Why the second draft of your novel is so important

The fun and unbridled excitement that comes with writing a first draft of your manuscript is always followed by the dreaded second. Whilst your first draft is all about getting your words down on paper, the second is a reevaluation of the story as a whole.

Every writer goes about the process of writing differently, and what works for me may not work for you, but here are the techniques I employ when editing my second draft:

  • Waiting: I find one of the most important steps at this stage is waiting, giving both the manuscript and me some time to breathe. I will take at least a month away from the manuscript before delving into it once more. This gives you much needed time to mull over your characters, setting and plot, and enables you to see the manuscript with fresh eyes. I often find my thoughts will be drawn back to the story during this time, and I will subconsciously already start working through any issues before I’ve even begun to edit.
  • Look for major changes that need to occur: If the first draft is about haphazardly throwing blocks down to construct a shaky house, the second is about knocking the house down and reusing those blocks more considerately and deliberately to erect the structure. This draft is all about looking for the major changes that need to occur. Some of these changes may include alterations to the structure, characters, setting and plot of your novel. In this draft you need to fix any big mistakes.
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript: Look at what has been done well in your first draft and identify areas that still need some work. This way you will know which areas require greater attention during the following drafts. For example, if you are often telling the reader the story in your first draft rather than showing the reader what is happening, you will know to look for this in the next drafts.
  • Added depth: During the second draft I like to consider my characters more thoroughly. Whilst it is not so important at this stage to add subtle nuances, this may happen later, I think it’s important to consider what motivates them, what makes them tick. Now that I’ve written the end of their story I want to understand their background better and how they grow during that story. Is there a sub-plot to this character I may have missed? Is there the motivation behind my character to drive them to the novel’s conclusion?
  • Setting new goals: Following the first draft, I will often find my goals change. At this stage I set myself new deadlines and determine how to accomplish the next task. Set yourself a new timeline in which to complete the next stage of your manuscript.

Don’t get too bogged down by sentence structure, grammar or use of description at this stage. You are still working with the bare bones of your manuscript and, at this brutal stage of editing, it’s important not to spend an hour perfecting a sentence that might end up getting deleted as you tear your work apart.

Don’t be afraid if your work is not perfect by the end of the second draft. In fact, it is likely to be no better than the first in many ways. There will be time to consider word choice and sentence structure and make your masterpiece sparkle in your following drafts - whether that’s three, four or, in the case of my debut novel Tainted, ten. (Really, it was more like 15.)

For me, the purpose of a first draft is just to get your ideas down on paper. The purpose of the second draft is to create a good foundation for which you can work within to complete your manuscript.

What strategies do you employ when editing your second draft? Let me know!