A second draft, a second story

Anne Hall (Pen Name)  
There's no wrong or right to writing a second draft. Sometimes, your experiences might not live up to your expectations though. Sometimes, they might exceed it.

The process of writing a first draft often seems universally the same. So often, its merely a case of spewing what comes into your mind, just writing.

The second draft is supposed to be where it all comes together, when you proofread- make everything look neat and pretty.

The moment I typed the first word of my manuscript, I realised this wasn’t going to be the case. My second-draft is swiftly turning into a second first-draft. Its almost sufficiently disparate to be a whole new story. And its longer than my original story. That was a novella. This is something closer to a novel.

Maybe some of you are thinking that’s totally fine. Maybe other’s are thinking I’m crazy and I’m probably never going to successfully write a thing in my life. And that just goes to show how different all our writing methods can be.

I suppose the way you write your second draft depends on the way you write your first. Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re the latter, then your first draft can often end up being something more like an outline. Not an overly-ambitious, bare-bone outline, something that can burn any pantser’s creativity dry, but something to build upon- and stray away from- completely.

I wrote my first draft in just over a week. I’m still into a month on my second. Perhaps you think that’s wrong. Perhaps you don’t.

But there’s one thing I’ve learnt: writing a second draft can so often be harder than writing a first.

Some tips I’ve picked up along the way? Experience might be a harsh teacher, but I’ve often felt it’s the best. You never really understand what it is to write a second draft until you start doing. Here are three things which its worth reminding yourself when you go through your second draft, though, or even your twentieth:

-         Stay true to your characters

This is what makes your second draft a second draft of the first, not a new book. For me, my characters are the reason why I write. Sometimes I think they’re too difficult, perhaps I should change them, tinker with them. But I don’t. Because I love them, and you don’t change what you love. If you don’t love your characters, maybe you shouldn’t be writing that book.

-         Fix the plot-holes

Don’t worry if your story ends up going in a completely different direction. Don’t worry if it sometimes feels like an unmanageable mess. Chances are your first draft will be riddled with holes, small or large. And if you have to take a detour to go and buy the cement to fill it up-- well, then, so be it.

-         Cull, but don’t murder

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘kill your darlings’? Well, I suppose in a way that’s what this tip is all about. I had a hard time getting rid of an awful lot of very authentic-sounding purple prose from my fiction, until I put it on CC. I think that’s probably one of the most effective things about critiques, it provides the push you need to get rid of those beloved demons you know are monstrous, but you can’t bring yourself to remove.

But, sometimes, people take this too far. Kill your darlings, but don’t kill your voice. Every story has a voice, a voice which should be subtle, barely noticeable (which is why you have to go about on your murder spree in the first place) but still there. Don’t go so far that you get rid of it.

These rules aren’t absolutely set in stone. Depending on what you already have, you might not need them. If you’re already at the spelling and punctuation stage, say, I can only offer my congratulations. But for most of us, writing a second draft can be the biggest hurdle yet.



An insightful article. I think the newer we are at writing, the less resemblance there is between the first and second drafts. We are learning so much with every chapter we write, every critique we receive, and even every critique we give. It’s hardly surprising if what we’re writing gets transformed.

I remember saying that I thought your novella would turn out to be the outline for a novel. Good luck with it.

Sep-04 2023


I find it very hard not to completely rewrite every draft. A short story I wrote I decided I would turn into a novel. It was painful to lose things I liked about the short story.
Another problem I had was in the rewrite in order to avoid an omniscient passage I thought maybe works in the short story but would not in the expanded version I introduce a incidental character. Unfortunately I can see people reading it are loving the new character and want more of him. So far I have been hopeless at revision. I hope it gets better the more you do.

Sep-04 2023


First draft in a week. :exploding_head:

Another blog post should be about how people find the time for that.

Sep-04 2023


Haha - perhaps it depends on how people write. There is NO WAY I could do this - it takes me months even though I write every day for hours. One person’s first draft is another person’s 6th draft though - just writing start to finish might work for some people. It doesn’t for me. I’m always going back and editing, fixing, rethinking as I work.

Sep-04 2023


I think it depends on typing speed, available time, and how long the piece is, genre, plus (as @Michiemap points out) writing style and how much of a draft it is.

On about four occasions I’ve had a story take off and written around 35k in three days (mix of paper and typing, depending on what is to hand). After that, my eyes start to blur and I have to slow down so it takes me about another 10-20 days to get to the 70-100k mark. So, I could write a novella draft in a week (if I could write novellas).

But that’s binge-writing and there is no way I could do it if I was working in a job at the same time (would have to be during the holidays). However, I’m not a very fast typer (40-45wpm if free-writing without worry about typos), so I can see it being done quicker by dictation or by a faster typer. From memory, Agatha Christie produced about a book every three months using a dictaphone, but someone else typed it up.

