Here’s some novel-writing tips for the second draft stage of your project.
No matter how much of a mess your first draft is – and the first draft of my first book was truly terrible – simply completing it is a big accomplishment – I had a cocktail to celebrate! But the first draft is only the beginning of the journey to publication. It’s what you do in the second draft and later drafts that show your craftspersonship or lack of it. The second draft stage where you revise your work is a very important point in the process of writing a book.
Engage your critical thinking
When writing your first draft, you use your creative mind to get your ideas down and leave your critical mind out of it. It’s the fun part where you immerse yourself in the world of your story and it doesn’t matter how terrible it is. At the second draft stage, however, you need to engage your critical mind to evaluate what you’ve written and then revise it. Though creativity is still important, of course, and it’s still working to create solutions, your critical mind is what flags the problems for your creative brain to solve. If you or someone else doesn’t pick up the problems, they’ll still be there in the finished work. Anyone can write a first draft, but not so many can revise and self-edit a novel to the point where it can be called a good book. That’s your challenge.
Are you up to the task?
I managed it simply by sticking at it. My Chinese birth year is the year of the goat and my stubbornness in not giving up on my early books and keeping educating myself in the craft of writing is what got me there in the end – two awards for Lethal Inheritance prove that I turned that dreadful first draft into a quality work of fiction.
If I can do it, so can you. And I’m here to help you all the way.
Don’t show your first draft to anyone. A first draft is like creative vomit: it comes out in an inspired gush and no one wants to look until it’s cleaned up. Getting feedback on a first draft is likely to make you miserable. Why? Because, unless you’re an experienced author, first drafts are usually not very good.
It’s important to give yourself space between finishing the first draft and looking at it again, so I suggest that you don’t look at your manuscript for at least 6 weeks, longer is better, and during that time, read other books in the genre – good books and ones that sell well. That will give you something to compare your book to when you return to it.
The second draft tasks
The key thing you’re involved in at the second draft stage is evaluation and the more objective you can be the better. Let go of your attachment to what you’ve written and be prepared to throw it all away if that’s what’s needed. Taking a month or so off from your book will allow you to take a step back from your story so you can see it more clearly.
Your first task is to read it through and make notes. Don’t try to change anything, just note what needs to be changed. It’s important to not break the flow of your reading and try to see what it actually is that you’re trying to write so you can strengthen it. You also need to check the story elements and improve them.
I never had someone like me to guide me, so I wrote quite a few second drafts before I finally managed to pull all the story elements together. I probably made just about every mistake you could imagine, but that means that I know exactly how to help you avoid the same mistakes. How do I do that? I tell you the questions you need to ask yourself – see below. Ask the right questions and you’ll find yourself evaluating exactly what you need to evaluate.
Your task at the second draft stage of writing a novel is to:
- Decide on the themes of the story and strengthen them.
- Is the plot strong?
- Do your plot points come at the right time to keep the reader interested?
- Do your characters have an inner journey as well as an outer journey? Emotional development arcs need to be mapped out along with the plot points of the outer journey.
- Does the pacing keep the story moving?
- Is your characterisation complex and deep?
- Does the dialogue sound natural, as in it’s how the characters would actually speak?
- Is your world building clear and consistent?
- Is your point of view clear? Check the story elements and improve them:
To make sure that you understand the questions, DOWNLOAD My FREE Novel Revision Checklist for more information. It contains details on each of these questions that will lead you through the evaluation process and give you ideas for how to strengthen your story. (You’ll also get weekly articles on writing sent to your inbox, but you can unsubscribe at any time.)
The emotional challenge
Our emotional state can either help or hinder the writing process, so here’s some tips to help you on that side of things:
Though I knew in my heart that it wasn’t, I wanted my book to be perfect already. That desire made it hard to see the faults. If you accept that your work is not perfect, you’ll have no resistance to seeing the issues. The fact that you book needs a lot of work, doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer, it just means that you can improve it. And let’s face it, we can all improve.
Be prepared to completely rewrite the book in the second draft if you have to. The more critical you are at this stage, the more time you will save yourself later. Probably my biggest mistake was that I resisted re-writing, but I had to do it in the end anyway. So don’t resist the inevitable.
“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” James A. Michener
You may have heard the saying, “Kill your darlings.” This refers to the necessity of letting go parts of your story that you really like, that are possibly superbly written but that don’t move the story forward. That was also something I found hard to do to the degree that was required. My first efforts at writing were overburdened with beautiful metaphors. Like paintings covering a wall with no space between, the effect on the reader was overload. Honey is delicious until it’s up to your thighs and you’re trying to wade through it.
This is part of a series of blog posts on how to write a novel. It won’t just cover the technical details, but also the emotional journey we take and the personal challenges we meet on the road from potential author to author. Join the journey now, and don’t miss a post, sign up to get my Novel Revision Checklist and links to the articles sent to your inbox.
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You’ll also find my book on writing, The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine, very helpful.
Writing a novel? Feeling overwhelmed? Get new insight and inspiration with my FREE Novel Revision Checklist. DOWNLOAD IT NOW. You’ll also get weekly articles on writing sent to your inbox but you can unsubscribe at any time.
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