As much has been said and written about revision as developing a first draft. Most manuscripts go through several major transformations before reaching an acceptable format to be shared with external readers such as agents and editors. The second draft especially receives, or should receive, a complete and major overhaul, whether you’re writing a 500-word picture book or 100,000-word fantasy novel. And it is this drastic reconstruction process that I’d like to discuss.
If you have completed the first draft of your manuscript, congratulations! It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and conviction to climb over the numerous hills and descend into the subsequent valleys of story creation. It’s the mark of true accomplishment when you deliver an entire story from one single thought or tiny seed of an idea.
So you’ve finished. Now put the manuscript away. Let the words and phrases simmer in a desk drawer or in the recesses of your computer storage for two to six weeks without looking at it. Not even one little peek. Instead, celebrate! Go get that “carrot” you promised yourself when you were writing the first draft. Refill your creative well—go to the movies, see a musical, plunk out a tune on the piano. Work on a different project or play with new ideas. Clean the house. Do anything but read your manuscript.
Once you’ve allowed the manuscript to rest for the acceptable designated period, pull out your draft when you have a large block (or blocks) of time to devote to a reading session. Use your favorite pen. Take copious notes either on a paper copy of the manuscript itself or on a notepad next to your computer so that you can refer to these changes and suggestions as you work on the next draft. Read your manuscript with fresh eyes. Study it. What works? What moves, what slows, what questions have been left unanswered? Which characters are critical to the story, which characters add color, and which characters can be removed or combined? Comb over your words. Mull over the draft. Once you’ve gotten through the manuscript and have taken all the necessary notes, delete it.
Delete the whole draft?!
Making such a suggestion, especially as NaNoWriMo comes to a close and thousands of writers are chugging caffeine and working late hours in order to hit word count goals, is downright blasphemy. Yet drastic measures must be taken with the second draft in order provide the writer freedom on a blank page. This purging of the first draft prevents “tinkering”, a type of revision best saved for later drafts when the story has matured. Tinkering is not the revision method of choice when major parts of the story are still being honed, crafted, and invented. If we don’t separate ourselves from the first draft, we get locked into what is instead of what can be. The process I suggest takes the very best of what you, the writer, delivered in the first draft and mixes it with a new vision. Re-vision.
If you’re too nervous to completely release that first draft, print a paper copy before deleting. Or at the very minimum promise yourself you won’t open the electronic document unless absolutely necessary. Trust that your story is imprinted in your mind and on your heart. Releasing that first draft will blow open your writing, because the path has already been laid out in front of you. Now you have the opportunity to enrich the setting, hone in on which elements of the plot march your story forward, and develop depth of character that will make even the most reluctant reader keep turning the page.
So are you ready? Take heart and take a deep breath. Trust your story. But more importantly, trust yourself. And go after that second draft with the same gusto you did the first time around. You and the reader won’t be disappointed.