I finished editing my first draft over the weekend, but it didn’t feel like much of an achievement. I wrote this novel, and started this blog, because I wanted to take writing much more seriously. This first edit is one step on a very long journey.
With that being said, as I move onto the structural edit, here’s what editing the first draft has taught me:
#1 The first draft always sucks
Even good first drafts suck. I love the characters I created, and I got caught up in some of the prose. There were moments where the plot made my heart stop, but there were also moments where I cringed. I needed to rewrite the first and last three chapters. I needed to add a chapter in the middle. I deleted thousands of words and added words back in. I used far too many metaphors and had to cut them back. I love my story, but that first draft still sucked.
To put it another way: “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” (Smiley, n.d.) . A good novel is made in the editing, and you’ll be hard pushed to find any published author who will tell you otherwise.
#2 Set a deadline and get it done
Participating in NaNoWriMo helped me establish a writing routine. I wrote every day because I had a deadline. I got it done. Writing a first draft is about getting something down on the page that you can refine later. Writing the first draft is all about conquering that voice in your head that says you can’t write a novel or your work just isn’t good enough:
“Awful first drafts are fine. If you don’t finish something, you’ll never get in the game. Just quell the voice in your head that says ‘Are you kidding? No one is going to want to read this drivel’ and keep on going. You’re going to revise and revise and then revise again anyway.” (Freveletti, 2011, para. 10)
Author Hannah Mary McKinnon explains it’s this fear that holds many writers back, suggesting they’ve set their expectations too high for what the first draft should look like (2018, para. 2). Don’t worry – feeling like this is actually pretty normal. As Judy Blume explains: “I dread first drafts! I worry each day that it won’t come, that nothing will happen” (.n.d., para. 3).
All you have to do right now, is have something to work with later. You should also remember that not everyone works well with tidy plot outlines and chapter synopses. It’s okay to be messy. Take Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, as an example: “the bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material” (as quoted in Lee, 2011, para. 10). So just write the damn thing. Worry about tidying it up later. As Steven King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start” (p.269).
#3 Don’t edit while you write
I always edited my work while I was writing it, and I never got anything done! I never finished anything. The critic in my head destroyed all my self-confidence. When I wrote this novel, I did it in a month, so I had no time to edit. I came back to the novel three months later and I not only enjoyed reading it, but I wasn’t as emotionally invested in it. I no longer felt like cutting scenes was cutting out pieces of my soul.
Your first draft is about getting something down on paper that you can build on later. All you are doing is laying the foundations. Editing while you’re writing, for me, is a form of procrastination. I know I’m coming up to a tough scene when I feel the urge to stop writing and go back and edit instead.
There’s no point in editing while you’re writing the first draft, because you’re just going change it later. You’ll move scenes around. You’ll delete and rewrite scenes. That’s the fun part of editing; shaping your rough work into a polished story. As Neil Gaiman explains:
“The second draft is where the fun is. In a first draft, you get to explode. The objective (at least for me) is to get it down on paper, somehow. Battle through the laziness and the not-enough-time and the this-is-rubbish and everything else, and just get it written. Whatever it takes. The second draft is where you go and gather together the fragments of the explosion and figure out what it is you did, and make it look like that was what you always meant to do” (2008, para. 19)
You’re going to change what you’ve written, so don’t edit while you write. It’s a waste of time.
Have any tips of your own? Add them in the comments.
 This is often attributed to author Jane Smiley, however, I have not been able to find an accurate source for it.
Blume, J. (n.d.). Writing: Questions for Judy. Judy Blume on the Web. Retrieved from http://www.judyblume.com/about/questions/writing.php
Freveletti, J. (2011). Ten Tips I Received…and Sometimes Ignored. Book Country. Retrieved on 30th of October from http://blog.bookcountry.com/ten-tips-i-receivedand-sometimes-ignored-2/
Gaiman, N. YOU PUT YOUR (RIGHT-HAND REAR) LEG IN…Journal. Retrieved from http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/05/you-put-your-right-hand-rear-leg-in.html
King, S. (2010). On Writing. New York: Scribner.
