The Miserable Task of the 2nd Draft


When I finished the scatterbrained rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” I was so relived I didn’t care about the miserable task ahead. That rough draft was a mess, which had taken many months to put to words to paper (or computer screen). But all that mattered to me was that this was the first new thing I had finished after years of writer’s block.

By the miserable task ahead, I mean the second draft. This process of 2nd draft is excruciating. At the same time, it’s also kind of exhilarating. The story – or triad of stories - is actually starting to find it’s shape, and I can see the novel’s potential. That’s it nut just jumbled chaos of words and scene and sloppiness.

I’ve always thought of writing a novel as putting a body together. The rough draft is only the skeleton of the piece, the bones that make the structure. The 2nd draft involves placing the organs – the brain, the heart, the lungs, the intestines and everything else in between, all those things that are needed to make a body function.

The 3rd draft is the skin, hair, teeth, and nails, in other words, refining the structure, plot consistency, character growth, and story arc. The 4th draft is the polish of language, reaching for the gold ring of lyrical beauty, harmonious rhythm of the written words singing in the brain, also know as the facial features of this particular body of work. What color and shape are the eyes and mouth? High cheekbones or jowly jaws? Is the body fat, thin, muscular, average? Is this body beautiful, endearing, homely, or sexy ugly?

Breaking the process of writing a novel down to building a body makes this doable for me. When I’m discouraged and convinced I’m a hack, I remind myself that I’m only building a skeleton. It’s not time for the features of lovely prose yet, so go ahead and let the writing suck. When I want to pull my hair out during the 2nd draft, I push ahead, knowing that when I comb through it the next day rewriting the spleen before reworking the pancreas, that the spleen may not seem so awful with a break and renewed TLC. But once I cross the finish line of a completed 2nd draft, I’m pretty home free.

Because writing gets fun at the 3rd draft and is giddy during the 4th. The 3rd and 4th draft make suffering through the 2nd draft worth it.

So what are some of your tips for slogging through the draft that sends you into orbit? Here is a more detailed blog with practical how-to steps to navigate 2nd draft if you’d like to take a look-see. Personally, I don’t use Scrivener.