Nanowrimo people write a book-length draft in a month, but some do masses of planning in advance. I’m sure people finish earlier than the whole month. I’m equally certain some people’s drafts will be more polished than others.

Nora Roberts is apparently so fast a writer that her publisher has trouble keeping up with her - she writes a new novel every 45 days. (She would, of course, have editors to take over when required). Romances tend to be shorter than things like fantasy sagas though, and her In Death (futuristic crime, non-de-plume JD Robbs) series revolves around the same characters. So, she’s not always starting with a completely new concept or setting each time.

I’m not sure spending one’s holidays binge-writing a first draft would be restful (personally, I end up exhausted from binge-writing) but I can see it being perfectly possible.

Sep-04 2023


PS. Here’s an interesting snippet from John Boyne:

When I wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the idea came to me on a Tuesday evening, I began writing on Wednesday morning and continued for 60 hours with only short breaks, not sleeping on Wednesday or Thursday nights and finishing the first draft by Friday lunchtime. It was 30 April 2004, my 33rd birthday.

So, next time anybody has a few days with nothing to do …

Sep-04 2023


The final draft of the finished book was only 46k.

It was redrafted 10 times before being sent to prospective publishers.

Not to diminish efforts of the writer but its another example of the sort of bullshit mythologising that feeds into these romantic notions about best selling novels being ‘birthed’ by geniuses in blurs of 24 hour automatic writing.

Yeh it didn’t happen exactly like that.

Sep-04 2023


You guys are explaining it to me like it’s a normal thing to write a first draft in a week, but my question still stands: where do you get the time to do that? I am a relatively slow writer. 8 hours of writing equals 2-3k words. So in one week I would be able to write from 15-20k. If I really put my mind to it, perhaps I would be able to produce a 46k manuscript in two-three weeks. But that would be by writing all the time. Insane with a day job.

Sep-04 2023


I doubt you could do it anywhere like that at the same time as a day job.

I’m not working now because of major health issues, so my writing is patchy but when working full time (60+ hr week) I’d often write for the whole of a Sunday and put out 10k. Writing in the early mornings (3-6am was also something I used to do and still do when I can. Otherwise, I mostly wrote during holidays. I have he massive advantage of not having kids/family though so I strongly admire anybody who manages kids on top.

Full time writers would of course have more time (Nora Roberts writes for 6-8 hours per day, from memory). I’ve read about others that write a set amount per day, or for set time periods in a day.
Even then, I doubt most authors would call it ‘normal’ to write their first draft in a week. Those are just some examples. Again from memory, I think LOTR took something like 16 years (or it might have been another well-known book, I’m sure someone will correct me if so).

Sep-04 2023


I was just going to comment something similar. You and I must have similar writing processes. (Although I don’t know if you plot. You might. What I’ve read of your story seems complex enough to have been plotted.) I’m a discovery writer (AKA “pantser”) However, my first drafts are pretty darn near to the last draft. They’re pretty clean.

But that’s because I also take FOREVER to write the damn thing. If anyone on here is familiar with Becca Syme (Write Better Faster) she turned things around for me when I watched her presentation at 20books in 2021 where she Questioned the Premise (what she calls QTP) “You can’t edit a blank page.” And she said, “But can you?” I felt so seen!

I work the story out in my mind before I write it down (maybe that’s plotting–but I do it piecemeal–so probably not). I work a scene out then I write it. I stress over the right words. I agonize over sentence structure–in the first draft. Then I move on to what might happen as a result of what happened in that scene–a progression of sorts.

That’s not to say I don’t revise. Of course I do. I go through it before posting here. Then based on my critique partners’ comments, I revise some more. Sometimes I’ve missed plot holes they find, so I fix them. But the first draft, for the most part, stays intact.

I’m glad you spoke up, Michelle. Because although I think this is a really nice article and has some great insight, I’d hate to think that someone newer might read this and think they’re doing it wrong because they don’t just spew things out on the page and then revise a million times.

I took a course on writing a “Skeleton Draft” and I just couldn’t do it. The way my brain is wired wouldn’t let me–it caused me too much stress.

There is no wrong way for your process. There is just “your” way. And if it works, don’t try to fix it.

There’s room for all types of writing processes–and as long as a good story is the result. All is well.

Sep-04 2023


Hi Trisham. Yes, I think we must write in similar ways. Everything you said resonated with me. I don’t plan so much either though there’s normally a place it’s going. Probably. Unless I change my mind. Haha.

Would you recommend her? Would she help or make me feel bad about myself? I do think the way I’m writing is working for me but I do sometimes wonder if there are any shortcuts that would work with my head. Maybe that’s a pipe dream.

It sounds awful to me too.

