Getting your second draft voice out of your first draft head

In 2011, I struggled with my fiction writing more than any year prior. I think there were a number of reasons for this, but the one that stand out foremost in my mind is my inability to get that second draft voice out of my first draft head.

What, exactly, does that mean?

Under normal circumstances (and I don’t think last year was normal, I think of it as a kind of slump), my first drafts go pretty quickly, all things considered. That is because I have come to recognize, after much trial and error, that all the first draft is supposed to do is get the entire story out of my head and onto the (virtual) page. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even close to perfect. The most important thing is getting it done. Why?

Because once the whole thing is done, I can start on the second draft, which is, for me, where the magic happens. Having the whole story laid out in front of me allows me to do several things:

  • See the big picture. Example: maybe I recognize something at the end of the story that would have a better impact if it was foreshadowed earlier. With the whole draft written, I can go back and add it in.
  • Eliminate redundancies. I have a tendency to beat the reader over the head with certain concepts, and it is in the second draft that I prevent myself from doing this.
  • Smooth out transitions.
  • Eliminating the boring parts, or if they are important, make them more exciting.
  • Fill in blanks. Sometimes I have lines in first drafts that look like. “I turned around and the woman stood behind me. She said her name was [Mrs. So-and-So].” I can fill in those mind-gaps in the second draft.
  • Change view point characters, if the story better warrants it

I’m sure I do more, but those are the highlights. My problem last year was allowing that second draft voice to creep in during the first draft. This made it almost impossible for me to finish anything. “Is this the right POV?” I’d wonder–and then start rewriting before I had completed a single scene. “Is the story paced too slowly?” I’d rewrite again, without finishing. And on and on it went.

The story draft that I completely yesterday, at 6,500 words, was done in 9 days or so because I completely tuned out that second draft voice. I reminded myself that by now, I have enough experience to know that I should just finish the first draft, and not worry about the other stuff until the draft was complete. It seemed to work very well. Whenever the second draft voice started creeping in (THIS SCENE IS DRAGGING ON TOO LONG), I ignored it and continued to write. Whenever I sat down to start a new session (IS THE STORY GROWING TOO DARK) I’d put the voice out of my head and just sketch out the story as I’d planned.

The first draft I ended up with is by no means a publishable quality draft–but then none of them are.  But it does contain the sketch of a good story. It’s got hints at the right tempo for dialog. It’s got all of the info dumps I need to better spread the information out through showing instead of telling in the second draft.

Now that it is done, my second draft voice is raring to work on it, but I’m going to let it sit aside for a week and get some distance. I start my second story of the year today and so that second draft voice will just have to chomp at the bit for a while. And besides, jumping right into another first draft is a good way of training that second draft voice to learn its place.


    1. The most useful feature that Scrivener has is the ability to take “snapshots” of a draft. I usually take a spanshot after the first draft, and another after the final draft. You can, of course, then look at the differences. If the story is published, I’ll make one more snapshot with any changes introduced in gallies. That way, if I get a reprint request (only received 1 so far) I have the published version in Scrivener as well as the previous drafts.

  1. Eloquently put. And sums up the reason programs like NaNoWriMo work for so many people, in terms of output.


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