The Dreaded Second Draft

I’m working on a new Shinobi Mystery this morning. I wrote draft one in November (it’s not intentionally a “NaNo Novel” per se, but my normal writing schedule puts me into first draft mode in November, so I run with it) so now I’m working through what always proves the most difficult draft for me.

In my world, first drafts offer a time of excited discovery. I work from outlines, but the characters and plot threads always change themselves around on the page, so the first draft rarely turns out exactly the way I thought I’d write it.

The second draft, however, looms before me like a monstrous nightmare. When you let the plot take rabbit-trails and turn your characters loose upon on the pages, what remains when you hit “the end” is a Frankenstein’s monster with a stench that would knock a buzzard off a corpse.

The mental shift between writing first drafts (“WOOHOO!”) and editing second drafts  (“How on Earth did I ever produce such a horrific creation…and DO I HAVE THE SUPERPOWERS REQUIRED TO FIX IT???”) amuses and surprises me every time. For those keeping track, I’ve written eight novel-length manuscripts. You’d think (or at least I would) that the transition would get easier over time.

No such luck.

Every time, the second draft surprises me with its reeking badness. And every time, I despair of wrestling it into submission.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this.

One of my best friends (also an author) and I have regular conversations along this line. An average day on GoogleTalk goes more or less like this:

Me: How’s it going? I hope you’re making more progress than I am.

Author Friend: Hanging in there. Wrote two blog posts and made some progress on this draft before the kids came home.

Me: Good. I’m glad one of us is getting traction. This is the worst manuscript I’ve ever written. It sucks like a Dyson.

AF: You’ve started the second draft, haven’t you.

(Note that it’s not a question.)

Me: Yep. Only this one is worse than the others.

AF: That’s what you said the last time. It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. Remember what you told me last month, when I started on my second draft?

Me: I told you “this is normal for second drafts, it will come out fine in the end.” Why do I never remember this?

AF: LOL. That’s how it goes.

That transcript is a dramatization, but Author_Friend_001 will recognize it (and know herself in the words) as soon as she sees it. I reproduce it here because I wrote my first four manuscripts completely alone–without a critique group, and with only a couple of editing partners.  I despaired each time I hit the second draft, and didn’t have anyone to tell me “this is normal…just push through.”

One of the greatest benefits of publication is the ability to share not only the joys but also the struggles of the writing path. To pull back the curtain and show the world (and all the others struggling toward publication) that the writer behind the scenes isn’t wearing pants. Not proper ones, anyway.

(Fun fact: most writers I know prefer pajamas or yoga pants. Writing is more of an LL Bean sport than a Michael Kors affair.) 

The message here, and the early Christmas (or, if you prefer, late Hanukkah) gift I’m offering this morning, is this: Your second draft may give you much more trouble than the first one. Do not panic.

Push through with all the courage you can muster. Slap some paint and a few after-market pieces on that Frankenbook. You’ll bring it under control in the end … and although it may not be perfect, that’s what Drafts 3-6 are for.

Which draft gives you the most trouble? I’d love to hear!