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You’ve finally completed the first draft of your novel, but don’t rush into the editing process just yet—you still have all the hard work of a second draft to do. This next stage of the novel-writing process is where you all the information you threw down during your first rough draft gets fully analyzed and massaged further, turning into a more cohesive and fleshed out story.

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David Mamet Teaches Dramatic WritingDavid Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing

The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.

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Why Do You Need a Second Draft?

In the second draft stage, you take the roughly formed story of your first draft and go through it analytically. It’s where you tweak the big picture of your writing and make any necessary alterations. A second draft may help you bring about big changes to your character development or identify plot holes you didn’t catch before. It can help prevent writing yourself into a corner in later drafts by figuring out where all the problems of your story are now.

A second draft is arguably the hardest draft to get through—no writer wants to pick apart their novel after having gone through the painstaking process of putting it all together—but it’s a necessary step that will benefit your novel as well as make you a better writer in the process.

5 Tips for Editing Your Second Draft

If you want to know how to write a second draft, the following writing tips can help:

  1. Take a break, then go through your draft with fresh eyes. Especially if this is your first novel, only start your second draft after you’ve had adequate time away from it. Creating distance between you and personal work can give your mind time to reset and detach from particular ideas. Certain story elements may feel necessary but don’t actually fit into the story, or your story may need something, but you’re not sure how to implement it. Taking a break can help you view your writing from a previously unseen angle that can bring more refreshing ideas to the table and help you get through your second draft. Take some distance from your writing to brainstorm new scenes.
  2. Understand your chaos. Your first draft got your ideas down and, hopefully, created a loosely structured beginning, middle, and end. However, the first time you go through the whole thing, it will probably feel overwhelming—and it should. Go into your first chapter knowing there will be big changes and improvements to be made. You’ll cut some things and add others, but don’t be afraid. If it starts to go off into a direction you’re not happy with, or if you have no idea how to continue forward from what you’ve rewritten, you can always reconfigure. That’s what second drafts are for.
  3. Break it up into separate goals. You don’t have to comb through your second draft beginning to end and address everything along the way. Setting goals to address each element of your first draft, like working on emotional character arcs first, or solidifying the bare bones of your plot through each chapter can help you divide and conquer each necessary aspect of your story that needs to come together in a cohesive manner. Once all these elements have been solidified individually, you can piece them together in a way that makes your second draft feel more manageable.
  4. Track your narrative. Read through each plot point or chapter and see if the narrative tracks. Make notes on anything that stands out to you or doesn’t feel as smooth. Are events moving logically or sequentially into the next? Are character goals clearly defined? Does each new chapter feel connected to the last? It may be a rough version you’re going through, but these elements should be in place in order for you to analyze it accurately. Your subplots should feel natural to the central story and characters you’ve created—they should just be added fodder to take up space. Ensure there aren’t any redundant scenes or a repeat of information that doesn’t need to be explained again.
  5. Don’t proofread until the end. It’s tempting to go back and fix all your errors, but unless you’re in your third stage or fourth stage, this may end up being a waste of time. Correcting typos and grammar should be saved for your final draft, as the entire writing process will entail rewriting, restructuring, and reorganizing until the moment you’re ready to publish.

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