Monday, September 4, 2017

Asked: “How much of your second draft changes from the first?”

“How much of your second draft changes from the first?”

The obvious answer is that it just depends on the piece. Contrary to popular assumption, the manuscripts that need the least amount of work could either be the ones written extremely quickly or were thoroughly brainstormed before starting, no middle of the road for this girl! The further out on the panster-plotter spectrum I am, the more cohesive the work tends to be. BUT, I say that with the additive there’s usually a reason I was capable of writing something quickly; it made sense to me, I was inspired, and it just flowed. The worst manuscript I’ve been working on in recent history was a National Novel Writing Month piece that was getting patchworked together as I forced myself to come up with a plot.

As for brainstorming, it involved other people to bounce ideas off of, not just me sitting there outlining. Prepping for a novel before beginning does some good for me, but for the most part, I work best by letting the pieces fall where they will and then rearranging them. I’m good with nuance and going with the flow, bad at predicting issues, abstractly recognizing cause and effect, or creating atmosphere around mechanically tailored plots. Having someone to talk the story out with, or, more importantly, who gives me an anchor of what I’m trying to do—as in, write something they'd like—enables me to create a fully immersive storyline without the clinical process of outlining that often leaves me uninspired.

But mostly, things just come out unexpectedly, regardless of tactics, and the fact is, I won’t know how much work a draft needs until it’s all said and done.

However, what’s interesting about this question is that my first recommendation to anyone who is struggling with the editing process is to avoid getting overwhelmed: don’t worry about making a lot of changes in the second draft.

The “novice writer,” as he called himself, had previously did a few edits for grammar and typos here and there, but now really wanted to improve his work and push it further. Curious about other peoples’ processes, he wanted to have a better idea of how much he should expect to change, and I found myself a little surprised by the answers.

Most people underwent a huge amount of change, a lot of them rewriting every word.

I remember, when it came to The Dying Breed, someone who I was brainstorming with about the lack of enthusiasm it was receiving asked if I had thought about doing a complete rewrite. No, if I was going to do that, I decided, I’d just write a whole new story. The concept, the pitch, the expected setting, was the real issue. It was the characterization and atmosphere that makes the manuscript have its merit. Once people got hooked, they were thrilled with it, but like many stories, it took becoming invested in the characters for the work to stand out. If I were to completely rewrite it, it would be the foundation of it—what made it that story—that would need to change, and with that, all of the character development, wording, and mood would alter as well. To fix it, I'd rewrite everything, and if I was going to do that, I might as well do something totally new.

But I’m also hesitant to restart things from scratch in general. This isn’t about the work going into it, but rather that starting over for some tends to be a go-to to combat disappointment, but in my experience it often just changes the issues rather than making less of them.

True, you get better the more you write, but your second manuscript isn’t necessarily going to be better than your first, and assuming so is going to get you into trouble. Just like being 60 doesn’t automatically make you a better writer than a 25 year old, your tenth manuscript is going to have qualities and flaws that your first didn’t even touch on. As I go back over writing, I see how successful I was in achieving some things that I’ve struggled with, but also some of the qualities I’ve lost.

You learn a lot from tweaking, and the less things change - the more precise you are about fixing things - the less likely you are going to add in new problems.

And what goes for critique partners goes for you. It’s fairly common that being absorbed in correcting all the little issues makes people miss the larger problems—like the case when only one person caught that my gun had disappeared mid-scene, and she was the one with the least amount of corrections on it. So not only will obsessing over making it work now overwhelm you, it also increased the chance you won’t pick up on plot holes, or other larger, more abstract problems.

How you edit is based around your personality, the way your mind works, and your goals. None of this is to say that doing major edits for round two is problematic, but what interests me is how much I’ve actively deviated from that mentality the more I write. I find that making huge changes is tempting, but a part of that tends to be not being able to figure out what went wrong.

What’s to stop me from making the same mistake again in a different way?

My second draft doesn’t change much from the first, and in some ways, I prevent myself from being brash. The Dying Breed underwent massive alterations from the first to the eleventh variation, five total rewrites of the first few chapters, cut probably around 80,000 words cut with an estimate of 10,000 added. I moved everything around several times, added layer, took out threads, and while the bare bones of it are the same, it really isn’t the same story. Even the characters have changed, some for the better, and it was almost like a rewrite except I could be precious about what I kept.

As you can see though, I personally work better with more drafts, trial and error, seeing what I have, and processing. For some, they despise drafting and editing as you write helps git-‘er-done. And if you know what you want to change and how to fix it, there’s not a reason not to do it.

However, what I suppose my point is, it sometimes feels like people think if they don’t make massive changes to their story, they’re not being harsh enough, they’re not being a good, devoted writer. Sometimes the best thing you can do is sit back and ruminate on what it actually is before worrying so much about what it could be. Being thoughtful is just as important as being merciless.

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