Giving Your First Draft A Second Chance

(Or, How To Turn A Manuscript You Hate Into a Book You Love)

The authors Chandler Baker, Virginia Boecker, and Lee Kelly continue taking us on an inspiring writing journey through the medium of blogs posts. Today, a roud the table discussion of what to do with your first draft. 

 

It's December, and NaNoWriMo is over. You’ve completed a manuscript (congratulations!) only it’s a mess: a jumble of 50,000 words that don't make sense and don't tell a story. You hate it. What do you do?

 

Chandler Baker:

Back away from the delete key. Slowly.

 

Lee Kelly:

My big must? Giving myself two weeks not to look at it. That way I read the draft with fresh eyes and have enough distance that I don't just say, “Forget this, it's too terrible.” Do you guys have that same incubation period?


Chandler Baker:

Deadlines and my own impatient nature determine some of how long I’ll wait, but I try for a week at least.

 

Virginia Boecker:

A week at least. Two is preferable, but sometimes hard to manage on a deadline.


Chandler Baker:

The good news: it's never as bad as you think. The feeling of starting a book vs. finishing it, though, are so different. I always feel like I've lost at least 70% of my “vision” traveling from point A to B.

 

Lee Kelly:

I totally agree. I always feel like the book you write, no matter how good, will never measure up to the book in your head. Ok, so now that you have this stack of pages you’re not sure about - do you just start revising on page 1, or do you make sort of a meta-plan for revising (i.e different topics and story threads)?

 

Virginia Boecker:

I do a read through of the manuscript and make a list of issues. Once I have a full inventory I make a plan, tackling the biggest problems first then working my way down to the smaller ones.

 

Chandler Baker:

I create a list. Usually I've already started the list before I finish writing. Then I tackle a few points a day.

 

Lee Kelly:

I read through it once with a notepad and mark a list of the major issues (like a character being weak or the world being confusing), then I review the list and try to flesh it out into a schedule of attack. I do big issues first, and then the third draft is smaller issues.

 

Chandler Baker:

I try to do that as well, but give myself a few “easies” if I'm feeling discouraged. Tackling revisions is a way to get that “beginning of a story” feeling back! You can see all the ways you can fix it. Renewed possibilities.  So do we all agree that the act of creating the Plan of Attack helps us find the love again even though the act is, in fact, pointing out all the bad bits of our books?

 

Virginia Boecker:

A Plan of Attack makes you feel like you have some control over it. Even though when you're reading the manuscript, it feels out of control.


Lee Kelly:

It’s good to keep in mind during your Plan that you’re taking something raw and you’re really giving it form & shape, moving it closer to that vision in your head. I think Stephen King once compared 1st drafts to unearthing a piece of stone. The 2nd and 3rd drafts are all about chiseling the stone into an actual statue.  

 

Virginia Boecker:

When I draft I'm very, "Oh, I'm going to write this and it may not make sense now but I'll fix it later," which maybe makes my revising harder but if I put constraints on myself while drafting I’ll cramp up. The words won't come.

           

Lee Kelly:

I’m least confident and most likely to abandon a project during the 2nd draft. The 1st draft I write off any insecurities to, “Well, this is the first draft!” But the 2nd is where I really start to question whether the story is going anywhere. In that 2nd draft stage, when I really do hate my manuscript, I always promise myself that I have to get through to the 3rd draft. Abandoning a project before that point feels premature.

 

Virginia Boecker:

Yes. I’m glad I pushed through to future drafts, otherwise I never would have gotten to the point with the book I have now. I would’ve tossed it.

 

Lee Kelly:

Any story should have a shot at being revised before being tossed!  I’d love to see the first drafts of so many successful stories out there – I bet some of them didn't even resemble the end result.

 

Chandler Baker:

Exactly. Books deserve second chances too! It’d be like holding yourself accountable for all the mistakes you made at 13. Manuscripts need room to grow up.
 

Virginia Boecker:

There's a puberty joke in here somewhere. MY MANUSCRIPT HAS ACNE.

 

Lee Kelly:

Ha ha. Amazing. Mine has braces.

 

Chandler Baker:

And mine has permed bangs (editors note: bangs are what the UK knows as a fringe).

 

Lee Kelly:

Double-decker bangs? Winner!

 

Virginia Boecker:

Your manuscript is me in 8th grade.

 

Tell us! How do you plan on revising your NaNoWriMo manuscript? Let us know in the comments, or feel free to tweet us @leekelly, @virgboecker, and @chandlerbakerYA!

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