The Second Draft Blues

Journals that represent the six novels of a series in the making

The good news: Experience and maturity make writing easier. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy by any means. It just means that I don’t think it’ll be 15 years before I finish a second novel. (After all, I’ve learned quite a bit since that first novel was born after watching Star Wars in middle school.)

The bad news: Whenever a story is coming to life, it seems like the second draft is one of the hardest to write.

Since I “pants” my way through first drafts, they tend to be an intentional mess of ideas interspersed with plenty of plot holes and promising conflicts. Fortunately, now that I’m more mature (and perhaps a smidgen more organized), the mess seems to be coming together well in theory. In practice, not so much. But it’s better than where this novel started.

It was during high school. I was working hard on my first novel and even had the pleasure of a few (deserved and now appreciated) rejection letters to queries I had put out to publishers. In the middle of this process, I asked myself a simple but fateful question: “So, who’s this cousin that the first novel/letter is addressed to and what’s happening there?”

That led to one awful rough draft (which, much to my chagrin, included unicorns) that was hastily set aside (can you blame me? Unicorns!) and left to brew while I improved my skills in college (because I clearly needed the time and education).

A couple of years ago, I picked it back up for NaNoWriMo. While the results were more promising (thanks to the years of brewing, more writing experience, and no unicorns), it was still rough, to say the least. But, I had “pansted” my way through it, figured out what didn’t work, and had a rough idea of where I wanted to go.

Which brings us to today. The draft feels more organized since I’ve already found a path through the jungle of ideas, but it’s not a wide path. For the past couple of weeks, every paragraph feels like a fight and part of me would rather play with another project (any other project) instead. I suppose  that part of the reason it’s been so rough is because I’m essentially rewriting everything, using the first draft (from NaNoWriMo, not high school) as a guide only. The narrator is cooperative in lending her own distinctive voice, and she’s followed the plot we’ve agreed to so far. But that doesn’t mean that words are coming easily.

I believe in following my creativity, but I also believe that sometimes it’s necessary to just buckle down and finish the draft. While I’d rather sail away from the mysterious island that the narrator and I have been stuck on, I need to stay long enough to get her back to the mainland and to the novel’s climax. After all, she already has enough of a complex about being ignored. I don’t want to make it worse.

Which draft do you find the hardest to write? How do you beat the second draft blues?

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6 responses to “The Second Draft Blues

  • Rebekah Loper

    Oh, come on! You KNOW unicorns make everything better! :P

    I find the more drafts I have, the harder the later ones are. Because you’ve become calloused to the story, and that’s when you start getting careless with it. You can see some things that could be better that you couldn’t see before, but when you start to lose the spark that brought the story to life in the first place, it’s hard to get it back without setting it aside for a while. And sometimes you just can’t set it aside.

  • C.B. Wentworth

    For the longest time, I found the second draft to be so difficult, but then I realized it can actually be a lot of fun. Once I made the decision to jump into it like a reader instead of a writer, it instantly changed the way I saw the story and the manuscript itself. I got excited again and that helped me stay focused enough to make necessary changes. :-)

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    The unicorn was used effectively in Roger Zelazny’s Amber books, but she almost never appeared, and it was never quite clear what (or who) she was. She was definitely not an evil or scary, though: http://alexisjenny.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/takin-back-the-unicorn/

    I write serially, so I don’t do “drafts” in the same way; I do many drafts of each segment, post it, and then move on. “sometimes it’s necessary to just buckle down and finish the draft” happens for me, too, though, since I’m often writing some scene that takes place much later, and I have to remind myself that I really need to write the _next_ scene (and sometimes, as much fun as I have writing the future scenes, the story changes course and goes somewhere else anyway :-) ).

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    […] second layer has been revealed all at once since the first attempt at this story in high school. (Yes, the version with the unicorns. The evil unicorns. That’s definitely one way not to tell …) An old legend sits in the library, and the protagonist reads it before finding herself on the […]

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