On Completing a Second Draft

bare branches against a blue sky

Trees in winter. Nothing to do with this post.

Last spring I wrote about finishing my first draft. Yay, me! That was a significant milestone, so I’m told. Pat yourself on the back. You did it! So the second draft might be a bit anticlimactic, but it feels important to me. As I foreshadowed in that piece, I did finish it by fall. But in no way is it ready for feedback.

I kept to my schedule. I’d budgeted six days per chapter. They in fact ranged from zero days (when I split a chapter in two after finishing) to twenty days for a chapter that vexed me no end. I was pleasantly surprised the average was eight. Not bad, really.

I started in March, wrote through construction of a porch that, like writing a book, took much longer than expected; polished off a short story for a summer deadline (it was accepted!); and crawled to the end, declaring it completed on October 10. The beginning and ending are—I was going to say rough but the whole thing is rough, so I’ll say incomplete. I don’t want to obsess over either until I finish everything else. I don’t think the big picture opening and ending will change, just the details.

My goal for the second draft was to “figure out if it all still makes sense, and then, if I’m lucky, revising again to work on language. Thanks to the groundwork I did earlier, I anticipate few plot holes and crazy diversions from the main plot.”

It does make sense, I think. And the next revision will definitely work on language. I write like a painter. I slap out a rough sketch then slowly layer in the details. Well, “slap out” is misleading. I painstakingly, with much angst and drama, scrawl out a first draft.

Ah, the “few plot holes.” So optimistic. Yes, I did a lot of background work, so there were no crazy diversions, but Oh. My. God. I can’t remember the number of times I wrote myself into a corner that I struggled to get out of.

This novel will be science fiction, set about 150 years in the future. There’s a lot of technology that needs to be invented (let alone named), but I’m trying to keep it grounded in possible reality. It might appeal to readers who think they don’t like science fiction—it’s the characters, not the technology I want to shine. Readers shouldn’t have to work to understand this world, leaving what connects us more apparent. Regardless, a lot can go wrong.

Seemed like with every chapter, I’d stop dead and say, if I have this happen, why does that not happen? Or does this happen before or after that? Did I write something in Chapter 14 that completely undermines what happens in Chapter 17? On and on.

This is why I like short stories. They are a slice of a life and world you don’t have to completely build.

But I like this story, even after all these years struggling with it. Every once in a while I write something that feels true and brings insight and I can sit back and go, Yes! That’s how it happens. Oh, this is what that means for her.

Draft 2 came in at more than 130,000 words. I’m not worried (much), even though I’ll be adding to that. I have a lot of scenes that can be summarized. I just needed to get everything down, though I still have gaps. Then I can start “killing my darlings.”

To prime my creative pump for Draft 3, I picked some books off the shelf to study (again): Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published, by the folks who bring you the wonderful blog Writer Unboxed; and Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. At a recent workshop, I learned of another one, Showing and Telling by Laurie Alberts. I guess I’ll get that one too.

I intended to begin Draft 3 November 1. Not for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where you write a novel from start to finish in one month). Life intruded, however, but I did start after the recent Writer Unboxed UnConference. This time I’m allowing eight days per chapter, so expect to finish by summer 2020. Then maybe I’ll be ready for beta readers and letting someone else have a crack at it.

Wish me luck. And good luck to you in whatever you tackle over the next seven months.



Author in Progress, Therese Walsh, Editor, and the Writer Unboxed community

Writer Unboxed

Word Painting, Rebecca McClanahan

Showing and Telling, Laurie Alberts



  1. Yay for finishing your book by 2020! I’m in awe that you’re undertaking a look at the world 150 years in the future, and I very much look forward to reading about it. i’ve been finding lately that stories I wrote a few brief years ago with speculative fiction aspects have been overtaken already by current reality and aren’t speculative fiction any more. I don’t have the chops or the vision to expand my reach far enough, but Im quite sure you do, and I’m glad of it.

    1. Well, the next draft in 2020. Maybe you’ll get a first read. If you’re up for it. Thanks for stopping by!

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