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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Between the First and Second Drafts

Between the First and Second Drafts

Conventional wisdom says that after completing a first draft, you should lay it aside “to rest” before beginning any revisions on it — I’ve heard some experts recommend six to eight weeks!

Well, conventional wisdom (and those experts) must not work under a deadline.

And, to be honest, laying aside a first draft for weeks has never been my method, even before I had an agent and a contract and deadlines. By the time I type THE END on a first draft, I know all the things that are wrong with it, which may include:

  • Important information I never found a place to insert
  • Important information I inserted in several places, not sure which place would be best
  • Plot holes
  • Unnecessary side plots, characters, or clues I never ended up needing
  • Inconsistent details in setting or world building
  • Wavering character motivation
  • Pacing
  • Necessary character changes (In the first draft of The Caged Graves, the character of Beulah Poole started out as a teenage girl. I realized about two thirds of the way through the first draft that I needed her to be an old woman!)
Immediately after the first draft, I create a side-by-side outline to guide my second draft revisions. In one column, I list the important events in each chapter. In the other column, I note what changes I’ll need to make in that chapter. This sometimes will include rearranging or eliminating chapters.
Side by Side Outline for Draft 1-2 of The Eighth Day

In the case of The Caged Graves, a historical murder mystery, I also created an even briefer outline of the events in each chapter and color coded them: purple for the mystery of the graves, yellow for Verity’s romance, blue for the mystery of the Revolutionary War treasure. This helped me adjust the pacing and make sure that the main mystery remained in the forefront of the story, with the romance providing a counter-point and the secondary mystery appearing often enough to not be forgotten.

Color coded outline after Draft 1 of The Caged Graves

It only takes me a couple days to produce these outlines. Then I’m ready to roll right into the writing of my second draft.

When the second draft is complete, that’s when I send it out to beta readers and I take a break from the manuscript. Under my current deadline, it won’t be a six week break, of course. I only have ten weeks before this book is due, and I don’t want to turn in anything less than a fourth draft.
As for the revisions themselves, I start with Chapter One. I am a linear girl …

23 Responses to Between the First and Second Drafts

  1. I have to make notes etc almost straight away, otherwise I forget the changes that need to be made. I love using the Track Changes feature on Word. You seem a lot more organised than I am though. Although at most I write 50k, if I was writing longer novels I might have to be a lot more organised.

  2. That’s a great idea with the outlines. It’s very organized. Like Amanda, I’m not that organized.

  3. Weeks? Yeah, Stephen Kings says three months to a year!!! But I guess he has the time (and other means) to do so. LOL

    This post is so well timed for me, as I’m on chapter five of my second draft. I need to revisit this later. Read again to etch into my brain.

  4. Steven says:

    Everyone works differently. I make in-line notes that are color-coded according to the type of action I need to take. After that it’s slaughtering time. I actually really hate rough drafts since they never turn out, which is why I laugh at people who claim they don’t need to revise.

  5. Jess says:

    Love your side by side outlines~ will be stealing that idea!

  6. Linda G. says:

    Thanks for a peek into your process. I’ve never tried the color-coding thing–may have to figure out if that will work for me.

  7. Tess Grant says:

    The “lay it aside” advice never worked for me either. I like to tweak and carve and wrestle until it’s done. I may have learned from the vast number of undone non-writing projects I have strewn about. If I lay it down, it’s all over. πŸ™‚

    Love the outline. Very helpful.

  8. Tiana Smith says:

    It’s so interesting seeing your process πŸ™‚

  9. This is an interesting process. What do you do the outline in? I’m going into my second draft and didn’t wait either. I want to tie things up since it’s fresh. Thanks.

  10. Ug! I know what you mean. I have a hard time leaving it alone. I can’t let go to the first reader until I’m on draft 3 at least, and then I only want one reader so anything glaringly obviously doesn’t paint me stupid. =) I think one day–even one week is fine as far as letting a first draft sit.

  11. For me it’s all about spreadsheets.

  12. Robin says:

    Thank you for sharing your process. I love the colored outlines. I can see how that would really make the pacing issues glaring (in good and bad ways). I am going to try that!!!

  13. I can’t lay it aside either (conventional wisdom aside). In this new book I’ve one-upped my inability to lay it aside and I’m editing before I’ve finished. I know. Weird. But it seems to be working to tighten and fix things early on that are more difficult later. I mean, I’m almost finished the first draft, but then realized the mess I’d made of the beginning and needed to fix it.

  14. That’s impressive! My rough draft is more like other people’s second draft anyway, because I can never resist revising as I go, even though quite a few writers have told me no, no, you shouldn’t do that! Every writer is different. You just have to find what method works for you alone. I like Wendy Mass’s blueprint method, but I had to adapt it to fit my own process. Parts of your process intrigue me too, so I may borrow some of that.

  15. Thanks for sharing your method. I’ve always had a hard time putting the novel aside for that long, even without a deadline. Your method makes sense. I’m going to use it for my next draft.

  16. J E Oneil says:

    I think it’s easier to use the note function in word to pinpoint all the areas that I need to work on, but that’s a good way to remember what needs to be done. It’s very streamlined. Also, I love color coding things. πŸ™‚

  17. Susan Oloier says:

    I always appreciate nice organization when it comes to writing, especially the color-coding of your three plot lines.

  18. Pk Hrezo says:

    I’m linear too. And I always do a second draft before letting it sit. Only after I feel I have done all I can do I let it sit for awhile so I can come back to it like its a new story.

  19. Marva Dasef says:

    Oh, you teachers! So organized. Chaos reigns in most writers’ minds.

  20. Lexa Cain says:

    Yes, yes, yes! That is exactly what’s happening to me. I have all those errors in my partially completed WIP. When I finally manage to truck through to the end, I’ll go back and make notes. And yes, isn’t color-coding wonderful (and really fun!)? πŸ™‚

  21. That looks like a good strategy — might help me with my synopses, too.

  22. Hi Dianne .. gosh that’s efficient and I love the colour coded one .. makes sense .. ah the teacher in you – I’d forgotten that bit ..

    Cheers Hilary

  23. Cynthia says:

    Looks like you have an organized system set up. I should probably use more color-coded methods to revise my work. Thanks for sharing your ideas.