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How to Write a Second DraftThe anxiety-relieving, blueprint-building, creativity-unleashing second draft

[This article is written by guest contributor Virginia McCullough, co-founder of The Book Catalysts]. 

It’s done! Your first draft, with all your best ideas, information, and advice finally on paper. What a terrific accomplishment.  We’re advocates for the fast and furious first draft and doing whatever it takes to get a draft down in short order and without stopping to edit or polish.

But now what?

Completing the first-draft stage can lead to anxious moments. One of our clients produced a first draft by writing almost daily over a period of three months. She achieved this by carving out 20 to 40 minute stretches in her already busy schedule. “It was an exhilarating time,” she told us, “but now I look at my draft and wonder what to do with this mess. It’s my baby, but now I wonder how I’ll ever be able to edit these clunky pages.”

Good news. She doesn’t have to think about editing. Not yet. And if you have a first draft completed, neither do you. Instead, it’s time for a second draft. Sure, a lucky few produce fairly well-behaved first drafts, meaning they wrote the information in roughly the same sequence it will appear in the book.

For many of us, though, producing a first draft fast means plunging in where the energy leads us in each writing session. It can be exciting to let go and write and write without the inner censor interfering.  It’s fun, too, kind of like a four-year-old finger-painting for the first time. Hey, that’s how we saw for ourselves that if we mix blue and yellow we got green! But often that leaves us with a jumble of messy—and intimidating—chunks.

Consider your second draft stage as the “shaping” or organizing stage, a time when old fashioned cutting and pasting techniques come in handy. Yes, you could use the cut and paste functions on the computer. Some people are able to do their second draft work on the computer, but for some of us, it’s so laborious we dread sitting down to do it. We think our “old” way is faster and much easier.

Here are a few suggestions to calm your mind, prime your creativity, and make solid progress toward your finish line:

  • Print your draft—make sure you’ve added page numbers.
  • Gather your tools: sticky-notes, scissors, stapler or tape, paper clips, red or green or blue pencils or pens, and highlighters.
  • Read through the draft, make notes in the margins or highlight sections to indicate where you expect them to appear in the book: introduction, basic premise, what you’re promising the reader you’ll deliver, laying a foundation, the key how-to or self-help information, review paragraph and key point lists, anecdotes and stories, wind-down material, conclusion, call to action, and so forth. These are the critical blueprint elements.
  • Use sticky-notes or highlighters to call attention to areas that go together and will likely end up in individual chapters. Assign these sections preliminary chapter numbers, knowing this is just a second draft and you might further refine them later. Dividing your chunks into chapters helps you clarify the blueprint or organization of your book. (If you’re doing this work on the computer, you can use the highlighting function to keep track of chapter divisions using different colors.)
  • If it helps you visualize the organization, cut your sections and staple, clip, or tape them together. (It can be pretty satisfying to clip pages together and see the pile of chapters grow!) If you have a good handle on the locations for moved material, go straight to the computer and move around copy to fit your preliminary chapter numbers. You’re filling in your blueprint now.
  • Next, go through this transformed draft one more time. Look for places where subheads are needed. Let loose here and allow your creative impulses to respond to your blueprint and organize material you’ve already written. You’ve created an organized picture to work with and you’ll likely find that ideas for chapter titles or subheads spontaneously come to you. The organization provides the creative brain a structure to work within.
  • Note material you can eventually turn into bulleted lists or summary points—write them up in rough form if that’s where the energy leads you.
  • Mark places where you can include quotes or stories. If particular ones from your rough draft seem to fit, cut and paste them into this draft. Or add notes about them or write a rough draft of the story.
  • Mark places that could use a special element, such as a graph, drawing, or photograph.
  • Finally, keep a running list of areas that call for additional information, facts, and ideas. Now’s the time to schedule research sessions and gather what you need to complete the book.

With each progressive stage of producing a second draft, your anxiety will gradually transform into excitement. Your filled-in and refined blueprint reminds you why you wanted to write this book in the first place and primes your creative pump. When you review what you have, you’ll feel more and more like you’re looking at a “real” book.


Once your second draft is finished, get your book edited by the folks at First Editing

[Picture of writer from Shutterstock.]


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