I’ve finished writing and editing the big Second Draft of Laura the Explorer and it is now sitting with my editor undergoing a full structural edit. I’m excited because this is the furthest I’ve ever been with a novel – to have finished a draft from start to finish, not just once but twice, and to now have a professional looking over it is a huge achievement.

So I thought I’d quickly reflect and share some of the things I’ve learned in the last few weeks, because getting this second draft finished was not easy! And if you’re struggling your way through a second draft re-write then hopefully you’ll find some of these observations useful.


1. It’s not ‘editing’, it’s ‘re-writing’

When looking at my first draft from a distance, I thought ‘wow, this will be easy to fix up – I just now need to edit what I’ve already done!’

NOT the case.

‘Editing’ for me implies a few grammatical fixes, a bit of cut and paste here and there. What I found when approaching the second draft was that I needed to layer in an entire subplot – which seemed easy in theory, when I was planning it. But then adding additional scenes in the beginning and middle meant that suddenly the entire back half of the book needed a lot of changing. And the amount of entire deleted scenes I ended up with was heartbreaking. All those hours spent writing those chapters – and they’re now sitting in my deleted scenes folder.

2. Don’t give up!

I’ll admit that the second draft felt a lot harder than the first draft. There was a point when I was about three quarters of the way through where the task felt immense and impossible and self-doubt seemed to wake up with me each morning. Not only was I deleting scenes and writing in brand new ones, but I couldn’t help thinking – am I making this book better, or is it just going to end up different?

Having actually persevered and stuck it out to the end of the second draft though, and having just completed a read-through of the entire manuscript again, I’m happy to say that actually – yes – it is better.

3. There’s only so much you can plan

I definitely see myself as a planner, rather than a pantser. (If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, here’s a nice description from last year’s NaNoWriMo forum).

I struggled while writing the first draft because not everything was planned out. How are my characters getting from A to B? What was their motivation for doing that? And what is the overall theme in the book? This doubt and insecurity about the story was one of the key reasons why it was so hard to finish the first draft. However, being a NaNoWriMo 2015 challenge, I did push on and I did finish the first draft. How did I make myself finish? By taking the advice of so many fantastic writers already out there:

  • It’s okay for your first draft to be rubbish.
  • Don’t expect it to be perfect & forgive yourself for parts of the book not making sense
  • Just FINISH THE DAMN BOOK. I.e. write an ending. Even if you hate it.

After finishing draft 1 and giving my mind a break from the book for four weeks over the Christmas/holiday period, I then returned with a fresh perspective ready to fix (or rather ‘edit’ as I thought) the first draft.

I printed out draft 1 and read over the entire thing, making changes on the page, and also with a notebook beside me raising queries about the broad plotline.

Once I’d identified the issues, it was easy enough to go through my scrivener file and insert place-holders for scenes throughout, as well as making notes next to each chapter as to what needed changing or fixing. I even colour coded the scenes to make it clear which ones needed a bit of fixing, which ones needed completely changing, and which ones were to be deleted all together.

Then of course I dove in, and spent the next four weeks tearing my hair out while trying to re-write the entire thing.

What I realised during this process, is that I’ve ended up with a fairly complex story – but I never would have been able to achieve this in draft one alone. No matter how much planning I did, I really believe it was by writing draft two and layering new threads to the story over the top of what existed that the whole book has become so much better.

So while I initially looked over draft one and the scenes marked for deletion and berated myself for not planning well enough the first time, I now realise that it would have been impossible to get all the little threads in place at the beginning, and that the second draft re-write was essential. It’s just like someone creating an artwork on a canvas. You might sketch the design out in pencil first, but you’ll most likely end up with multiple layers of paint, the finished product hiding a range of designs beneath.

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Welcome to the website of Sarah Begg, Australian writer and independent author.