Rewrites and Second Drafts: A Necessary Evil.

Greetings, SE’ers! Beem Weeks here with you again. Today, I’d like to talk about rewrites and second drafts.

Side view of Authoress using typewriting

Some writers have all the skills needed to nail their story on the first run. Others may require a second draft—or even a third. I’m a firm believer in the second draft. This doesn’t necessarily mean a complete deconstruction of your manuscript, mind you. It simply means fine-tuning your story. I usually do this after putting the finished story away for a period, then, after I’ve cleared the tale and all its characters from my mind, I approach it with fresh eyes.

During the reading process is where I’ll find bumps in the rug that cause me to stumble. Perhaps there’s a character that needs to be softened if he or she is to be likeable or deserving of a reader’s sympathy. Or maybe a character is too soft, to the point of being a doormat. In that case, it’s a good time to toughen her up and give the woman a chip on her shoulder.

Second drafts are great for fixing plot holes you may have missed while hurriedly evicting the story from your mind to the page. If these inconsistencies are glaring, they will be obvious to your readers.

Example: We first meet Jimmy in chapter three, where we learn a serious auto accident left the boy with a pronounced limp that kept him from ever playing sports in high school. Then, in chapter twelve, he’s on the basketball court showing off mad skills in order to impress the cute girl who just wandered into the gymnasium.

A parameter that had been established for Jimmy has suddenly been abandoned. The second draft is a fine time to fix this major flaw within that scene without disassembling the path that brought us to this point.

Man looking up and holding notepad while sitting on carpet

A rewrite can help an author spot the problem of head hopping. I see this in my day job as an editor. Some writers lack an understanding of POV. Even those who fully grasp it might find the odd slip-up in the middle of chapter seven. That scene may require a rewrite.

A story, when read as a completed manuscript, may reveal problems within your dialogue. Perhaps there are two characters that, in your head, have uniquely distinct voices. But as you read from the page, those voices may be indistinguishable one from the other. This is a great opportunity to refine one (or both) of those voices by adding a stutter or an accent wherever this character speaks.

Beta readers are wonderful assets we writers can utilize. A second, third, or fourth pair of eyes will usually find most trouble spots in a manuscript. But it should fall upon the author to fix those areas—and to learn while making those repairs. It’s how we grow in this craft.

Many an author has lamented their earliest works. “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have been so eager to publish my first novel.” Once it’s out there, it’s the thing that represents you as a writer, as a storyteller—warts and all. Be patient. Take your time. We’re writers, after all, not sprinters.

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89 thoughts on “Rewrites and Second Drafts: A Necessary Evil.

  1. I admire the conclusion here Beem we are writers not sprinters who act as if we have a medal awaiting our quickness. I believe in the second draft too because that one will allow you as you proofread to spot the errors such as characters who don’t belong or wrong use of a metaphor in the middle of a sentence🤔. Great topic again

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  4. I can so relate to this article. I was always in a rush to finish my draft and post it the same night when i’m done with rough draft. At times I just want to get in write on the first try. I’ll usually finish the draft then reread it and make revisions. Then make more revisions when after I post it. Thank you for making me laugh with the last line.

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  6. Lol Beem, you have become so much more attractive in your picture. Love the Braces. But seriously; rewrites, no matter your ability and focus; are necessary. For the likes of me, one that just wishes the essence of the tale on paper; they are essential. I need six to eight rewrites to refine and perfect a tale (something I do rarely). A break and another couple of rewrites for it to become (complete) what I desire. But then we all get to know over the years what we must do. Good Article. Thank You.

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    • I am in agreement with you, Ray! I am so much more attractive in my pic! 🤣 Rewrites are certainly necessary. It’s the best way to shape a story and smooth out the rough edges. Some may get the results they seek in a single rewrite, while others achieve it after the tenth. Whatever it takes. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. Beem – good stuff here and i esp like the part about not being sprinters
    – there might be times when we sprint during creative writing or while quickly hitting down an idea / but editing is finesse work that needs to be handled with care

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  9. Excellent post, Beem! I’m rereading and editing a first draft right now. After waiting a couple of weeks, I see what I hadn’t noticed before. It’s amazing the little (sometimes major) things we miss. Your post is both a challenge and a comfort, because it helps us see that we writers are more alike than different. Thank you!

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  10. Great post, Beem! Editing is so crucial. I’ve done countless rewrites and revisions before on a single book. Whatever it takes! There should be no rush when you want it done correctly. Thanks for sharing!!