Lee, S. (2011). Jennifer Egan on ‘Goon Squad’, ‘Los Angeles Times’ brouhaha, and her next novel. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from https://ew.com/article/2011/04/02/jennifer-egan-interview-goon-squa/
McKinnon, H. M. How to get through the First Draft of your Novel. Curtis Brown Creative. Retrieved from https://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/how-to-get-through-your-first-draft/
Smiley, J. (n.d.) Jane Smiley Quotes. Goodreads. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/812901-every-first-draft-is-perfect-because-all-the-first-draft
For me, the hardest part of editing has been reworking the plot. The plot in my novel is quite complex, though it can be broadly split into three main sections. While these sections fit with Aristotle’s plot structure for tragedies and Freytag’s dramatic structure , my novel also contains many smaller emotional turns and peaks of intensity. Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers suggest a correlation between the regularity of these emotional turns and a novels chances of success in their book The Bestseller Code. They use two controversial successes, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James (figure 1) to demonstrate, what they refer to as, the “page turner beat” (Archer & Jockers, 2017, p. 107). This plot structure is demonstrated in the graph below, with Archer and Jockers explaining that “changes in direction on the graphs roughly equate to moments of conflict and resolution. The more frequent the peaks and valleys are, the more of an emotional roller coaster for the characters and for readers” (2017, p. 89).
I wrote my novel this way because I have a short attention span. However, it’s made the editing process much more complex. At the moment, I’m still working my way through the first draft and only fixing major problems, but, when I focus on the plot more closely, I’ll definitely be utilising Natasha Lester’s “what is known” chart . Lester uses the plotting chart to keep track of what is revealed to the reader in each chapter and what is kept hidden. While the plot isn’t my main focus in this edit, I have made some pretty big changes as a result of some of the research I’ve done. This has made editing later sections much more difficult. So far, the biggest changes have been in the first three chapters, which I posted about rewriting 8 weeks ago. Since then, my goal has been to finish editing the second section, which also happens to be the largest as it sets up the final act of the novel.
Before I started culling lines, this section was almost 40,000 words of the original 86,000 word manuscript. It’s taken me a long time to edit as a lot has gotten in the way over the last two months. This has made be feel very unproductive, and I’ve beaten myself up over it a few times now. I wasn’t sure I’d write about this, to be honest, but I’ve been struggling a lot lately. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll notice the last few posts have focused on how I’ve been feeling like I’ve had too much to do. In short, I burnt myself out. I burnt myself big time, and I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I stopped doing a lot of things I previously enjoyed.
When I wrote the first draft of this novel, I wasn’t thinking about the research I’d need to do. I wasn’t concerned with making sense of the plot. I was just enjoying being in my head, being in another world. Malcolm Knox explains this sensation well when he talks about how much he inhabits the stories he’s writing. Knox attributes the consistent tone and voice in his novels to how quickly he writes and how easy it is to inhabit the voice of the narrator over a shorter period of time:
“The Life took about ten weeks to do the first draft, and I remember then, too, just having this one voice in my head.
It must be what having a mental illness is like, having another voice talking to you all the time, and if not talking to you, interpreting your own thoughts into its speech” (Knox as cited in Wood, n.d., para. 11 – 12).
I wrote my first draft over 6 weeks and the story was all consuming. Now I need to be more critical and, for the most part, I’ve been enjoying refining what I’ve written. Lately though, the only things I’ve been able to focus on are all the negative things I keep telling myself. It’s been overwhelming. I haven’t been reading. I haven’t been watching TV. I haven’t seen any films. Nothing has distracted me for very long, and it’s taken a lot of work to be able to step back and give myself the mental space to just be me again.
I finished editing the second section of my novel two weeks ago, but here’s the thing; I didn’t celebrate the milestone. Instead, I avoided the next chapter, which needs a major rewrite (another plotting issue), and then I started criticising myself for not being productive enough. I got stuck back in the same cycle. A week and a half ago my husband also took me into Royal Perth Hospital (at one in morning!) because I was in so much pain I couldn’t stop screaming. I was diagnosed with gastritis. The pain was worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m still in pain a week a half later and I’ve been told I might need an endoscopy.
What I’ve realised is how critical I’ve been of myself lately. I wrote a novel. I’m two thirds of the way through the first edit. I need to step back and remember to enjoy the process. It’s okay if it takes longer than expected.
 Aristotle defines a tragedy as having a beginning, middle and end saying, “tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E., para. 34). Gustav Freytag developed this into the pyramid model we are most familiar with today (1900, p. 115).
Aristotle. (350 B.C.E). Poetics. The Internet Classics Archive. Retrieved from http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.1.1.html
Archer, J., & Jockers, M. (2017). The Bestseller Code. Penguin Books.
Freytag, G. (1900). Freytag’s Technique of the Drama, An Exposition of Dramatic Composition and Art by Dr. Gustav Freytag: An Authorized TranslationFrom the Sixth German Edition by Elias J. MacEwan, M.A. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company.
