Second Draft Checklist

After you finish the first draft of a novel and take a break from it, what next? I’m currently dealing with this very question. Here’s my to-do list for the second draft of THE RIVER’S EDGE:

First:  select your entire first draft, copy it, and paste it into a new document. Label the new document as “Title—1st draft.” Then go back to your original document (which is still labeled as just “Title”), and start making changes. Eventually this will be your second draft, and you’ll repeat the process for your third draft, fourth draft, etc. 

Why save each draft in its entirety? Because you want to feel completely free to hack that draft to pieces—delete everything that doesn’t work. But if you delete something and later want it back, you’ll need that first draft to refer to.

Some authors just have a file for “deleted scenes,” so they copy and paste into that file. I decided against that cause I didn’t want to move scenes in the middle of revisions. Plus, I like to compare the drafts to see how things change (word count, chapters, plotting, etc). 

Second:  I’m trying to decide the best way to do my revision notes. For EOL, I just used the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word to leave comments for myself in the margins, and I’ll probably still do that for the little details of editing. But I’d like to try something new, something to show “the big picture” problems and issues.

I like this idea by author Caitlin Kittredge:  she used one color of notecard to represent existing chapters, a second color to represent changes to those chapters, and a third color for brand new chapters. Then she put all the notecards in one place, which gives new meaning to “the big picture.”

Some authors (Rachel Vincent and Devon Monk come immediately to my mind) use digital Post-It Notes to outline, and I’m sure it could be used for revisions as well. I think I’ll try non-digital Post-It notes; you know, the old-fashioned kind you can stick all over the house. But in this case, I’ll try to contain the notes to my office wall. I could start with a note for each chapter, and then branch out from there if I need to. 

Third:  when I reread my first draft, what am I looking for? I want to make sure every scene of every chapter is necessary. I’m not going to waste my time editing/polishing something that I’ll just delete later on. I’m also checking if I have a fast pace throughout. Did I save the backstory until later chapters and avoid big info-dumps? 

Second drafts aren’t all about deleting; sometimes I need to add parts. I know the book’s ending became sparse when I was in a hurry to finish. Several scenes need more details of the five-senses variety. What about the characters—are they realistic? I need to flesh out my secondary characters more and avoid any sidekick cliches. Sometimes I get so focused on my main characters, I forget to round out my secondary ones. 

Fourth:  What should I research further? This tends to be the most time-consuming part of my second drafts. Even the smallest details have to be confirmed (with multiple sources, if possible). Research could be anything from Googling to reading books to interviewing professionals. And yes, I do plan to interview someone later in May.

Undoubtedly, I’ll end up making little changes as I go along (grammar, mechanics, word choice, etc). But I’ll do my best to save those edits for the third draft, so I can approach it with a different mindset—small details instead of big pictures.

So, what am I forgetting? What other steps do I need for the second draft process? Any tricks or ideas you’d like to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have a great week, everyone!


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