WRITING: Second Draft Devotion

Somewhat of a sequel to First Draft Shame, where I explored a writer’s hypothetical reaction to the horrors of a first draft, this takes that story to the next step: the second draft.

Now, in some cases, this process could apply to everything after the first draft, whether you’re writing two drafts or thirty-two drafts. For my current project, it’s a second draft that does the work of a third draft, as I’m working from a very limited time frame and must push it forward piece-by-piece, rather than top-down rewrites. Basically, what I’m talking about is second draft devotion – that time, driven either by deadline or divine inspiration, where the ultimate form of that script is all you can possibly think about.

The first draft, comparatively, is easy. It’s difficult, but you can soldier on, either from the tightly constructed outline or the rough shadows of one your brain carries, and ultimately deliver a draft, even if that draft isn’t the best thing ever written. Ignoring plot holes, character motivations and even page counts, a first draft can often bounce between flowing like the rains from heaven to a damned slog, but no matter what, its easy to keep the momentum going. Point A to B, even if the scenes aren’t necessarily written in that order.

Depending on how tight your planning was, how secure in your earlier vision you are, and how butchered the piece you’ve written is, work on the next draft can seem insignificant or insurmountable. Oftentimes, instead of an A->B race, it becomes a form of plastic surgery, drilling in new scenes, snipping and replacing lines of dialogue, moving scenes around to create the right pace. And while writing A->B is simple, it’s also easy to organise: keep moving forward, write everything you planned, and you’re golden. Going into subsequent drafts, the question becomes… “What don’t you like about yourself?” And, even more dangerously, what do others not like about you?

So you dip in here and fix a scene there, following notes, fixing SPAG. Unless you have a very strong set of edit notes, though, eventually it will become a little more difficult to figure out what and where you tweaked, and all of the repercussions of that tweak. Plot holes can be born out of scenes removed or edited, or plot points changed. Changing a red vase to blue in its first scene may not remind you adequately, for example, to change it in subsequent scenes. I haven’t seen many of these holes in professional-level work (as in, filmed television scripts), but I deeply am aware of them, and have seen them appear on many occasion.

Depending on your motivator, deadline or internal drive, drafts after the second can eat your life. Even when eating dinner with the family, attending class, watching TV, these drafts can haunt you because they are a minefield in which you can’t necessarily see all of the bombs. And, oddly enough, defusing one bomb can create another; the new scene that explains a key piece of exposition left out previously will inadvertantly set the timeline off balance, or a new, more pithy line could whitewash information available in the one being cut. Shifting scenes around for pacing can pull havoc on continuity, and the new guest you added to fill time puts the project overbudget. It’s a difficult fine line, now watching a complex web and keeping an eye on how every piece influences the others. And not just that, it lacks the unsubtle driving ahead that can, at a desperate stage in the project, push you forward. When you’re tired, its easier to push through and blunder forward than it is to perform a poetic and nimble dance, especially on a deadline.

For the first draft shame, I prescribed perspective. For second draft devotion… I could offer a solution, but the only real thing that can save you is the devotion itself, and funnelling that pressure into action. That, and a few things: get adequate sleep, give yourself occasional time off – because the time you waste could easily be offset by the increase in work speed – and don’t fall out of love with it. That last one is difficult to control, but put yourself in situations that remind you why this project drives you, controls you and compells you. Otherwise, it won’t, and you won’t have second draft devotion at all… or a second draft.

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