Wood, C. (n.d.). Malcolm Knox: The Writer’s Room interview. Allen and Unwin Book Publishers. Allen and Unwin. retrieved from https://www.allenandunwin.com/writers-on-writing/malcolm-knox-the-writer-s-room-interview
I e-met Lee Battersby when he emailed me through my website and asked me to judge the City of Rockingham’s Christmas Poetry Competition. I judged that competition twice and, through a lot of bad luck, I have yet to meet Lee in person. I’ve read two of Lee’s books (Magrit and The Corpse-Rat King) and have been dying to ask him how he builds such fantastical, but believable worlds.
When I was writing the first draft of my novel, I had a lot of doubt about the world I was creating – a world which looks eerily like our own, but with some science fiction elements. My novel is character driven, and I feel the believability of the science fiction elements rely on them, rather than on the setting. It is through my characters the science fiction elements are discovered, and it is, therefore, through the characters that these elements will be believed.
One thing I’ve found interesting about Lee’s responses is his last answer on having adventures because, “if you have a boring life, your writing will show it.” I’ve experienced a lot of trauma in my life, and it is these experiences that I’ve focused on in my novel (I’ve written more about this here). Lee talks about verisimilitude, and how the different places he has lived have given him a wider variety of experiences to draw on in his writing. That being said, Lee also says it’s rarely a conscious decision for him to draw on a particular setting. I consciously set out to write about trauma but, like Lee, I did not consciously choose the setting when writing the first draft. Looking back, I’ve found I focused on places that would help reflect the inner turmoil of the narrator.
Something else I’ve been drawn to in Lee’s responses is how he reflects on his own experiences when saying a lot of his writing focuses on the outsider; “people with only a personal sense of self to lose”. I keep coming back to this line because it reflects the narrator in my own novel so well. By drawing a connection between this kind of narrative and his own experiences, Lee’s provoked me to do the same. I’m very conscious of the fact that the trauma which shapes the narrator is inspired my own experiences. Could my representation of her as an outsider also be reflective of me in some way?
You recently left your job at the City of Rockingham and moved to Karratha. Has the change in location changed your writing in any way?
In the most significant way, really: it’s given me some actual time to write. The Rockingham job was a ridiculous time-sink, requiring regular weekends and evenings, and more than a few 60 or 70 hour weeks. Whenever we had a big event on, I could find myself pulling 14 or 15 day weeks. Plus the stress was overwhelming: apart from the day to day stress of managing big events, there was more than enough workplace harassment and outright bullying to go round. Eighteen months away from leaving, I couldn’t get into the workplace without having a cry in the car park first, and all I wanted to do when I got home was curl up in bed and pretend I was somewhere else.
Thankfully, we found a way out of that life. I work a couple of days a week doing relief teaching, now, and despite constant pressure from the school to work extra days, I get at least a day or two a week to get some writing in. I’ve finished a novel manuscript that was previously stalled for going on 2 years—the Job That Soured had killed any momentum I might have hoped to get from the publication of my last novel, ‘Magrit’, so I’m having to start all over again and try to recreate my career arc. I’m working on a collection of linked stories that have been in the works for a long, long while. And, assuming I can work my way back into the marketplace, I might just be able to pull something from the ruins of what came before.
How do you juggle family life and your writing? What does your writing schedule look like?
Ha! So often, I don’t. The last three years have been particularly difficult. My day job was high-stress, high-commitment, and the ongoing harassment and bullying pretty much brought my self-balance crashing down around my ears. My career ran aground—I wasn’t writing, was barely making it through each work day in one piece, and any momentum and routine I’d managed to build up went pffft. Thankfully, I’m in a much better environment now. My wife and I have, essentially, engineered a job swap. She was desperate to get into the workforce after 25 years of being the home-based partner. Once she graduated with her teaching degree she took a job here in Karratha. I work part-time, and am the home-based partner for the rest of the time. I spend most of my time ferrying our teenagers around to their various interests, running two slow-cookers simultaneously, and finding excuses to delay cleaning the toilets. Writing-wise, I try to maintain a Graham Greene-ish schedule of 500 words a day, and I’m editing a 70,000 word YA novel at the moment: I can usually manage about 5 pages a day before the lines begin to blur into each other, so I’ve printed the whole thing out, stapled it into 5 page sections, and I pick away at it, one section at a time.
