Time to get into the meat of writing a second draft. When I first sat down to start my second draft I was hit with dread. I didn’t know where to start. I looked at my manuscript and froze. There were nights I’d literally open my laptop, look at the document, and then close the lid. I basically hit The Wall. Eighty-four-thousand words stared back at me and said, “Come at me bro.”
What frustrated me most was that I knew what big areas needed changing. I had scenes that needed to be added and scenes that needed to be deleted. It should have been easy. So I would start to dive into a random chapter and go to town. But as I snipped and added, I would realize that the changes I made affected so much later in the book. If I changed “C” then I’d have to consider the ramifications on “R” and “W.” The more I edited, the more these started to pile on one another and I felt lost.
The Wall fell on me.
After scrambling out from it I had to sit back and rethink my strategy. Where was I going wrong? Within a few days it hit me. I needed a second outline.
I know it sounds strange, but this really did wonders for me. In basic terms, I skimmed through my book and made an outline of what each chapter was about. Making bullet points of the major beats in each scene. However, when I ran across a beat that needed to go, I did a
strikethrough. If a beat needed to be added, I wrote it down and made it bold. In no time I had a quick overview of how the book needed to be fixed. As I got further into the outline I’d easily remember, “Oh yeah. We cut that scene so we need to cut this one too. Or at least the mention of that.”
I was on a roll.
The next step is so simple, everyone will say, “Well duh.” And to you I say, “Back off! I was too busy being crushed by a wall.”
Start at the beginning.
Yes, simple. And probably what most of you would have done. But for some reason I had it in my mind I could jump around all willy-nilly and just fix the bits I wanted. Too bad I was wrong. With my new outline in hand I read along. Tweaked sentences and paragraphs. Added scenes and deleted scenes. Bolstered my world building and caught areas where I could do some nice foreshadowing. And in no time my second draft was completed.
At this point I want to stress an opinion of mine about the writing process. Now, these ideas are born out of my art background. They may seem strange to some of you, but stick with me.
During these subsequent drafts, consider the fact that you’re trying to write from big picture down to details. What do I mean by that? As an artist, when I start a new drawing I start with a sketch. I’m getting the general idea of what I want down on paper. I want to get the underlying structure in place first. Once I feel I have a good gesture, I move a “layer down.” Meaning I start to bolster the shapes, doing my outline and adding flat colors. With each step it is necessary to never jump to the details before your basic shapes are in place.
I view writing the same way. When I first started reading about editing I saw a lot of the same “tips.” Cut out was, very, and like. Check for passive voice. So on and so forth. And yes, I agree these are all things that need to be addressed. But these are details. Become too focused on them and you will loose sight of the big picture. Consider this. You could have a flawless manuscript in terms of grammar. But if the structure and characterization are off, what does that gain you?
Draft big to small. By the fifth or sixth draft you can focus on the very-s, likes, and was’s. Knowing that your character arcs and scenes are rock solid.
Thanks for reading about my ideas on writing the second draft. If you haven’t read the first two parts here and here, check them out. Also, feel free to let me know what you think. Disagree with me or agree. I always have fun talking about writing.
As we talked about last time, there are three things to do when starting your second draft. Take a break and then read it, get someone else to read it, and start the second draft. For this post I want to look at getting others to read it. This section can be broken down into two parts. Alpha readers and beta readers.
These are people reading the work as it is being produced. Generally you will hand them one to two chapters at a time to critique. This has its ups and downs. Which I will speak about my own experience with this method. I attend a bi-weekly writing group (though recently I took some time off to focus on finishing my second draft), where we critique each others work. So one week we’re off, where work is submitted to be critiqued the following week.
In terms of a novel this means submitting between one to four chapters every other week. So over the course of a eighty-thousand word novel his may take roughly sixteen weeks before they’re read the entire thing. Which leads to fractured input from the readers. Its nice to have the deadlines, but the helpful critiques start to dwindle as time goes by. Ultimately this method is good for people that want a good idea if their story is fleshing out well.
I thank my critique group for going through my first novel, but I wouldn’t do something like that again.
My favorite group of readers. Beta readers get the entire novel in one go. It may still be rather rough with grammar errors, plot holes, and continuity errors. But their job is to give you the overall feeling of the book. Are there scenes missing? What needs punching up or explained better? Do scenes or characters need to be cut?
They are going to help you see things you may have missed. Which will be a lot. My advice here is to pick people whose opinion you trust, that will tell you the truth, and that are from varied backgrounds. Adults, children, teenagers, lawyers, and candlestick makers. Obviously the material may change who you pick, but the wider the audience the better feel you’re going to get for your book.
