Dear Book Lovers,

I’m in the throes of a second draft for Book 2 of my Edinburgh novels. And I’ve been struggling. I’ve also been upset and embarrassed that I’m struggling. Doing this draft shouldn’t be so hard, should it?

Moira Allen’s column in Writing World‘s newsletter ( landed in my e-mailbox the other day and gave me some perspective. It was too good to keep to myself so with her permission I’m running part of it today (I’ll run the rest of it on Thursday) for those of you who are writers, for those of you who know writers, and for those of you who want to be writers.

The Second Time Around (Or, Creativity vs. Drudgery) by Moira Allen

Last summer I completed the first draft of a novel. It was an occasion for rejoicing — for me, an unprecedented achievement. And make no mistake, I’m very, very proud of that.

However… When it comes to novels, the words “first draft” and “completed” are something of an oxymoron. A first draft doesn’t mean one has completed a novel. It means that one’s work has just begun.

When I started that first draft, I played a mind-game that you’ve probably heard of: The game of telling myself that it didn’t MATTER whether the writing was good. All that mattered was getting the words on the page. All that mattered was moving the story forward, scene by scene and chapter by chapter, from “Once upon a time” to “and they lived happily ever after.” It is an excellent mind-game and I highly recommend it to anyone struggling with that all-important first draft. It WORKS.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on the second draft. Because, by definition, one wouldn’t be DOING a second draft if quality didn’t matter. Absolutely the only reason to even undertake a second draft is to make your book BETTER. The second draft is where you accept the fact that while the first wasn’t bad, it also isn’t everything it should be — or that you want it to be. And if your book is ever to become what you want it to be, you have to get back into that chair and begin again. (And sometimes again and again…)

And now I will take a moment to offer an apology to several writers out there whom I’ve chafed, in years past, over the need to “edit.” I’ve known several very good writers who would, I was convinced, have crossed the line to GREAT writers if they’d only have been willing to follow through with a second draft. The general rationale for not doing so seemed to be that the writers in question just didn’t feel any creative spark, any enthusiasm, any motivation when it came to REWRITING.

Well, old friends, I hear you now. You’re absolutely right. When it comes to second drafts, “sparks” quite often just aren’t in it. Motivation is dim. The creative urge is on holiday, or contemplating the deep fulfillment to be found in rearranging the cupboard for the fourth time. If I thought it was difficult to keep butt in chair for the first draft, now I find myself scanning the calendar, muttering, “Don’t I have a root canal scheduled for today? No? Drat!” In short, a synonym for “second draft” might well be “drudgery.”


(Copyright 2011  by Moira Allen)

More on Thursday