An average non-work weekday gives me between 8am and 2pm to myself, to do all the things. If I’m rolling, I can hit 500 words in half an hour. If not, it can take me, say, two hours. The editing takes an hour or so, if I’m on form. I try to assign an hour to general work—correspondence, interview questions, and so on. Another hour to 90 minutes for housework. I try to get to the pool two or three times a week to get some sort of exercise in. And the rest of the time I try to spend with family once they’re home. That’s the ideal, anyway. Ask me how often I’ve achieved it……
How important do you think it is for a writer to develop a community around themselves? What did your community look like in Perth and how has it changed?
I think it’s important for a writer to be aware of their wider community, and know what’s happening within their industry. While I was in Perth it was easier, but even as isolated as I am, I use Facebook and the internet to keep in touch with the various State industry organisations such as writingWA and Poetry WA. I’ve made a number of friendships over the years—not many, but some—within the field, and it’s necessary to understand what’s happening around you.
I think technology has really changed what community means over the last 20 years—it’s possible to create and maintain a circle of peers without ever meeting them in the flesh, which I think suits many of us quite well. I’m quite solitary by nature, so I’m much better suited to appearing at events than having super besties forever. I used to attend the local annual SF convention in Perth, but stopped when it became apparent that I really didn’t fit in. And I did try to maintain a social life with other local SF writers, but that dried up over time—there aren’t that many who particularly like me, which is a situation I’ve become used to over the years.
I absolutely love, on the other hand, Writer’s Festivals and symposia. Anything where it’s about the work. It’s all a matter of what type of interaction suits you best, and how you regulate that. I’m less a fan of product (TV shows, films, etc) that require slavish devotion to be considered a ‘real fan’ than I am a geek of the writing process itself—my ideal interaction is to be learning from other authors, particularly those who work in a field I admire and am not much good at, myself—I love listening to poets for that reason, for example. Ultimately, it’s a solo endeavour, and every other writer is going about their business, so you have to learn to develop your own instincts, and your own networks outside of the ability to meet face to face.
Your bio says you moved from Nottingham to Kambalda. I lived in Kambalda West when I was younger! How have the different places you’ve lived shaped your writing, if at all?
I’ve moved around a lot: I’ve never lived in one house for more than 5 or 6 years. Never really put down roots, never planted a fruit tree and been around long enough to actually take fruit from it. It’s bred a certain sense of dislocation, I guess. I never feel at home anywhere, or with any group of people. I always feel like an outsider, a temporary addition, soon to move on and be forgotten. What that has given me, I suppose, is an outsider’s perspective. I’m never so immersed in any space that I become blinded to it. And if I stop to look back at my work so far– which all the Gods please prevent me from doing– there are an awful lot of stories about outsiders, people with only a personal sense of self to lose, being drawn into at least an attempt at belonging somewhere against their will, or having their self-created paradises breached by barbarian outsiders.
One bright side is that I have experienced a wide range of landscapes and environments. From desert, to beach, to rainswept greylands, and at the moment, isolated sun-baked mining grounds. It all drips out into the work. But it’s not really a conscious thing: I’ve never set out to exploit my beachside years by writing a deliberately ‘beachy’ story, for example, but I recently completed a story that required a character to spend time at a rock-strewn cove, and memories of Point Peron in Rockingham enabled me to picture the sounds, the smells, the feel of wet rock under my feet… all those elements necessary for (I hope) verisimilitude.
You contributed to a Doctor Who short story collection in 2007. What do you think of the BBC casting a female in the lead role? Do you think it’s a token gesture for inclusion or does it have potential to add depth to the narrative?
I think it’s an absolutely brilliant opportunity to change the narrative, and ask some gender-loaded questions that the series has never really approached before. I can’t wait to watch the new episodes. I’m largely in favour of gender-swapping roles: my one caveat being that the swap be an opportunity to examine the narrative from a genuinely female point of view, and challenge what is, in many cases, a lazy set of male-centric assumptions. The recent Ghostbusters reboot was a fantastic example of that approach—not to mention that the sad fanboy backlash that resulted was a perfect example of why such re-examinations matter. Where it doesn’t work, and worse, where it can actually undermine the really positive gains to be made, is where there’s no further intent than just to write ‘Guy character as a girl’. Then it’s pointless, and empty. But our entertainment media—literature, film and TV particularly—operates from such a male-centric set of assumptions and attitudes that we need to ask the questions that 51% of our population deserve to have answered. And if a direct inversion of the accepted tropes can help do that, then all to the better.
