Second Draft Blues

Nearly two months ago, I finished the first draft of my new novel, The Silvergreen Sea. After a period of reflection, discussion with my agent, and a little help from my writing group, I’ve now started on the dreaded second draft.

Why dreaded? Well, because while the first draft can be spurted out quickly and relatively thoughtlessly, second (and subsequent) drafts take real work. It’s easy on the first draft to dash something off with a casual ‘it’s not great, but I’ll fix it later.’ Now, later’s come around, and you gotta get fixin’. At least this time round, unlike last time, I haven’t left any huge gaping holes in the story with ‘more plot to go here’ scrawled at the top of the document.

One of the difficulties with the second draft is that progress is hard to quantify, as you’re never quite sure in advance how much work will be needed on a given section. On the first draft, I had daily, weekly, and monthly word targets, and I could always see exactly how far along I was on that handy Scrivener progress bar. With the second draft, the first four or five scenes needed only a brief tidy-up so I zipped right through them in a morning: then I reached a scene which needed a complete re-write and had to spend two whole days on it. The ghost of my former project manager self wants to go through the first draft, calculate exactly what needs doing to each scene and how long it should take, and draw up a full plan of action: but my current, writer self, just wants to get on with it.

If you’ve never written a book yourself, you may be wondering what sort of thing typically changes between a first draft and a second, or a third… the answer is, as so often with writing, that it depends. One book may be almost ready to go after the first draft and just need a bit of polishing; another may be far too long and need extensive cuts; another may be skimpy and need extensive additions; another may be wildly incoherent and need a complete rethink. My book falls somewhere in the middle. Some bits need to be cut, others need to be added, others changed around. One character becomes more prominent; another character falls out of focus. Other characters warp and transform, changing gender or magical powers. The basic plot outline and central characters will remain, but a lot needs to be rewritten.

It’s not going to be easy, and I don’t know how long it will take. But hey, this is my job now, and nobody else is going to do it for me, so here I go. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

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Warning: May Contain Spoilers

Update from my shopping trip a fortnight ago: you’ll be pleased to hear it was a success. I now have a new teapot and several attractive-yet-practical new frocks to complement my existing writers’ wardrobe of pyjamas, thermal underwear, fingerless gloves, and a fleecy onesie. Give me the right clothes, a Dropbox folder, and a cup of tea, and I’m unstoppable.

So this post is slightly behind schedule as it was my birthday on Friday so I decided I deserved a day off. Some people might say that, as a self-employed author, I have every day off: but those people don’t appreciate how much work goes into this blog. Also it’s my birthday, and my blog, so I can do whatever I want. And today I want to talk about spoilers.
You may remember my last post – all about death – https://ruthdehaas.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/death-where-is-thy-sting/ started with a ‘contains spoilers’ disclaimer, including on the list of spoiled books the Harry Potter series. I had a moment of hesitation about including it, since the precise book in question, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, came out more than 12 years ago, so you’d have thought everyone who was bothered about it would have got round to reading it by now.
Except that, if you hadn’t read the books the first time around, and you’d just started the series, you might not be very happy to have advance news of a major character’s dramatic death unexpectedly plonked in your lap. Better safe than sorry, I figured. Now, not everyone has the same sensitivity to spoilers – some people don’t seem to mind them too much, others peek at the last page of the book before they even get started. But I’ve always found them annoying – I still angrily remember someone spoiling the end of Watership Down – and they can be difficult to avoid. Even if you deliberately stay away from the obvious sources – like fan fiction or discussion forums – you can still come a cropper. Never mind friends with big mouths, how about book reviewers? How about blurb writers? How about cover artists? The copies I read of both Dune and Ender’s Game featured cover art which spoiled the surprises therein, and good luck with reading a paperback book without even glancing at the cover. I’ve also learned never to read either the introduction or the back of any classic novel, since the publishers seem to assume you’re a lazy A-level student and that you couldn’t possibly want to read a hundred-plus-year-old book for pleasure.
I always try, therefore, to slather on the spoiler warnings, especially on the internet where you have no idea who might stumble across your words, and not to spoil anything for anyone – but where should you draw the line? Should you try not to let slip that Romeo & Juliet end up dead? (oops) Surely, as with copyright, there has to be a limit somewhere. But should all out-of-copyright works be fair game, or do you figure that at least someone might not know Elizabeth Bennet ends up marrying Mr Darcy? Oops, sorry, guess I just spoiled Pride & Prejudice there. Does it matter? Surely everyone’s seen the TV version with Colin Firth swimming in the lake? Actually, maybe not – the people who’ve just started their degrees in English Literature this year were not even born when that first aired on the BBC in 1995.
And that, I think, is the point we need to bear in mind, the point the Wordsworth Classics editions forget – that what we might think of as established, as known, as already-read, as canon, will always be fresh to someone. There will constantly be new generations of young readers who want to discover literature for themselves, whether that’s Jane Austen or JK Rowling. And we should all, I think, do our best not to spoil it for them. Don’t forget, a boy who was the same age as Harry Potter when the first book came out in 1997 is now old enough to be reading the book aloud at bedtime to his own children. I hope he doesn’t give anything away.