Last week, I attended two events: Elevengeddon and Phoenix Comicon.
Elevengeddon, held at a local bookshop, saw originally 11 (actually 21) authors come out for signings and discussions and Phoenix Comicon, on top of being a comic book convention, is a really good author convention. I asked a single question to as many authors as I could:
What advice would you give a writer working on their second draft?
Everyone had a slightly different take on the question which I found both fascinating and a little worrisome–how many writing books do I need to read, courses do I need to take, podcasts do I need to listen to in order to get a comprehensive idea of how others before me have done this weird thing called writing a book?
A lot. The answer is a lot. And a variety. You gotta mix it up a bit. But we’re getting off track.
Without further ado, here is what I learned:
Read the finished draft aloud – for voice: Sometimes an agent will like the story but can’t connect with the character’s voice. Reading aloud will help you identify that voice and fine tune it.
Get beta readers
Part 1: give them the manuscript and a red pen and say go
Part 2: if a beta reader tells you how they feel, they’re right, if they tell you how to fix it they’re wrong
^ This one actually surprised me as much of what I was reading online indicated beta readers looked at a polished script–they were the last ones to read it before publishing and tended to provide more of a high level review-fodder kind of feedback, not necessarily criticism. I think that can still be true, but I will probably be looking for someone (many someones) to at the least validate the authenticity of my blind main character, Skye, after completing the second draft. One big element of this advice? Find people who have not read this story before. You need new eyes on the second draft in addition to old critique partners.
Hire a copy editor: similar to the beta reader advice up above, a copy editor can do a high-level read-through and tell you if the story works or where it is starting to fall apart. They don’t need to read it for grammar or sentence structure. The crux of this advice is to identify problem areas before you start polishing the language–a copy editor can help you do that.
Have a plan: after you finish this draft, do you have a plan for submitting it to an agent? Self publishing? Plan out what kinds of steps you might need to take to be successful before you actually need to take them.
Have an outline: Every writer I asked except for one uses an outline. One writer’s outline is so detailed he only needs to write one draft. The exception also only writes one draft but, as a full time author, he takes at least a year to do it because he edits as he goes.
Know what is working: This kind of falls in with a few other tools mentioned here. It seems to me that the second draft, at least how I’m doing it, is a critical point where major plot and character flaws can be corrected before polishing the prose. The key is to know what is working in the story and what is not–then to fix what is not working.
Remove 10% from every page: Yeah, it sounds crazy to me, too. But multiple authors agreed with this and said even they found they could remove this much. And this isn’t 10% of the total word count. I believe it was Brandon Sanderson* who said he could often take an early draft and total the word count for each page then literally remove 10% of that.
- a variant of this was to read the story aloud looking for repetition–usually the author found they could remove about every fourth sentence. The idea is that we as writers tend to try and pound the message in and end up repeating ourselves, something that is more easily caught when the story is read aloud.
Write your big, awesome, amazing idea on a sticky note and affix it to your computer so you can look at it when you write: I haven’t done this and, when I went to write my idea on a sticky note, I found I couldn’t articulate it very well! I had a basic premise but not that “Wow!” idea. So I was able to make sure I had that in place before continuing on with the draft and now I can look at it whenever I want.
Keep learning: I added this one in. It wasn’t a direct answer but I did have the great pleasure of meeting several authors who contribute to Writing Excuses, a 15-minute podcast with excellent writing advice from authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor often with special guest appearances. I’ve known about this podcast for awhile but meeting a few of these authors finally spurred me to figure out how to download podcasts on my phone and listen to them. Now I play at least one a day! There is always something new to learn about this wonderful craft.
So that’s the advice! Let me know if you have learned anything about writing the second draft, educate us in the comments!
*I have left names out for the most part because, when I started asking this question, the answers were just for me. But, as I got different answers and remembered I had a blog, I thought this would be great to share! These answers come from authors I had heard of previously and some I learned about and met in the same two minutes. They are all great pieces of advice that you will hear from authors around the world.