Sep-04 2023


Yep, since I write romance, well, it’s a given the main characters are going to wind up together. But it’s the journey on “how” they get there that I don’t know right away and need to discover. And sometimes I want to lead them one way and they shake their heads and say, “Nope. Not gonna do it.” So I drop back and punt (as they say here in the US for football).

I would absolutely recommend Becca to you. She has such a following that it’s lovingly called the Cult of Becca (and then followed by #notacult). It’s not a cult. LOL seriously. She has a lot of free resources–especially a podcast/YouTube videos. She’s a Gallup Certified coach who specializes working with writers. She focuses on using the CliftonStrengths. I can’t imagine she would make anyone feel bad about themselves. And if she did, I know she would feel horrible about it. She genuinely wants to help people be the best they can be. She also has a series of books (The Dear Writer books) that are very good. You might be interested int he Dear Writer, Are you Intuitive (because I think you might be). I have it and, again, it was like she could read my mind.

What she emphasizes is focusing on your strengths (we all have certain ones that are our “superpowers”) My #1 is Intellection–and I would hazard as guess that’s probably in your top ten as well. (Although it’s not a common strength in the general public, it is very much a top strength in writers) She does have courses available (I’ve taken two and they were marvelous) that include individual coaching. I was coached by Becca one time and it was soooo good. It’s helped me accept my process and lean into what makes me “me.”

But I would start with the QuitCast because that’s free. If she resonates with you, great, but if not, then you are out nothing but your time. Just so you know, when she says “Dear Writer, You Need To Quit” she doesn’t mean quit writing. She means you might need to quit certain behaviors, habits, beliefs that are keeping you from really writing better-faster. She doesn’t say you’ll be able to crank out a book in a week (seriously I admire that but no way in hell could I do that). She says, that if you lean into your strengths you’ll be more productive.

Here’s a link to the QuitCast.

Message me if you want more info. I recommend her to all my writer friends.

Sep-04 2023


Amazing. I do worry that if ever I make it in terms of writing I’m not quick enough so this sounds great to either batter that worry out of me or find a way to be more productive. I’m on it. :slight_smile: :heart_eyes:

Sep-04 2023


I’m also slow Not just slow, but SLOW. Context switches are killing my productivity in anything that isn’t a short, well-defined task. So with a FTJ and a family, I rarely find long enough stretches of time to swing into continuous writing. I mean, I can sit down and crit if I have some spare time, but writing requires immersion and 3-4 hours ahead.
Besides, my muse visits me exactly at 7pm almost daily, no earlier.
TL;DR It took me five months to produce my first draft of 60k words. I didn’t go back to edit during those months, just kept writing.

Sep-04 2023


I write at a similar pace to you. About 1k in 2-3 hours.

But I’m curious when you say in 8 hours you get to 2-3k how good are those words? How close are they to your final words? Do you go back as you write you just charge forwards?

I don’t know how long the first draft for that 46k novel was. Or how extensive those 10 rewrites were.

What one person calls ‘a draft’ another person might call a total mess of jumbled words and half-baked ideas.

168 hours in a week
If you sleep 7 hours a night 7 days a week that’s 49 hours
That leaves you 119 hours

If a novel is 45-50k you can totally write that in a work free week

How you count your words and what you consider ‘a draft’ are important factors here

Sep-04 2023


I think people who were able to write a novel in a week were given as an exception that proved the rule rather than normal.
I could not identify with them but can still be impressed they could do that. Agatha Christies’ track record impresses me more than Barbara Cartland who could churn out popular aristocratic romances to a formula.
I am equally impressed by people who can intricately plan before they write. I could imagine working like this if I was writing the life of a person who lived a long time ago. From your research would come a beginning middle and end. Yes, you would have some leeway and choice, but certain milestones would be there to help structure.
Intense planners are impressive in their own right. I suspect I could not do that. If I had taken my writing seriously earlier I might have built the skills but I would struggle not to be overwhelmed.
Planning in the head so that the eventual novel looks miraculously written in a short period of time may create the illusion it is easy, but some people can keep very intense planning in their head. Also some authors can do this after they have written several novels.
There is the famous example of the tune of Yesterday coming to Paul McCartney in a dream after years and years of writing consciously.
Which sounds similar to an experience I had painting. I taught myself how to do abstract painting through a series of exercises then one day I came in and worked continuously, completing my best piece from my head.
I have never done anything abstract as good since. I think someone else must have thought so too because my best two paintings were stolen leaving the rest behind. A thief with good taste.

Sep-07 2023


I know I’m a little late, but its worth saying that I write a lot more productively in the initial stages (at a rate of about 2,000 words per hour) than I do later on (it’s petered out to roughly 1,000 words per hour now).

Sep-11 2023
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