Moving from First Draft to Second and Subsequent Drafts

Joy of Cooking - google image


Oh the joy of rewrites – there should be a book by that title that could be stored right up on the shelf beside The Joy of Cooking. Most writers probably don’t see the process through that happy, happy lens, so I’m betting the book would get our attention.



A resting period is an important consideration. The moments after the raucous cheering that came about when one typed the words THE END is not the time to start a second draft. Through the first draft process it has been all about weaving a believable story together, getting that story from the opening pages through the ups and downs and pushing the whole kit-and-caboodle to the finish line. Rewrites and second drafts are a different beast. You have to prepare yourself for that.

Second and subsequent drafts generally entail a good deal of picking apart. It’s definitely a deconstructive process. The main consideration for me is whether the work makes sense. I read through my work asking questions. Have I got my facts straight? Could this really happen the way I’m saying it could? Is this behaviour, dialogue, thought pattern consistent with the character I created?

Questions related to structure emerge. Should this piece go here? Should this chapter end there? I move, eventually, to looking at individual paragraphs and even sentences. Is there a deeper meaning to the way I have constructed this novel? Can I strengthen that meaning by changing things around?

Scissors - google imageThen, of course, there is the cutting. I’m working on my fourth novel, so I’ve made my peace with the cutting process. I tend to over explain and since that is something that drives me crazy as a reader, I’m fairly brutal seeking out those instances in my own writing. Weeding out the unnecessary repetitions is part of this stage. Stephen King has his formula and I think it serves as a good rule of thumb: first draft – 10% = second draft. The wordier among us may have to think 15%.

On Chasing Down the Night, by the time I got to those beauty words – THE END – I’d already had two rounds of feedback from my go-to beta reader that led to significant cuts.

Here is a sample of the kind of input that is so important to me at this stage of writing:

I am amazed how you are able to weave the threads of the story together so tightly that connections are made, characters are developed and plot is advanced. For me, it is ironic that the ability you have for making every detail essential to the story, also gives rise to the need for you to decide what is most important.

After this feedback, two storylines changed quite radically, there were some significant structural reworking and a character hit the cutting-room floor eliminating almost fifty pages of the work-in-progress.

In second and subsequent drafts, I read my work for themes. Believe it or not, I don’t always see these connections and links when I’m writing. All that is golden is not planned, my friends.

I received this feedback partway through the first draft writing:

The underlying theme of running is being developed in a natural way through the activities of various characters, dream sequences, races and escapes. The end of the novel promises to relate that theme to the title of the novel.

I was taken totally by surprise. Any effort to draw out this particular theme was completely sub-conscious on my part. When I re-read and have those ah-ha theme moments (or have them pointed out to me), I start looking for ways to strengthen those parts of the novel.

Fog on the Lake - Guenette photo

So – that is me moving myself into a second and subsequent draft mind-set. Since I need to do this, I thought I might multi-task by sharing the process with my readers. How do you shift yourself from a first draft writing mode to rewrites? Does anything I do ring true with your own process? Have you got any special gems to share on this topic?

15 comments on “Moving from First Draft to Second and Subsequent Drafts

  1. This is the reason I’ve never published my book. Can’t move past the first draft! LOL

    • It definitely takes a different skill set to move from wide-open creativity (totally necessary for a first draft) to subsequent rewrites. I’ve also found a different skill set is required for editing, proofreading and formatting. I won’t even get into the challenges that promotion and marketing require. Geez – talk about a multi-dimensional pursuit. For me, wide-open creativity is overwhelmingly rewarding and exhausting in equal measures. By the time I get to these other parts of the process, I am ready for the break.

  2. jenanita01 says:

    I am a complete novice when it comes to serious writing. I have tried to learn all the rules and read all the advice, but have no clue if what I write is any good. I have found revising even harder than writing, which is odd, for I have been editing for years and It’s not the same thing at all.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, reading, commenting and reblogging. Much appreciated. As I was saying in a comment above, revising and rewriting requires quite a different skill set. We are really shining a different light on the work. Editing, as you say, is a different ball game again. I guess I come back to something I wrote in a post not long ago – this writing game is not for the faint-of-heart or the weak-kneed. That’s for sure.

  3. reocochran says:

    I encourage you in your subsequent drafts and admire your fortitude! smiles!

  4. I have just finished an Nth revision of the book I intended as the first I would publish. But no matter how much I worked at it I was never convinced I had quite got it into a satisfying read. Now after seven years I have looked at it again and made a few, fairly minor changes, adding more conflict. The difference this has made is, to my mind significant, and i now feel a burst of enthusiasm to take it on to the publishing stage as my third book. Sometimes, you just need to let a story stew before returning to it.

    Revision is something I quite enjoy. It’s a nit-picking mind challenge as well as an emotional challenge, to portray what you want, in the way you want it, whilst being concise yet painting word pictures (that bit is important for me) to give a well-rounded, don’t-want-to-put-the-book-down story.

    Revision, for me, is ideal to tackle during winter months when I can take my time over it without wishing I could be outside enjoying sun and warmth weather.

    • I like the idea of tackling this picky work during the winter months. I’m glad that putting a project on hold for a time worked out so well for you. With my first novel, it languished in a drawer for a time (not as long as seven years) but it definitely sat and gathered some dust before I got the confidence to haul it out and do the work necessary to get it published.

  5. jane tims says:

    Hi. I allow time apart from the draft. I find going away, working on other projects helps me return to the project with some distance and the clarity that can bring. Jane

    • I’m experiencing that type of process more with Maelstrom – my collaboration with my dead mother’s manuscript which is a very different type of book. It seems to be working. When I come back with a fresh perspective everything goes better.

  6. No special gems, but 8 or 9 books in, I admit you are right. I cannot turn around and day after “the end” begin revising. I tried to do that and “things” “happened” for ten days so that I couldn’t get started. Every morning I woke up with the bright intention “today is the day!” and every day “things” got in the way. I knew, I just knew, the first draft needed a rest. And I was right. The new book will be better for it. My critique group met the day before I started the revision and their comments stirred in with all my thoughts and I stared at my title and I got a little epiphany about a big deal in the novel. So that would not have happened had I started revising right away. And taking a rest will always make a better book, maybe like letting the bread dough rise a second time?

    • Funny how “things” get in the way when we aren’t ready to move forward. I will suddenly find myself busy with knitting or cooking or even the dreaded cleaning. That percolation period between THE END and revising is important. Love the idea of an epiphany and letting the dough rise one more time.

  7. Roy McCarthy says:

    No gems, but I’m happy to report that I, too, just dropped a whole character from my second draft of novel #5. The whole flow was jarring just by having him around. Generally though I simply don’t possess the patience/professionalism to seek out all the improvements that could be made to a first draft. Hats off to you writers that are prepared to work much harder at it.

    • This particular character that I dropped – it is her second dropping – and each time she was nowhere to be found in the final part of either novel – she has a tendency to fade away too quickly. And a character who interrupts the flow – unless it is in a way the author desires – definitely must go. It’s a hard thing to do – cut a character – but, like a good haircut, one feels better for the effort.

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