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The Fixable Truth About Editing a Second Draft

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

Once you’ve edited your first draft, it’s understandable if you expect your editorial journey to be automatically smoother thereafter.

That statement sounds so foreboding, I know. So let me clarify by saying that, yes, that could very well be the case. It might even be the norm.

I mean, you’ve already thought the story through two or three times by then.

If you’re a plotter (click here for a free report on plotters vs. pantsers), then you’ve already mapped it out. Maybe not all the way depending on the exact type you are. But you nonetheless did put some forethought into how the story was going to play out – more so than if you were a free-spirit kind of writer.

And even if you are a pantser, if you’ve reached the second-draft editing stage, you’ve still:

  1. Thought it out from start to finish in order to complete the manuscript.

  2. Thought it out from start to finish in order to revise the first draft.

Both actions are good. And necessary.

They just don’t necessarily result in an immediately easier time when you're editing a second draft.

Okay. Enough with the dancing around the subject. Let’s rip the Band-Aid off and just face the facts already.

Second drafts can be more complicated to clean up than first drafts.
Here’s the thing about editing first drafts: There can be a lot to fix. So much so that you mess up new details while reworking others. If you find that’s the case with yours, don’t worry: You’re not alone, and you’re not a failure.
Just get back up on the editing pony and take it for another spin, knowing you don’t have to catch everything this time around either. There will be more drafts to edit when it’s done, where you continue to smooth out your story’s edges.

For the record, that last paragraph is supposed to take the pressure off, not stress you out further. It’s simply saying that you don’t have to drive yourself insane trying to make this revision round your final one...

And that, after you’re done editing the second draft, the rest really should be much more downhill.

For this last segment, I want to go back to the Writing Rule’s first paragraph. The one about how “you’re not alone, and you’re not a failure” if your second draft seems more messy than your first draft.

Again, this kind of thing happens. And it’s only natural that it would happen more often with first-time or otherwise inexperienced writers. Though more advanced story tellers can find themselves sighing over second drafts too.

Either way, if you’ve found that’s the case, it might be easiest to make or remake an outline. By this, I mean skimming through each chapter to record the major plot points that happen in each.

Once you have, you can analyze their order more easily and see if you need to cut anything out… add anything in… or swap anything around in order to establish a more linear progression.

Then, once you’ve done all that – and followed through on the rest of the publishing process – you might want to consider starting with something just as detailed for your next novel.

It could save you a lot of effort and emotion in the future.

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