Writing Tips – The Second Draft

Once you’ve completed the first draft of your work, the first and most important thing you should do is celebrate. You conceived an idea, researched it and committed to putting it on paper or screen. Celebrate. I always do, regardless of whether it’s a blog post, a novel, a newsletter or a christmas card – allow yourself to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from saying “I finished it.”

Done? Good, because now the real work starts.

The second draft is, for me, the most intense draft of the lot. When I’m writing the first draft, the ideas just flow right out. Now it’s time to sit down and work with what I’ve created and make it into something better. No first draft is ever perfect – don’t disillusion yourself with the notion that you can sit down, empty your brain onto the page and win a prize. That road leads to frustration and disappointment.

The most common question I get about the second draft is usually ‘where do I start?’, followed quickly by ‘what am I even doing?’ I guess it’s different for everyone but for me, it’s a world of opportunity. You poured metal out and kind of banged it into shape. Now it’s time to make a sword and swing it about a little to see how it feels. Some people prefer to work with hardcopy print outs for this, and others on-screen. I’ve done both and I think there are pros and cons to each, with the same end result. I usually work on-screen these days, because I don’t trust little hands not to throw my manuscript around the house like so much confetti, or perhaps decide that the client’s article is a good chew toy. Either way, my process works like this:

Start with little bits. A chapter, a page, a paraghraph – whatever feels like a comfortable amount. Read it. Read it again. How does it sound? Does it say what it needs to say? Are any sentences too long or too short? Is the tone, tense and perspective correct? Are there parts that are awkward, or get off track? Are your references placed properly, quotes accurate? Is your character speaking in voice, or do they sound like someone else? Are they saying too much? Too little? Have I used too many question marks, commas, ellipses or italics? It that word perfect in that sentence? Perhaps I need the thesaurus to make sure. (FYI, highlight a word in microsoft word, hold down the shift key and press F7. It will bring up a side bar on the right of the screen displaying the inbuilt thesaurus, offering a small list of suggestions for the word you have selected. You’re welcome.)

Yeah, there are more criteria. I could make a very long list, but I think you get the idea. The second draft is where you quite literally pull your writing apart and put it back together again, and the process is no different whether it’s fiction or otherwise. When you’ve finished picking and poking and changing your chosen section, then read it again. If you can’t find anything else to change, then read it out loud. This is actually one of my favourite drafting tools, because the sound and cadence of your voice helps to identify sections of writing that are clunky or ineffective. If you stumble over a sentence while reading, then revise it. The point where you got stuck is a good place to start. If you run out of breath, then you need to add punctuation, or perhaps the sentence is too long and should be broken into two or more smaller sentences. Character meant to sound angry? Read that sucker out and make sure that your verbal response matches theirs. If, like me, you work in an area with other people around, then I suggest reading it aloud under your breath. My husband constantly gives me a sideways glance when he sees me hunched close to the screen, muttering at quarter volume and waving my arms about (if a character does an action on the page, I imitate it when I read aloud to make sure the action matches the gravity of the situation). However you do it, do not skip the reading aloud bit. Trust me, your writing will be the better for it.

So after all the reading is done, and you’ve completed making changes, read it out again. Repeat the process until you are comfortable performing your piece aloud without any hitches or obstacles. Good. Now move onto the next paragraph/section/chapter and do it all again from the start. Continue in this fashion until you reach the end of your document. The last thing I do is read the piece from start to finish. Now obviously I’m not talking about an entire novel here – but a whole chapter is a fair call, or a complete article. This might seem like a redundant activity but you need to check the atmosphere of your piece. The whole thing has to feel right, which is something you can’t check properly when doing the finer section work. If it reads through and the rhythm is good, and you’re humming and dancing in your seat because there are no more obvious corrections, then congratulate yourself, because the second draft is complete.

How about you? What are your strategies for the second draft? Do you do things differently?

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3 thoughts on “Writing Tips – The Second Draft

  1. Notes:
    * Firstly, you can never have too many commas, or semi colons;
    * Secondly, see above.

    I agree wholeheartedly about reading your work aloud. If it doesn’t sound right, then it isn’t right.

  2. Pingback: Writing Tips – The Third Draft | The Impractical Parenting Almanac

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