On second drafts

510Cy7ZwEHL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_This, much like my blogwanking posts, will be of some interest to a handful of you, but the rest of you may end up wanting to skip it.

I’m at about the 40% mark on Sunlight, just underneath it, in fact.  And when you count snippets of later parts that I’ve already written (the final scene is done, for example) the bit that I’m at is probably right at the 1/3 mark of the actual book.  I’ve gotten the action in Sunlight moving a lot faster than Skylights did; a slow start is one of the more common criticisms of that book and I wanted to make sure that dangerous/scary shit was happening to my characters much more quickly this time.

I’ve hit a stall point, though, and I suspect I won’t be adding to the word count for a little while, and part of the reason I won’t be adding to the word count is because of the way I write.  I don’t do multiple drafts.  I write a thing, and then I take another tinkering/editing pass at it– correcting grammar and typographical errors, fixing clunky sentences, occasionally adding short scenes or deleting others (most frequently when I realize that characters have a conversation in Chapter 6 that they just had in Chapter 5, because by the time I got to Chapter 6 I’d forgotten they had it) and all that, but rarely the type of large-scale modification that I’d call a full-blown draft.  I know I’ve called that phase “second draft” in the past, but it really isn’t.  It’s mostly cleanup.

Once the book is out of first draft, it’s basically done.  This isn’t because I have such supreme confidence in my writing process that I think I’m perfect.  It’s because my first draft is so slow, and so roundabout and circular.  It’s because sometimes I go two weeks and don’t write a single word, because I’m stuck on the next scene and I can’t write it if it’s wrong.    While I tell other people “just do it, and fix it in second draft,” I can’t actually write that way myself.

I finally figured something important out about writer’s block: it’s not that I can’t write.  It’s that what I’m about to try and write is wrong.  So my brain won’t even let the wrong stuff come out of my fingers.

I’m at a point in this manuscript where, if I do this wrong, Sunlight will end up just basically being a remake of Skylights, and that’s really not what I want.  The stakes need to be higher in this book, and they need to be higher in a way that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around, and the structure of this book needs to be different than the first book.  And I’m at the point where those raised stakes need to be made clear quickly.  So until I figure this out, I get to sit and stare at a blank screen, because I can’t write another word until I know what the right ones are.

4 thoughts on “On second drafts

  1. I much favor the fix-it-as-you-go method of writing a novel, too. It saves so much effort in the long run.

    For what it’s worth, I LIKED the slow build-up in Skylights. A story like that needs time to anchor readers in the “normal” before throwing them into the “weird.” (I’m sure there’s some sort of Real Writer jargon for that, but I don’t feel like looking it up.)

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    1. I will defend it, actually, but I also understand people who wanted to get to the action more quickly and this book doesn’t really need the build-up. They’re in trouble pretty much from the jump. 🙂


  2. You are basically running the second, third, etc drafts through your head until you reach the final pre-last-edit one. I rewrite many times, delete characters and shift many other aspects (though the story skeleton remains throughout). I wish I could do it your way, but there’s room for all of us.

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