Here we are, standing at the beginning of the second draft. What I call the draft zero — the unfinished manuscript — magically turned into the first draft the moment we wrote The End.
That first draft is a skeleton, a clanky bunch of bones, which at least has the merit of hanging together, and gives us a structure on which to drape the second draft. The key to writing a great second draft is to add both physical and emotional muscles to the story.
The difference between a completed first draft and a completed second draft is the difference between a newborn baby and a two-year-old. At least with a newborn, she stayed where we lay her. So, for the most part, do first drafts.
Two year olds are highly mobile, learning to coordinate their actions, speaking for themselves, developing new interests, and learning impulse control.
For them, experimenting with art materials is far more important than the end result. Coloring outside of the lines may result in interesting results on tables, walls, and themselves.
They have difficulty with choices. They imitate life through dramatic play, relying on facial expression, gestures, and body movement to aid communication. They dawdle on a walk and pick up little things. They have a great command of the words “No!” and “Mine!”
Here are five things two year olds can teach us about writing second drafts
- Learn to speak for ourselves — the second draft is where we strengthen and enhance our writer’s voice. “You can always fix plot—you can’t fix voice.” ~ Barbara Peters, editor, Poisoned Pen Press
- Experiment, experiment, experiment — the second draft is where I always write some scenes I know will never make it into the finished book. The first draft freed me from being bound by “what happens next.” I know what happens next, at least one version of it. That means that I can explore more character dimensions. If real estate is location, location, location writing is emotion, emotion, emotion. Yes, this happened, but what does it mean to the character?
- Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate — If you’ve never done it before, bake a loaf of bread. Seriously. As writers we need to literally feel the difference that kneading makes. “Beginning with a lump of dough not entirely of a piece, somewhat raged and limply-lying, commence kneading.” ~ Edward Espe Brown, The Tassajara Bread Book. That line has stayed with me for forty-four years. It is a perfect, succinct description of writing.
- Make hard choices — resist no and mine. Sorry, ducks, but Philamenia may be our favorite character, but she’s not working in this story. No way, no how. We’ve got to put her aside. Yes, it’s going to be tons harder to write Walter’s confrontation his boss instead of having Walter describe it to Cecily in the coffee shop, but it’s also going to be tons more interesting. Trust me, the reader has gotten the bit about Cecily and the lottery ticket by the end of the second chapter. Take out the other five times she retells the story.
- Dawdle. Pick up things along the way — If we’re writing a series, begin to lay down seeds that will sprout in subsequent books.
In the next few weeks, we’re going to explore voice, building a story’s emotional muscle, kneading the story into shape, hard choices, and dawdling.
One, final thing. It takes a village to raise a two-year-old. It takes a village to raise a writer, too. If we’re committed enough to this story to be into the second draft, it’s time to find other trusted people with whom we share. If we don’t have them already, the second draft is a perfect time to find a critique group or individuals who will read what we’re writing and give us honest feedback.
Next week, October 7th, we’re looking at Second Draft — Strengthening Our Voice.