After Your First Draft
Finishing the first draft is a massive milestone; an exercise in tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness. Word after word joining chapter after chapter, until finally you have enough content to make a book.
- The good news?
For me, the first draft is the fun part, where the story-telling happens. I’m not bound up with grammar or word-appropriateness or even too much plot. In the first draft, I am feeling my way into the story.
- The bad news?
The hard work is just about to start.
Beauty and Murder
So this is what I do. At the end of the draft one – which takes anywhere between six weeks and five years, depending on the number of words and time and circumstances and life just getting in the way – I put the manuscript aside. Usually for about four to six weeks. For some reason, this seems to coincide with other breaks, like school holidays or Christmas or something, so this has never been too much of a problem.
Once the six weeks is over, I re-read it in hard copy with a critical eye. I try not to get too bogged down in the words at this stage (although of course, I do, a little), but for me, draft two is all about STRUCTURE. What goes where.
The point of Draft Two is to kill your darlings. Heighten the tension. Compress the narrative. I find it a very hard process.
In Draft Two I shuffle scenes about. Sometimes I write in the margin – ‘Compress.’ ‘Tighten.’ ‘This drags.’ ‘Do I need this scene?’ If I think a scene should be somewhere else, I circle it, draw a big arrow to where it needs to go.
You can do this in other ways. Some people use post-it notes, drafting a short, cryptic summary on each, and putting them on a big wall. Some use index files or software.
The point of any method is always to ensure that everything in your story has a purpose; that each scene drives the story onwards. Do whatever works for you. It’s not like there’s a right and a wrong here – it’s the outcome that matters, not how you manage your process.
When I’ve ruthlessly worked through the manuscript, I start back on the computer. I make another file called ‘Draft Two’ and work through the marked-up edit points. I start a file called ‘leftover’ and anything I’m not sure about deleting I cut from Draft Two and paste into the leftover. Most of the time I won’t need this pasted material, but it’s like a security blanket, just in case. It’s pretty hard to let my darlings go completely.
I find Draft Two the hardest stage. It’s when I realize that my shining gem of a first draft is actually only a damaged pebble.
Although even a pebble has beauty; Draft Two is about exposing that beauty.