Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The land of the second draft

I had a real stutter this week with my lovely, cruisy NaNo progress- my daughter got very very sick, and proceeded to not sleep for six consecutive nights, and amidst that and other joys (like cleaning up barf three or four times a day) my word rate dwindled to 300... 600... 0... 0...

Now, I wasn't silly enough to expect that I could write every day during NaNo, but I *did* think I had some idea of when my zeroes would come. Tomorrow and the next day are the first two, because I have another classic Claire uber-cake to make for someone. But I was seriously thrown by not being able to get anything much done on those four days.

It's a lesson learned, again- I now realise that I came into NaNo with the lofty aim of churning out lots of words every day, whereas my view should have shifted subtly- my real aim is to get plenty of writing done, and advance the story. In reality, I don't care how many words that nets me. I just want it rolling. And rolling it is again- 4000 words in the last day, and counting.

Anyway! A quick observation on something I'm only just realising this month- the massive, massive difference between a first draft and a second, and with a forward view, the final.

As I was writing my first draft, I read a lot of how-to writing books. There are fantastic ones out there, and I understood everything I was reading. I just wasn't convinced it applied to me. Subplots? Does every book have them, really? And theme? Do you *really* have to be able to explain that to someone in a single sentence? Motifs, meanings, symbolism- all these things just fall into the story on their own, don't they?

I expected that I'd get to the end of my first draft and find all these things were magically there, fully formed. I certainly didn't expect to get there and find that I had none of them (none coherent, at least).

Colour me shocked.

Well, no biggie, right? Obviously I don't need any of these things.

Snrk. The thing that has really surprised me, especially since starting NaNo, is that all these things- subplots, themes, motifs- are now popping up clearly and easily as I rewrite, just as I thought they would in the first draft. And all of a sudden I can see why it's happening.

You see, I was frustrated to get to the end of a 120,000 word first draft and find that I had barely a single word I could use. I thought I was a monumental failure for that. But as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, everything I learned through that first draft was a stepping stone to where I am now- and it was all part of the development of those themes and motifs. I gave myself the chance to broadly explore where the story *could* take me, in order to pull it all back together and see where it *does* take me.

The characters are the same. They've changed so greatly in this second draft, but they are who they are because they were developed slowly, carefully over thousands (and thousands) of words. I couldn't have gone from story idea to ---> here without writing everything in between.

I'm sure there are others out there who work differently, but for the first time ever I'm understanding the worth of writing 120,000 words that will never see the light of day, and I'm finally accepting that there's a reason for a first draft, and a second, before you get to the final. It's very exciting to see the second draft taking a real shape- thanks to NaNo, I now have eighteen consecutive chapters completed for the first time ever.

When I go through the final draft, I'll be paring back, tying motifs together, making sure the theme is strong throughout the story, and massaging it into shape.

And after that, finito.

The light at the end of the tunnel is a little distant, but I can finally see it.


  1. Claire,
    We can't wait to read what you're up to with your three. *g* The snips you've posted at the Forum are fantastic. I understand what you're saying about theme, motif, and symbolism. My WIP is unfolding slowly as well. And it's FUN!

  2. 18 consecutive chapters - how exciting! I wrote in three filler scenes this morning; if I can get to the end of the month and be able to stare at a draft *sans* "need end" on every scene, then I'll be happy.