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Don’t Be Horrified if Your Second Draft Is a (Really) Rough Draft

If you read Writing Rule #28, then you might have recognized the blog post title above. It was “Don’t Be Horrified if Your First Draft Is a (Really) Rough Draft,” which is just as true now as it was a week ago.

But if that fact forerunner makes Writing Rule #29’s blog post title sound depressing, well, cheer up, cupcake! Here’s two pieces of good news to consider:

  1. Your second draft might very well be stronger – maybe even a lot stronger – than your first draft, which means this writing rule doesn’t apply to you. (See you next week!)

  2. And even if yours does still look like a deconstructed puzzle, it really should be all downhill after this round of edits. Because I’ve never met a third draft that didn’t show significant improvement.

Regardless of which category your latest efforts fall into, here’s the thing to keep in mind about second drafts. They’re the product of trying to fix up first drafts. Which explains everything about why they can sometimes be a pain in the neck to edit.

All those changes you made, mistakes you mended and aspects you altered during the first-draft revision stage were necessary, no doubt. Yet in realizing that your main female character is way too perfect on page 47, you might have messed with something significant on page 169. That character flaw you added in to round her out just doesn’t make sense with her state of mind and consequential actions later on.

Or you could have filled in a massive plot hole on page 58, only to have completely altered the ending’s significance on page 203.

In other words, you edited certain areas, only to open up other editorial issues elsewhere.

Believe it or not, that sort of thing happens all the time, particularly with creative writers who are still getting their literary legs under them. That possibility is why Writing Rule #29 exists in the first place, and why it’s so important to understand that, sometimes, second drafts just do look worse than first drafts.

Fortunately, like I said before, that third draft is going to be better. And easier. And so much closer to the point where you’re ready to publish your manuscript.

If you need a bit of encouragement in the meantime though, try doing what I just did and listen to Need to Breathe’s “Hard Love” on YouTube. Here’s the first two-part verse and the chorus for reference’s sake:

Trading punches with the heart of darkness Going to blows with your fear incarnate Never gone until it’s stripped away. A part of you has got to die to change.

In the morning, you gon’ need an answer. Ain’t nobody gonna change the standard. It’s not enough to just feel the flame; You’ve got to burn your old self away

Hold on tight a little longer. What don’t kill ya makes you stronger. Get back up ‘cause it’s a hard love. You can’t change without a fallout. It’s gon’ hurt, but don’t you slow down. Get back up, ‘cause it’s a hard love.

While I’m sure that Need to Breathe wasn’t thinking about second drafts or creative writing manuscripts in general when they wrote that song, parts of it are still really fitting. Plus, it’s a great reminder that:

  1. You really can push through this latest editorial aggravation.

  2. “What don’t kill ya” really can make you stronger – if you just let it.

  3. There are worse things in life than a rough second draft.

So on that note, my intrepid creative writers, readers and editors… if Writing Rule #29 applies to your second draft, then sigh a little, sulk a little and go snack on your favorite unhealthy food for a bit. Then, get right back to it and work on absolutely amazing yourself with how much stronger your third draft will be.


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