The Final Word on Second-Draft Rewrites

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N Roses, Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas, You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid by the Offspring)

I’ve been writing a lot this month about rewrites and editing for two reasons – one, because it’s the hardest step in the process for me, and two, because I’m in the middle of what I’m calling “draft 1.5” of my current writing project where I squish a trilogy into a single novel. It’s been… surprisingly pleasant, and I think I’m figuring out why.

I had the pleasure today of meeting with an acquaintance from the UCLA Library in searching for a communications-related job on campus, and I asked her what her philosophy was for what makes good communications writing, or good writing in general. And she said something that reemphasizes what I’ve been learning, AND it was something James Patterson said as well in the MasterClass I took with him.

“You need to think about your project analytically,” she said. “Figure out your goals and your audience first, and then develop a plan that will accomplish those goals.”

James Patterson’s advice, along the same line, was “Outline every project before you even get started – and make it super detailed, down to what needs to be accomplished by each scene. Write multiple drafts of the outline, just like you would the book itself, and when you have a perfect outline, it makes the first draft nearly perfect.” (Needless to say, I’m paraphrasing here.)

Outline, outline, outline. I’ve said it before, but I’m gaining a new understanding for why it’s important. Because writing is both a craft and an art, we sometimes find it hard to extricate our goals. “I’m just self-expressing, nothing more than that.” Well, if you’re writing genre or commercial fiction, you’re not just self-expressing. You’re trying to do something for some audience, and you have to know what that is.

Earlier I posted about the eight questions you should ask yourself on your second draft edits. And for me, that’s a really great place to start, because it’s applicable to most writing projects. But honestly, it doesn’t even begin to cover your purposes in writing your project – your overall goals. Which, incidentally, are more important in the grand scheme of things than “does this chapter fit well into my book?”

So I’m challenging myself, and all you writers, to determine what exactly it is you want to do in your project before you start writing the first draft. And then, when you start making your edits and creating a second draft, ask yourself, does [Scene X/Character Alpha/Plot Structure 221-B] help me accomplish those goals? If it doesn’t, you know what to do.

Of course, my current project is already on its 1.5 draft, but I can still figure out the goals and approach my edits more holistically from there. My audience is readers of mainstream fantasy and science fiction, and my goal is to provide them with a suspense-driven fantasy story that starts off with this cute little “slice-of-life at the magic academy” and quickly devolves into world chaos and disorder. It’s not exactly the most novel of concepts, but it’s what I want for my story, and all changes I make to it will be towards that goal.

And that, friends, is the final word on editing.

(Just kidding, I’ll probably figure out more in the next few weeks. It’s a journey, folks, not a roadmap.)

Yours, gorged on homemade cookies and stew,

-R.R. Buck

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