When I was in middle school and had to write papers for English, my teacher never really explained what a second draft was. To my understanding, based on her vague, abbreviated explanation, she wanted me to throw away what was already written and now that I had a better idea of how I wanted the paper/story to go, rewrite it.
I am completely serious. That is what I thought she wanted.
Did I ever mention I didn’t like this teacher very much?
And no, I wasn’t the only one who had this “understanding”. There were several of us and we all thought she was out of her mind if she actually expected us to throw it all away and start over. That was over a 250-word essay due each week. I could not even imagine throwing away something as long as a book and starting over now that you have a better idea of how it will all pan out.
So, if you’re a reader who hears an author say they’re working on their second draft, let me assure you, the majority (like 99.9999999999%) do not completely rewrite the entire thing unless the computer is destroyed and we must or the story turned out to be utter crap, in which case, it won’t even be the same story.
Instead, the second draft, is more “fixing” the story and characters, catching major flaws, inputting any changes that were noted previously but not implemented–this happens when you get to the second half and think, “Oh, that’s a great motive. I wish I would have thought of it sooner… Now, I’ll have to go back and make the first half match.” Typos are also caught and such things.
Basically, it’s like reading it where you know the end already and you want to check facts, eliminate conflicts within the story or others that might be in the same series, fill in details, eliminate those comment flags by changing this, rearranging that.
As I mentioned the other day in my preliminary edits, I read through all of the comments I’ve left myself and in this round I begin with an idea in the front of my mind what I need to be looking for in addition to what I find that needs to be addressed as I’m reading through.
In this round, I start at chapter one and read all the way through trying to make sure that we’re moving forward. That I don’t divulge details about this or that in chapter six only to have the characters to be completely oblivious to such developments in chapter ten.
This round of editing takes between three to five days. Why? Because this is where any extensive re-writes and major plot changes happen. Can some minor things be changed later if an editor or critique parter doesn’t think something goes, sure. But usually those re-writes aren’t as extensive as the ones in this round can be. Ironically, most people end up chopping off a few thousand words in this stage. Things that are frivolous or repeated too much, are often discarded. Sometimes, however, there can be a gain in word count as something is better explained or a scene is written in to help bridge two scenes together.
Some people are able to just sit and do all of this in a day. I used to do that. Just sit and only get up if I must. I learned early on that this method quickly becomes very overwhelming when all you do all day is read and fix your story. It also becomes frustrating and easier to get agitated with what’s going on and just let things go simply because getting finished is a priority and something trivial isn’t worth the time to remedy. This only leads to more rounds of edits so it’s really not very time-effective.
These days, how I do my edits in this round is to break them up. I still go in order of the book from Chapter One to the Epilogue, I don’t go out of order because I want to make sure things line up as the story progresses, but after each chapter, I go do something else. No matter if the chapter is four pages or fifteen, I do one chapter, then go work on something else for a bit and come back. Does it take longer to do this, yes, but I’ve found with the more books I’ve written that stepping away from the story for small periods of time like this helps keep me focused on the story and not getting overwhelmed each time I come back to start edits.
Here is a sample list that I made the other day:
Ah, isn’t the life of a writer glamorous?
I did finish this morning with my second draft of The Officer and the Bostoner which is now in the hands of my husband who likes to give me a man’s perspective on the male characters. His edits are always interesting and I *should* be able to do a quick overview of what happens after I get those back on Friday.