Next post I want to talk about the act of writing the Second Draft. These will be tips on where and how to start it. I suffered for a month trying to figure out a great way to tackle eighty-four thousand words. And if I had problems, I know others have as well. Until then, get writing!
So you’ve finished the first draft of your first book. Awesome! That’s more than a lot of people have been able to do. There are millions of unfinished manuscripts rotting in dresser drawers and resting on hard drives. Now that your done it’s time for that next step. Which in my opinion you have three options. Take a break then read it yourself, get someone to read it, or start your second draft. Eventually you’ll do all three, but the order may change.
We’ll unpack these one at a time.
Take A Break Then Read It
At this point you want to separate yourself from your own work. Take some time off to either outline another book (I recommend a different book or series), or go out and do something. Take part in a hobby and enjoy life. Don’t take too long though. Maybe a month or so.
This is a method we use as artists to clear our mental palette. In my day job as an animator I often have to step away from my work. I go around to other desks and see what others are up to. And when I come back I’ll see everything with a fresh pair of eyes. Flaws that I didn’t catch before jump out and slap me. Plus the stuff that is good really stands out. Often times you’ll wonder if you really wrote it.
During this time you should be taking notes on what you’d like to change. This is when you mark scenes for deletion or decide what needs punched up. With your break I know you’ll easily see the flaws.
Big point here. Don’t get discouraged. Your first draft was just getting words on the page so you have something to work with. Think of it like modeling with clay — if you’ve never modeled with clay, stop reading and go do it then come back so this analogy makes sense to you (also it’s fun) — when you start your just worried with getting your major shapes down. The ovals, cubes, and cylinders. That’s your first draft. Taking a break and reading it is like stepping back from the clay and evaluating it. Are the proportions correct? Can you shave away any parts to shore it up?
After that you either get someone to read it our start the second draft. Which I recommend doing one before the other. So keep a look out for those posts coming in the next few days.
Here is another concept drawing of a character from my book: Winfield, who owns and runs Winfield’s Eclectic Books!
Before I start my posts on editing a first draft, I have a present. A friend linked a great Tumblr page written by an editor about receiving submissions from authors. She uses gifs coupled with captions air her frustrations with her job. Really witty and funny stuff. Plus, it gives us authors an insight on what to do, and not to do.
What a crazy ride it has been. Starting my first book my goals were simple. Outline a book and shoot for 50 thousand words. For a first timer it felt more than reasonable. By the end of the first draft I had something like 82k words. I was stoked. At that word count I had plenty of editing room. After a bit of a break to distance myself from the work I jumped into the second draft.
I stumbled quickly. See, there is plenty of material on the internet about how to write a first draft, but so very little on doing your second. Makes you wonder how many unedited manuscripts are floating around out there. Probably more than we could count in a weekend.
With that in mind I plan on trying to remedy that. Over the next several posts I’m going to be breaking open my experiences on starting that second draft. And maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe everyone is really swish with second drafts and just struggle with that initial output. But, just in case I’ll talk about it anyway.
On a slightly different note, in celebration of finishing my second I’d like to show everyone a little bit of concept art I drew up. Being inspired by my coworker Jenn Lyons I decided to draw a character from my book. May I present Brenda Courdry, AKA Brenda the Beast, AKA Brenda the Seventh Grade Giant. A head taller than most eighth graders, she’s the First Home position on her Lacrosse team, and a powerhouse on the field. She has a penchant for giving people nicknames. Why learn their real name when they aren’t worth her time to begin with?
Hope you enjoy it! I look forward to presenting more characters at a later date. Come back for more!
Whoa, it’s been two months since my last post. Sorry about that. I’ve basically been face deep in my novel. Which is nearing the end of the second draft. After which point it’s off to my beta readers. For now, I want to talk about something I’ve always had a hard time wrapping my head around.
Shuffling scenes. Also known as moving scenes.
Over the years I’ve researched how other authors go about writing. What methods do they use? How do they structure their scenes? On several I read that they like to write scenes as they think of them, completely out of context. Then just move them around later. Scene 32 may be better as scene 21 because it supports scene 27. I have one response to that.
That blows my mind. How can you write a scene without knowing or having written the previous scenes? They build on one another. Inform one another. What happens in scene 12 should impact the rest of the book. So if you write scene 16 first, be ready to make some serious revisions. And how can you move a later scene up when it should rely on everything that came before? Time for more rewrites!
Obviously it works for some people. They have no problems. It’s just that when I see that, all I see are all the major revisions ahead of the author. *shudder*
Save yourself some time, plan your scenes first. Or be prepared with a hatchet, fire, and glue for your editing!