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Behind “The Process”: AFTER Getting It Over With (Starting Second Drafts)
I woke up early today to work on the short story I hope to submit to a writing contest soon. I finished the first draft after writing a post called Behind “The Process”: Get It over With (Writing First Drafts) for self-encouragement. Now that I’ve finished the first draft, I’d like to share:
A few notes:
First drafts are messy, private affairs. Most writers won’t ever let you see their first drafts. I rarely show my wife, even.
So here’s the breakdown for this post. The first four steps are a bit of a recap from the post about writing first drafts, if you haven’t seen it already:
- Write the first draft by hand
- Write fast
- My first draft sucks, but
- I’m perfectly happy with it
- (Or…I was)
- Now I’m STARTING THE SECOND DRAFT
Let’s take a minute and break those things down, shall we. We shan’t? Well I say we shall. Pressing on!
1 – Writing by Hand
You should write by hand when you are in the early creative phase. I say it a lot. Even wrote not one, but two posts about it (Writing by HAND vs Typing & Why EVERYONE Should Write by Hand). So I’ll save you the long explanations here–write by hand. Just do it. Way less distracting than typing.
2 – Do It Fast
As I said in Get It over With (Writing First Drafts), at least I think I did (even if I didn’t, my podcast writer-guests say the same!), you should write that first draft quickly. Don’t spend too much time thinking. Just get a solid base–beginning, middle, end. That’s it. Don’t worry about anything else. Yet…
Several times while I was writing, I got upset over writing such terrible horses**t. As a younger writer, I would’ve simply stopped, ripped off the page and wrote something else. But writers must see their first drafts all the way through!
I forced myself through writing terrible nightmare scenes that were embarrassingly mild for something that’s supposed to be slightly disturbing. But I pressed on, because the ensuing action mattered more. As much as I wanted to stop and get that scene just right before going on, I didn’t. Not necessary.
Fix it later, it’s a finer detail. Keep pushing. Beginning. Middle. End. Don’t worry about the in-betweens.
I did. And the end result was that:
3 – My First Draft Sucks
It does. The beginning in particular was difficult to reread. Not actually difficult, because I’m used to reading first drafts now, but difficult in a sense of, Oh boy, this thing has a ways to go, type of thing. Kind of like shame, but hypothetical shame. Like, If anyone ever saw this, they’d take my writer card away.
But first drafts are top secret, for-your-eyes-only. They’re almost more of a chore, compared to the rest of the process.
Neil Gaiman, as usual, says it best:
“The second draft is where the fun is. In a first draft, you…get it down on paper, somehow. Battle through the laziness and the not-enough-time and the this-is-rubbish and everything else, and just get it written.”www.neilgaiman.com, 5/11/2008
So don’t worry about how much it sucks. Be happy that you finished the sucky thing. Then you can move on to the next part of “The Process”, which is making it not suck. Or, again, as Neil says about second drafts:
“Anything you do can be fixed.”
“This is where I make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.”Neil Gaiman interviewed by Tim Feriss, 3/28/2019
I don’t know about you, but knowing that even greats like Neil friggin Gaiman (I’m not 100%, but I’m pretty certain that’s his middle name) are swinging blindly that first go around, feeling all kinds of negativity about their draft, helps my mental state when I’m questioning my very being in the early stages.
And with that in mind, looking at my sh**ty first draft, I can honestly say…
4 – I’m Happy with My First Draft
If you finish a draft, you’re doing better than, I don’t know…82.6% of people who “have a story in them” but never write it out all the way. Celebrate it. Not by showing it to people, but, ya know, have a drink, make yourself an omelet with all the fixins. However you celebrate the little things, go do something that let’s you relax and enjoy your creative accomplishment. Sh**ty as it may be; it’s the beginning of something bigger and better. But you can’t stop there.
Keep It Moving
Yes, yes. I was happy with it.
Then I started the second draft!
5 – Starting the Second Draft
For me, the second draft looks like this:
- I start typing the hand-written words into the computer.
- The beginning of the rough draft was exactly that. Rough. I wrote my way, somewhat blindly, into the story, which makes for a clunky intro. So…
- I had to figure out where to start.
- I threw out the first several paragraphs; it really starts with a guy blanking out at work a lot, but before that, lots of backstory. Most of the backstory was probably more for me–so I could get a better understanding of the character and their surroundings and whatnot. I cut all that out and…
- I rewrote a new beginning with the MC (main character) moving his stuff out of his parents house. A quick conversation with his parents wraps the backstory very neatly. (Kind of like what I described in 1 QUICK SHOW-DON’T-TELL CHEATCODE.)
- Then little things started changing. As words went from notepad to word processor, a word was changed or added here. Some dialogue added there. A rewritten sentence or two. Three or four cut sentences (at least) per page. New paragraphs springing out of nowhere, just because they suddnely seemed necessary. Little ideas popping up, throwing some depth and clarity into the raw mix. Adding, subtracting, changing, new ideas; the second draft is where it starts to make sense. To feel real. To get exciting.
- Now I just have to keep going until I reach the end again. Then Rinse and repeat.
Slowly but surely, friends, this new thing will be ready for the world. As ready as I can get it, anyway. We’ll see how the world reacts….
So, people of quality, if you’re struggling to finish a first draft, check out the last post. And remember, the first draft is supposed to suck. At least a little. Good writers are masters of The Process, not masters of nailing the very first time out.
Thanks for reading! Please, I implore you, check out my website, follow me and say hi on social media (my Instagram is pretty cool, is yours?), and give my podcast, Creative Ops, a listen. I’ve interviewed an Academy Award winning visual effects artist, a High Times Cannabis Cup gold medalist grower, best-selling authors, business owners, musicians, and more!
For the last time–don’t beat yourself up too much on your first draft. The first draft’s just the part before the real fun begins. It’s your invitation to the party.
See ya there!
Christopher Tallon writes, podcasts, and…wait a second. Are you actually reading this? HIGH FIVE!