Save time. Write your second draft first


When I wrote my first manuscript, it was coincidence that the bulk of the writing occurred during November, aka NaNoWriMo. I had no idea what that stood for, and had to Google it. National Novel Writing Month.

To be sure, great things happen during NaNoWriMo. Would-be authors help would-be authors push through blockages, and feel motivated and loved.

My experience watching the NaNoWriMo tweets zip through my Twitter feed was all about word count. There were “write clubs” and “sprints” and all these ways to get people to push words onto the page.

While I didn’t really participate in that, it was hard not to compare my nightly output with that of the others I saw online … 2,500 words, 3,000 words in a few precious hours.

Let me be clear: There is nothing at all wrong with these types of efforts, and for many, this style of push push push really pays off. It did help me, I flew through my first draft and got it done much sooner than I thought.

In the end, I had a first draft, a dream, really. A manuscript. A shiny new thing I had never achieved before.

Then the beta readers got it, and a developmental editor got it, and finally, I got it back. First draft, indeed. I read it again weeks after finishing and felt the urge to apologize to all my beta readers for having to work through the garbage I fed them. It was, as all first drafts are, miserable.

While that revised manuscript is being queried, I started my next story. I didn’t plan a different strategy, just to sit and write as I did before. The first night, with all the ideas in the world flush in my head and a really detailed outline of exactly what that first chapter should be, my three-hour word count? 721.

What was wrong with me, I first thought. What was wrong with Word, I also thought. How could this be. How aweful. Three hours for 721 damn words, barely half a chapter, by my standards.

I reread it and realized what had happened, without even thinking. I had written a second draft. Oh, I wrote the first one, too. Then stopped at the end of each paragraph and went back and revised, toned, fixed, thought, and revised again.

Over the last few weeks, my pace has picked up a bit, but the impromptu strategy is still in place: Write and revise simultaneously.

Will this draft be market ready? Hell no. Will it be query ready? Hell no. Will it be miles ahead of where I was after my first manuscript’s first draft? Hell yes.

Write your second draft first.

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13 thoughts on “Save time. Write your second draft first

  1. I write the way you write now, a combo of putting stuff down and ripping it back up. And I know that even at the end of that, there’s a very good possibility that I will be lopping off entire chapters, no matter how much I liked them at the time I wrote/revised/rewrote them. Recently I did some impromptu word sprints on Twitter and was pleasantly surprised that I actually got some stuff written (I am a dawdler and easily distracted). But I don’t think I’ll ever be doing NaNo, it’s just now how I work.

  2. I’m with you.

    I think it’s easier to do this once you’ve written that 1st (horrible) draft, and then revised it multiple times. Once you’ve developed an “eye” for revision and what counts as good writing and dialogue, it’s much easier to manage than while developing a 1st draft.

    Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

  3. I do the same thing. I polish as I write. That doesn’t mean I don’t rewrite, of course I do. Going back over stuff and editing helps me get in the groove and allows me to procrastinate. LOL.

  4. My process is to vomit a first draft – no not that bad – but sort of. Then I do a book map, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Then I do an in-dept second draft. So far this works for me.

  5. I try not to do that. I need to scribble everything out–vomit it out onto the page (who said that?) Handwriting in fact, as I travel around with kids or on country escapes, or pool side visits. But if it works for you–that’s what you gotta do. Are you in the April Nano? If so–best of luck! And welcome to the hop. :))

  6. Sounds like you’ve found your mojo! I’ve done NaNo a few times and although I’ve enjoyed the results – I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to pass off my betas. I prefer to edit (soft not hard) as I go.

  7. This is my favorite way to write. I’ll write as much as I can on one day, then revise the next day before I start the next writing session.

  8. I’ve never been a fast drafter. I’m a slow and steady writer. But, like you pointed out, my drafts are cleaner than they would be if I went full tilt. I think the real key is to not spend time revising a first draft as you write because a lot of what you revise may well end up cut later one. To me that’s the time saver part of first drafting.

  9. I’m not a fast drafter. I tend to edit as I go, as well. I keep thinking I need to try the other way (quickly get it on paper) but you make a good point. Maybe I shouldn’t change what’s working for me. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Glad to know I’m not the only one who does this.

    In grade school, I used to actually “cheat” on essays by writing a passable (or in my prodigious young mind, “perfect”) first draft, and then I’d rewrite, futz it up a lot and turn that in as the rough draft.

    (Yes, I probably stunted myself from an editing standpoint, but in my defense, my 3rd grade teachers couldn’t quite get it through their heads that they had a student who wrote with almost perfect spelling on the first try. I kept getting accused of plagiarism. Charlatans….)

    Now, it’s more like my outlines are rough drafts and my “first drafts” are second drafts. Will I ever learn? Doubtful. Am I a lot more humble about my first drafts now? YES.

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