The Psychology of a Second Draft

As I begin the second draft of my first novel, a strange sense of ending and beginning intertwines. I feel both a mourning for the old manuscript—battered and scribbled on, dog-eared and well-thumbed—and something else I haven’t felt for a long time: hope. I feel hopeful once again that this book of mine might yet live to see a library shelf or to lie bookmarked on someone’s bedside table.

This second-draft lark is challenging, and I don’t mean butt-on-chair-words-on-page challenging like the first draft. My masters’ teacher, Paula Morris, told me writing her award-winning novel Rangatira was like pulling together pieces of a puzzle not knowing what the eventual picture looked like. That’s the challenge of a first draft. The challenge of a second draft is going back and reworking something that, for a moment in time, you believed was finished. When you’re inside that first draft, inside what feels like a perfectly drawn story, you can’t imagine that, re-reading it some months later, you might find a gaping chasm in the plot, or that your protagonist is annoyingly melodramatic. That that brilliant scene you poured your guts and soul into doesn’t serve the story, and that you have to be brave and press delete. Faulkner called it ‘killing your darlings’.

And oh, dear heart, sometimes it hurts—to sit down at your desk and start the read/ edit/rewrite process over again. To remain hopeful and dedicated. To resist throwing your hands up and stuffing the manuscript in the bottom drawer along with a rumpled pile of old Visa bills and unused ink cartridges and the label machine you thought would be handy one day. To conquer the inner voice that screams, ‘I’m not cut out for this, what was I thinking?’

And so, I sit back down at my desk, take a breath, and begin again, confident that a second (and subsequent) draft will make a better book.

Writers: how do you remain hopeful and committed throughout second and subsequent drafts? What are the milestones along the way?

2 thoughts on “The Psychology of a Second Draft

  1. Yes second drafts are tough. I’m always so impatient to get the story finished and sent in to the publisher, I have to really force myself to wait, and make the changes needed.
    Good luck in your second draft, I can’t wait to read your novel!

    Liked by 1 person

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