Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Thank God for Second Drafts

I’m writing a new book right now, one that isn’t due until August but on which I started work a few weeks ago.  I’m happy to say that I’m 40,000 words into it, which is about 10,000 words past the point where I think “I should start over.  This stinks.” But I keep on keeping on, all with the mantra “thank God for second drafts” playing over and over in my head.

When I first starting writing, I thought that the first draft had to be perfect.  Now, eight books in and midway through writing my ninth, I have realized that this first draft is just about getting words down on the page so that when you’re done—which for me will be around the 85,000 word mark or more if I need more to tell my story—you basically have a lump of unformed word clay.  At that point, a print out and several days of really hard revision—as well as soul searching—takes place as I massage the word clay into something that looks more like a book with well-developed characters, a strong plot, action, conflict, and resolution. 

But until I get to that point…well, in the immortal words of my friend, the northern half of Evelyn David, “Oy.”  I try so hard not to labor over every word, every plot point, every character trait, but it’s a fight that I’m often losing.

“Thank God for second drafts,” right?

I learn so much from other writers.  From one friend, I learned the term “verbal vomit,” which was her hilarious description of her own first drafts. From Laura Bradford, current Stiletto wearer and poster, I learned that you get everything down, print it out and then decide what stays and what goes.  And from myself, I’ve learned that you write one day and maybe the next and then go back to see what you’ve written and how it ties together.  (And if it makes sense…and to remind yourself of what you’ve written.)  All are ways of getting to your end product—a final draft—and all work for me at one point or another. But what’s been working best for me is just repeating, over and over and over again, that your first draft need not be perfect, there are always more drafts to come.

When you think about it, there aren’t many jobs out there that come with an eraser, allowing you a “do-over” each and every time you sit down to complete a task.  In business, even if you do get a do-over—like I once did at work when a book was inadvertently printed with the answer key in it and had to be destroyed—trust me, people remember.  In writing, however, those first drafts are lost to revisions only to be remembered by the few trusted early readers who you allow to read your pre-erased version.

So, I’m writing every day, approximately 2000 words.  I’m so into the story that I haven’t made dinner for the past few nights, preferring to see who dies, how, and when. Some of the words are good; that’s a revelation I have in the morning when I read what I wrote.  Some stink.  They will go.  But this is a first draft and all I can say is “Thank God for second drafts.”

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Yay.............I am looking forward to the next book in your series!!!

  2. I'm trying to overcome the compulsion to edit my first drafts as I write. Really slows down the creative process. Thanks for the reinforcement.

  3. Absolutely, Maggie! When I die, there will be a first draft of something on my desk, and my family has orders to burn it. Keep up the good work!

  4. OK, just out of curiosity, when you say who dies, you mean in the book, not the people who are not getting fed in the evening? Best of luck on your writing. I am sure it will be wonderful, like the others.

  5. Thanks, everyone! LD, I'm trying to overcome that as well. Baby steps...

    Linda, I have a book somewhere that I wrote while in the 8th grade. Same instructions to family members.

    And Annette, yes the people in the book! Thanks for your kind words. Maggie

  6. What I like best about early drafts is that they are freeing in two ways at the same time: you can experiment, carelessly muddle through some of the time, and get things out of your way that you know you will not feel is your best work AND you can still strive for your finest and sometimes even in the crummiest sets of pages you get passages or turns of phrase that are very, very good. It's really great. I guess all "practice", by definition really, holds that of duality, but it just makes me feel so optimistic to know this about drafts and revisions.

  7. Great post, Maggie! I agree, thank God for second drafts, or in my case, third! It sounds like you've got a surefire system!