You write fantasy, science fiction, and horror (stating the obvious, I know). How do these genres differ from each other, and in what ways do they support and complement each other?
At their most base levels, they’re all facets of the same genre—that of the fantastic. Where they differ is in the way the author approaches the narrative, and the levels to which the common tools are brought into play. To take a very common trope— princess is sacrificed to dragon, knight attempts to rescue princess, hi-jinks ensue (and if ever there was a trope that deserved gender-swapping…)—it can easily be represented in any number of ways, depending on how the author arranges the narrative components.
The key is that the world is altered in a way that initially defies logic. The way in which that alteration impacts the characters involved, and the ways they seek to define and affect their own changes, is governed by those narrative tools the author chooses. What all forms of storytelling ultimately have in common is the requirement to maintain believability for as long as the story is being told. Lose the reader, cause them to doubt what you’re telling them, drop them out of the story, and it doesn’t matter what genre you’re working in: you’ve failed.
Where I think we go wrong, as authors, is that we tend to focus on genre as part of the act of creation, instead of telling the story we want to tell, and working out what type of genre it fits into afterwards (or if we’re really lucky, letting a publisher work that out post-sale). Authors like China Meiville, Jonathan Lethem, and Angela Carter transcend genre boundaries with disdainful ease, and remain compellingly readable and utterly iconic—you can tell a Meiville story without having his name spoken first. That’s the ideal, for me.
Would you consider yourself a speculative fiction writer?
I try not to, or at least, to not consider myself just a speculative fiction writer. I have a deep, and life-long, love of speculative fiction, but as a writer I’m very wary of being stuck within one genre or point of view. I’ve only ever wanted to write whatever I want, when I want, without being tied down to one perception, or one readership. So I’ve sold a children’s book, and poetry, and crime short stories, and so on along the way. With the children’s novel, in particular, it was very interesting to interact with an entire readership—and industry—that was unaware of my previous work. They talked about me like I was somebody new and untried, when I’d been around the better part of fifteen years. At heart, though, I pretty much always think at the fantastical end of the spectrum—even my stand-up comedy, back in the day, involved flights of fantasy rather than gritty satirical unpickings of the real world. So whatever I’m writing, it tends to have that fantastic element.
Do you have any advice for authors on how to build worlds?
Everything we do as authors hinges on verisimilitude—investing our stories with enough believability that the readers believes everything we say, even if it’s only for as long as it takes to tell the story. So it’s important to understand that the worlds we build are composed of interacting components, much as our own is. It’s not enough just to (for example) introduce guns into Roman Britain—such a development will have significant impacts economically, culturally, scientifically, militarily…. If your created world is simply “Roman Britain exactly as it was but with guns” I won’t believe you. Any world you build, and narrative you create, is only as good as the characters it impacts. Creating a setting for its own sake isn’t enough. People care about people.
Other than that, experience is everything. Say yes to dumb ideas. Take risks. Step outside your comfort zone as often as possible. Have lots of sex, with lots of different people. Travel. Try a bunch of jobs, and leave them all when they get boring. Take courses. Try as many drinks as possible, once. Smoke pot, once. See how long you can go without saying no. Never visit a town without visiting its museum, its art gallery, and its library. Drive every machine you can. Get into a fight, once. Get into situations where you absolutely, definitely, have to use your wits to get out. If you have a boring life, your writing will show it. Have adventures, as often as you can. Did I mention the sex?
Lee Battersby is the author of three novels, as well as over eighty short stories in the US, Europe, and Australia. He is the winner of the Aurealis, Australian Shadows, and Australian SF ‘Ditmar’ awards for speculative fiction, and was the first Western Australian winner in the international Writers of the Future competition. His most recent novel, ‘Magrit’, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize and was awarded a White Raven Award by the International Children’s Library.
He is sadly addicted to Lego, Nottingham Forest Football Club, and graphic novels. He currently lives in Karratha, with his wife, author Lyn Battersby, and two giant teenagers.
It’s taken me a very long time to rewrite the opening three chapters of my novel. I did no research before writing the first draft and, as a result, I made a lot of assumptions that needed to be changed. Natasha Lester, a writer of historical fiction, explains that she does most of her research before writing the second draft, and then needs to rewrite or add scenes as a result:
“The research might also mean that something I have in the story is impossible historically and I have to change it, or that a new possibility for a scene has arisen out of the research and I need to rewrite a section based on that” (2018, para. 3).
