Revisions: Lessons of the Second Draft

Frustrated Writer

In my wildly popular* post “I Wrote A Book, Now What” I shared what happens after typing “The End” on a first draft.

*Wildly popular means read by someone other than my mother and best friend.

Here’s an update on my progress.

Like sex or Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake, the learning curve for writing a novel is something you have to experience for yourself. No writer can convey what the process will be like for you because the process is never the same.

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Gratuitous photo of chocolate sex

Similarly, no recounting evokes the mental anguish and befuddlement of the actual undertaking. Hence, most unsuccessful novelists simply shelve their hideous first efforts and move on to the next project, or give up all together.

My bio on Twitter is accurate, I am pear-shaped and pushing 50. I’m determined to improve so I’ve got to face the fear of the second draft on this project. Then and only then, I will decide if the story is worth further effort.

So far, my revision process includes 50 new pages of material and a 30-page handwritten outline of the entire novel as it currently exists.

I needed to know the present world of my characters and show them interacting more before I start them on their journey of transformation. Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. In the new material, my main character is now 10 years younger and childless. Lesson: Generating new material often presents new problems for the writer that have to be resolved throughout the entire draft.

The first draft for a pantser (writing by the “seat of your pants” vs. planning) is like magic. Things just flow out through seemingly no effort of your own. But 290 pages of information is a lot to remember which is why characters end up with different names half way through and you can’t remember who’s related, etc.

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There was so much for me to learn, I applied and was accepted to a Novel in a Year program. The writing teacher strongly suggested I give outlining a try. Ugh.  Lesson: Outlining at some point in the process is incredibly useful for consistency and as a reference for rewriting.

So how do you do it? A typical day of revision is waking up early, making a cup of tea, stretching in the kitchen and then sitting down at my desk. I open up the word document and reread the previous material from my last session. Then I review my editor’s comments and decide what to tackle for that session. Either I’m adding a new scene, removing a section, correcting errors, etc.

Brainstorming, questioning, making lists of possibilities are all part of my process right now. Will I leave the kids in the story? Did I show enough interaction and conflict or tension between the main character and her husband in the first chapter? How am I going to tie the last chapter of the new material to the old material?

At first I was sure I was lost. I put off sitting down in front of the laptop. I didn’t know how to wrestle the three-inch stack of papers and notes into submission. What kind of an incompetent writer doesn’t know the age of her main character?

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What I’ve heard, read and by the grace of the writing gods have come to internalize is that as long as I’m still working at it, learning and trying new things, I’m writing. Lesson: This is my process for this book so it is the right process. The struggle means I’m learning.

If you’re struggling with a first draft of a novel or short story or essay, congratulations. You’re writing.

(All photos via creative commons – click on photo for link)

One Thought on “Revisions: Lessons of the Second Draft

  1. barb armstrong on April 30, 2015 at 7:15 am said:

    Congratulations, you’re writing!!!

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