target for finishing the draft. Then I broke that down into monthly, weekly and daily goals.
If I write between 5000-6000 words a week, I’ll get it done in that time. Even if I’m having a tough week and I’m a bit short, at least I know that the end is in sight. This will be very useful later on when I’m struggling to stay motivated!
4. Connect With Others
There are thousands of people writing second drafts. Writing third, fourth, eighteenth drafts. They share your pain. Whatever your social media of choice, it’s always good to reach out, even if it’s just to have a moan. Sharing your experience with others will help you feel less alone and more accountable to your targets. It’s also worth taking some time to talk to non-writer people to have a break!
It can feel like starting all over again. Don’t forget you’ve already taken so many steps towards a great book. Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com
5. Have Faith
But it’s been so long since I read it! But I don’t know what I’m doing! It doesn’t matter how many times the blank page is in front of you, it’s always daunting. It’s important to remember one huge thing – you’ve already written it. Yes, it needs work, and yes, it will take time. But you aren’t conjuring brand new things from the air anymore. There’s that lovely solid pile of printed words next to you. Use them as a crutch and support to get you through the tough times!
Good luck with it all, whatever draft you’re on.
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