I knew before I began this process that pretty much all of the first three chapters would need to be tossed. Only a handful of lines have survived the cull. Initially, the first chapter was just a summary where the narrator talked about what would be happening in the rest of the novel. This chapter is now written in present tense and introduces the narrator leading up to the inciting incident. The second and third chapters also needed to be completely rewritten. Both of them had two major issues in terms of plot: the first was how implausible my understanding of military structure and operations was, and the second was the fact that the location jumped around. In one scene, for example, the narrator is in Sydney, then she’s in Canberra, and then she’s back in Sydney and ready to travel to Canberra for the first time. It didn’t make sense. There was also one other issue in the opening chapters that I needed to address; the main love interest wasn’t introduced until chapter four. He is now introduced in chapter one.
I really hated rewriting the opening chapters. I thought having an existing story, and a clear idea of the ending, would make rewriting easier. It didn’t. Instead, I found myself wanting to include details because they were accurate, and not because the story needed them. It was hard reading entire books only to have them become two lines in the manuscript. Part of what held me back from including a lot of these details was point of view. The point of view for the entire novel is first person, and the narrator is a civilian with no military knowledge. As a result, even when she overhears things, they can sound foreign, and she can’t always repeat them. I’m sure there are times where you’ve heard words or phrases that were so foreign, you couldn’t remember what they were, even though you’d only just heard them.
For me, this first edit is about making sense of the story. As Lester explains, “My main [goal] is is [sic] to ensure the story makes sense! Because the story evolves for me while I’m writing the first draft, one of the most basic things I need to do is look at the continuity” (2018, para. 2). When I was writing the first draft, I was still learning what the story was, now I’m bringing it to life. As Bernard Malamud explains; “I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times–once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.” (1988, para. 33).
I think one of the big reasons I’ve found rewriting so painful is because there’s a voice in my head which loves being hypercritical. The issue is that it’s no longer just criticising my writing, it’s also trying to make me think about how the scene fits into the main plot and subplots, and whether the character is authentic. It’s so easy to get caught up in what my writing should do technically, that it becomes very hard to step back and think about it creatively. I feel like I’m stuck in an in-between state at the moment, where I still need the freedom of writing the first draft, but I’m also wearing my editor hat and am thinking more critically about how everything is coming together.
Lester, N. (2018). Burrowing In: Working on the Second Draft of a Novel. Natasha Lester. Retrieved 6 July 2018, from https://www.natashalester.com.au/burrowing-in-working-on-the-second-draft-of-a-novel/
Malamud, B. (1988, March 20). Reflections of a Writer: Long Work, Short Life. The New York times, p. 15.
In On Writing Stephen King suggests leaving your first draft to rest. “How long you let your book rest” (2010, p. 211) he says “–sort of like dough between kneadings–is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks” (2010, p. 211). I left mine for three months. I took two holidays, spending two weeks in the USA and then one week in Sydney and two weeks in New Zealand. Then I picked the manuscipt back up. As King explains, when you pick your book up again:
“It’s yours, you’ll recognise it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone esle, a soul-twin perhaps. this is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings that your own” (2010, p. 212 – 213).
King was right. I was very happy with my first draft, and I was happy when I finally picked it up and reread it, but it was easier to find plot holes, question character motivations and cull the parts that were my favourites.
I’ve now done the first read through, made a lot of notes and done a lot of research. Now the hard work begins. I stalled for a few days before I moved back into Scrivener, but I did eventually open it and start writing, or rewriting I should say. I love the story, I love the characters. I want to spend more time with them, so I write.
I say rewriting, because my first three chapters need a lot of work. I’ve been reading Troubleshooting Your Novel by Steven James and, in his chapter “disruption” he talks about the promises the opening makes to the reader. It’s my opening chapters that need the most work. The moments before the inciting incident are crucial to the plot, but the reader didn’t get to experience them in the first draft. I had written them all in past tense and provided only a summary. I’m currently rewriting them in present tense, and I keep coming back to this quote by James; “A story’s inception occurs when normal life is disrupted–typically when a calling is offered or a crisis occurs” (2016, p. 24). James says there are two kinds of openings, “The sea is calm–but a squall is gathering on the horizon. The sea is angry, and the boat is about to sink.” (2016, p. 24). I had written the second but, given how important the calm sea is (in that it’s not really as calm as it looks, there are sea monsters lurking underneath), I really needed to be writing the first. So it begins.
King, S. (2010). On Writing. New York: Scribner.
James, S. (2016). Disruption.Troubleshooting Your Novel: Essential Techniques for Identifying and Solving Manuscript Problems. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 24-27.