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  11. Love that last line, Beem! 😁

    I’m another author who constantly edits as I write, but even then, I do several passes over the full ms when I’m finished. The final one always happens after I’ve let the book rest for a while. I find one of the things I can easily overlook is mixing up character names when I’m rushing to get the scene from my head to the page.

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    • Ooh! I just knew there’d be another weirdo out there who enjoys revision. At least I’m not alone. It’s one of those things that writers either love or hate. I enjoy it as well. It helps me to sand the rough edges into a smooth story! Thanks for adding to the conversation, Liz.

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      • You’re welcome, Breem. Somehow, I couldn’t seem to convince most students that revision was a normal of the writing process, even though I required three drafts: 1st, revised, and edited. Ah,well, some of them got it at least.

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  12. Excellent post, Beem. I tend to edit as I go, but it doesn’t mean I don’t need the second draft review. I use critique partners as well, and they have been beneficial noticing things I glazed over. No matter how many times you review, edit, reread, you will always find something you want to change. As writers we want our work to be perfect, but need to remember if we use our resources wisely, and do a professional edit, we will put out a great product. We also need to realize we won’t please everyone and take their critiques and criticisms with a grain of salt and learn from them.

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    • It sounds like you’ve got a system that works well for you, Michele. I agree with your point on wanting to be perfect in our writing. I am that way. It’s probably why I take so long on each project. Thanks for stopping by.

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  13. Good advice and post, Beem. I am tidying up some earlier work. We learn so much as we go. It is very helpful to let work sit and approach it with fresh eyes. Beta readers are invaluable to cstching things we might miss.

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    • We do indeed learn as we go, Denise. Beta readers are great for spotting things we have missed–and they are useful in letting us know if something just doesn’t work. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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  14. Great tips, Beem. Like a few other authors here, I edit as I go. But that doesn’t free me from having to do a structural rewrite with some major changes once the first draft is done. I follow my own editing methodology that requires about ten formal passes, each one looking for specific areas of craft, but there will be scenes and passages that plague me no end. and I might revisit those thirty times (no exaggeration), tweaking with each pass. And you’re sooo right about having other eyes look at our work. Even after 30 passes, I’m still blind to some errors. It’s baffling! Great post and a fun discussion in the comments.

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  15. I love that last line, Beem, “We’re writers, not sprinters.” I think patience is the hardest to find with the first book. We want so badly just to get it out there and off our plates. But your advice is spot on. As a result of sprinting, I had to pull down my first book and tweak it. I had fallen prey to head-hopping in a big way, and it was in a review from Harmony that it came to light. Thank you for that, Harmony! I love the idea of letting the manuscript rest, then reading with new eyes. There is no better way to approach that second draft. Thank you for sharing. Great reminders!

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    • That whole idea of just getting our stories out there is such a driving force, Jan. We all fall prey to that urge. Patience is certainly at a premium for us writers. It’s a learned trait, I believe–in writing and life. But if we are patient, we’re likely to release our best. Thanks for sharing your own experiences.

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  16. Like Staci, I edit as I go but still do several passes on a story – even before I send it to my critique partners. And no matter how polished I think I have something, they always find ways to improve a story.

    Great post, Beem.

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    • I’m the same way, Joan. I do numerous passes on all of my stories. Once my editor gets it, it’s usually pretty clean. But even then, he’ll find a few things could use a tweak or two. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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  17. Excellent advice, Beem! Like Staci, I edit as I go along and then do full length trawls. Your idea of putting the manuscript away so that you can see it with fresh eyes is something I go through at least three times – and every time it throws up something that needs dealing with. I love your ‘bumps in the rug’ analogy and your advice at the end is perfect! Hugs

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  18. I’m constantly editing as I go, and I still do multiple passes of my WIP after I finish the first draft. Letting it sit for a fresh review is a fabulous idea. So are critique partners. And what you said about not rushing that first (or any) work to publication should be in neon letters. I seldom mention my first published novel because the publisher released the work without giving me galleys to proof. (Well, that was one of many problems in the process.) The work suffers from a lack of post-writing attention. It’s not a piece I’m proud of. Excellent post, Beem.

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  19. I’m on my third draft of my current WIP. And I’m still finding problems.
    I needed to do some foreshadowing so a later scene doesn’t come out of the blue, but somehow it doesn’t fit easily. That needs sorting. And I’m still finding typos and ways I can improve the writing!
    Thanks for the encouragement.

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  21. Haha, Beem, your last line made me laugh. I am the same when I write a novel as I am when I tour, I am always trailing behind, examining the countryside and surroundings and wondering what else is out there. Thanks for these important tips. I usually edit up to six times, but I am fairly new on the block.

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