Remember the moment you finished your First Draft and thought “this is it, I just wrote a book, it’s done, I’m awesome!”, then you went out to buy yourself a nice ice cream because the worst was over and it was all going to be downhill from there?
1. Your First Draft sucks. This is not an opinion, a hypothesis, a probability. It’s a universal truth. You wait some time, then you open the “First Draft – I’m so badass” document on your desktop, you start reading it, and all the blood drains from your face as you quickly realize at least half of it is pure crap. Plotholes, entire scenes that don’t make sense, boring and/or cheesy dialogues, characters that are absolutely not necessary to the plot. Lol, what plot? Exactly.
2. How bad do you really want this? That’s the question you ask yourself, at this point. Half of those 50.000 words you had already struggled to write down are going to be destroyed, and for a very good reason. This means that you’ll have to write between 40k and 70k words (depending on the genre of your story: if you’re writing sci-fi like me, Godspeed) to reach your final word count goal. So, how bad do you want to be a published author? How much do you love writing? How strong is your need to tell this story and share it with the world? If the answer is “not nearly enough to go through other 4 months of existential crisis again”, it’s okay. Go buy yourself another ice cream, you did well and you deserve it. But if the answer is “I want it really bad, and I’ll do anything I can to see this dream come true”, then buckle up. The journey has just began and it’s not going to be a fun one, not at first anyway.
3. You need to see the whole picture and the small one as well. If you haven’t already outlined the thing, this would be a good time to do so. After having re-read your FD, take some weeks to think about it and take notes. Then sit down and write an outline, a structure of some sort. You need to know where your MC is going, when, how, with whom and why. The more detailed your plan is, the more you’ll save time and thank yourself later (personally, I like to make a list of the characters, their motivations, personalities and relationships, and then to divide the story into chapters and the chapters into scenes, briefly explaining what happens in each of them. Even if I change many things when I actually write the scene later, it helps A LOT). It’s easy to get lost if you have no idea where you’re supposed to go. Also, that way you see plotholes and unnecessary characters immediately, and you can fix the problem. Without writing 50k words before you realize there is one.
4. Keep your cakehole shut. For the love of god, this is not the right time to talk about your novel in detail with your family, your friends, your doctor, the butcher and the postman and ask for their advice. The FD was you getting all the clay you needed and throwing it in one place. The SD is you starting to mold it. You can’t ask people “so, do you like my statue?” when the statue only exists in your head and the clay still looks like a mess instead. You’ll get depressed and you’ll want to quit. Just shut up and work.
5. Time is relative and so are the rules. You know a lot of things need fixing. Start from the beginning, follow your outline and re-write the first act (please tell me you read about the Three Act Structure before deciding to write a book, it will save your life) as good as you can. Then stop and take a break for a few days. When you sit back in front of your computer, start from the last act. Write the last few chapters as good as you can. Don’t worry if you’ll end up changing something. You’re still following your outline, so you’ll probably keep most of what you’re doing this time. When you’re done, your brain will be tricked into thinking you have finished a book and will relax. You wrote the last scene, you made it to the end, who cares if you cheated. It’s happening.
Now take some time off again, then sit back to write. Start from the second act this time, and jump as high and land as far as you want. You’re an anarchist kangaroo. The middle is usually the hardest part to write, because after the 1st act you’re very tired. But hey, you cheated, you little bastard! You have a 1st and a 3rd act already. Now the only thing in the world you have to focus on is the second act. Write all the fun scenes first, the interesting dialogues, the important interactions. Write whatever the fuck you want, following only the descriptions of each scene and forgetting for a moment the big picture (the descriptions already respect the big picture because you studied and established your structure before you started writing, so trust yourself). Have fun.
6. Music is a great ally. Make a playlist of songs that talk about your characters, the world they live in, the situations they find themselves in, their fears, their dreams, their struggles, the things they love and the things they hate and the things that make them cry. Immerse yourself in those songs often. This will help you get to know your characters better, and it will spark new ideas for their personal journey and even for scenes you hadn’t thought about before.
7. Forget perfection. This is not going to be your final draft. I repeat, THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE YOUR FINAL DRAFT. Don’t worry if you skip some scenes and make mistakes, you’ll fix everything later. For now, just write as much as you can following your structure at the best of your possibilities. You’re molding the legs of your statue. The next draft, you’ll mold the torso and the arms. The next, the head. Then, finally, you’ll focus on painting your statue and enriching it with beautiful details. That will likely be your final draft. Until then, you’re just a crazy man working with clay.
I just finished my second draft and it’s about 80k words. I do not have the strength right now to start working on a third one. My brain needs to rest and recharge. I’ll probably open the document again next month, finally ready to work on those abs.
What about you?