Don’t Forget the Second Draft

August 2, 2017 by Evan Braun

All writers know that feeling of exhilaration that comes on upon typing the last period at the end of a book. You get to the last page, the last paragraph, the last sentence… and then it’s done. It can be an overwhelming moment. With no exceptions, writers chase this feeling, and they chase it for months and months, even years. In some cases, decades?

Indeed, writing a book can take an awfully long time.

So pop the cork on that champagne bottle and soak it in. You’ve earned it.

But are you done, really? I once read somewhere that writing a first draft is like taking out your paint and covering the canvas. It’s not really a painting yet, and it certainly isn’t a work of art. (Unless you’re one of these unusual artists.)

Here’s another analogy. For the first draft, you’ve opened the fridge, freezer, and cupboards and pulled out all the ingredients you’ll need for supper. You drop everything on the kitchen counter. That’s the first draft. All of your ingredients in one place, in full view. But that’s not a meal. Now you’ve got to cook it. (Unless you’re one of these unusual dieters.)

You may be one of those people who thinks this doesn’t apply to you, because you write a fairly clean first draft. If so, I refer you to last month’s blog .

Writing a first draft is about getting in the zone and pouring out everything onto the page whether or not it works. Whether or not it makes sense. It’s all about inspiration. And yes, it’ll be half-baked, or possibly not-baked-at-all.

The second draft is where you mould this block of marble into something resembling a sculpture. It doesn’t even need to be a perfect sculpture; chiselling it to perfection will happen later. But it’ll have a heard and a torso and two arms, two legs. All the important bits.

It’s amazing how many times I start an editing project and immediately get the sense that the manuscript was sent to me about an hour after the author typed “The End.” I don’t get worked up about typos and wonky grammar, because those are the easiest possible elements of a book to fix. But is the narrative voice cohesive? Does the storyline flow logically from beginning to end, avoiding plot holes? Are the characters conceived three-dimensionally? Does the dialogue sound natural? Do your descriptions of the main character and his prairie homestead in Chapter One match the same descriptions in Chapter Twenty, or did you accidentally reconceive a few things and forget to go back and make sure it’s all consistent?

These are the sorts of things that don’t necessarily make or break a story in the first draft. First drafts aren’t meant to be good. Authors don’t win awards for the first drafts. Nobody is meant to see a first draft, after all. There’s a reason no one wants to know how sausages are made!

In the second draft, they look for these things.

Don’t get me wrong: professional editing can start at even the earliest stages of a project. But every book will strongly benefit from getting multiple writing passes from the book’s very own author.

So don’t let your sense of exhilaration overwhelm you. When you finish that first draft, you’ve done something amazing, something worthy of a big celebration. But you haven’t arrived at your destination yet. You’re standing outside your car at a truck stop, refuelling.

About this Contributor

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Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.