Starting a second draft before finishing the first one

by Wolfgang
(Germany, Europe)

Hi Glen,

This is Wolfgang from Germany. Great website you got here! I was lurking for quite a while now, perusing your writing advice. But now, I finally realized that I have a little problem...

I'm working on a novel: 26 chapters long, about 20 of whom are finished. Oh, they all need to be heavily edited and enlarged, but they're all very solid as far as feedback from my friends (probably because they can't write novels themselves) and envious "Ya don't wanna tell me that YOU wrote that yourself, do you?! Admit it already, you copied that from some other text, didn't you!?!" comments from certain circles (some of whom like to brag to everybody about how they habitually write important, beautiful and complex poems, but they always aggressively refuse to show them to anybody because they're supposedly "private" poems)goes.

That said, I'm still in my first draft. The final 2 chapters, a short epilogue (more because of theme and characterization than because the plot would actually require an epilogue)and several in-between chapters haven't even been started, although they have very detailed outlines. After all, I started this book as a pantser, which was one of the dumbest things I ever did: Because of not planning forehand, it literally took me YEARS before I even had a useful novel plot hammered out from the chaos of my creativity; The plot actually came into existence while I was writing the individual chapters, with all the problems you'd expect with this way of writing, including false starts, months-long blackouts because I lacked the "inspiration" to figure out how a particular chapter would continue (because I had no outline, the "plot" cristalized out while I was writing the chapters), meandering starts etc. But I'm an outliner now, and MUCH better for it.)

In any case, I have finished the far majority of my chapters. In fact, I'm feeling ready now to go to my second draft, and implement everything I learned during my amazing journey to this unfinished first draft: Re-ordering, expanding (and, in some cases, simplifying the novel's overall plot, adding/deleting/strengthening/re-defining characters, adding/re-defining/strengthening/simplifying subplots, expanding and re-writing the existing chapters and finally adding the missing chapters (and epilogue).

But I wonder. Can you do that? Can you simply stop writing an incomplete draft and just start over on the second draft to finally implement all those additions, subtractions and changes the first draft made clear are necessary, even though you haven't actually written out all chapters from the first draft yet?

Normally, I'd think: "Always finish your first draft before starting a revision. How do you expect to actually finish a book, if you can't even stick with a draft to its end?"

But by now, working on the first draft has become positively painful, it is so obsolete.

It feels, in fact, like I'm just wasting my time finishing this first draft when I KNOW that many of this draft's events and features have been proven faulty (or at least, they have long since been supplanted with far better replacements, no matter HOW much praise - and requests for the next chapter - or venomous "He CAN'T have come up with that stuff himself. He MUSTN'T. He MUST have copied it from something else." claims I get).

I feel that it would be best that I simply skip right to the re-writing work and create the missing chapters in the process of that second draft, instead of still working on that damn obsolete (if much-praised and much-envied) first draft.

Do I have to remain stuck on finished that damned first draft, or would it be indeed better simply to start on the second draft and implement all changes, improvements and additions right there? Especially since I now pretty much know where everything has to be placed?

Are there any good reasons for dumping the first draft unfinished and start right on the second draft? Or are there good reasons against dumping a first draft before it's even finished and working on an updated second draft even though you didn't even finish your first draft?

If so, what are those reasons? Can you advise me?


Answer: Oh, if only stories would come to us fully formed and perfect with all our best ideas present in the beginning. Unfortunately, it is our nature to keep coming up with better ideas over time -- or more often, we spot the flaws in our earlier drafts and keep having to fix them. So we keep writing new drafts.

Eventually this stops and we can say the book is finished, but it can take a long time.

So right now you're caught between a rock and a hard place. You have the desire to actually finish this draft you've been working on, perhaps for the satisfaction of finally writing "The End." At the same time you have already moved on in your ideas to another, much improved draft that is begging to be written.

There is a third option, of course. You could write the last six chapters as if they were the last six chapters of your new draft. Just assume you've already made the revisions to the earlier chapters.

Then go back and rewrite the earlier chapters to match the new ending. This will be easier, because you will know where the story is going. (Actually, you might revise your outline first, just to make sure your entire plot is consistent.)

But just to be clear...

You don't "have to" finish a draft you're already dissatisfied with. And it can be a tough slog if you're no longer passionate about it -- as well as a waste of time.

The only thing that counts for anything is the final draft -- the best draft, the one you will show the world. The sooner you get there, the better.

Best of luck.

Comments for Starting a second draft before finishing the first one

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Apr 15, 2016
by: Wolfgang

Hello Glen,

Thanks! This helps much. And an extra Thanks for your advice about simply writing the missed chapters as if the rest of the draft was already revised.

Yes. Sometimes, it seems, you just can't see the forest for all the trees.

"The only thing that counts for anything is the final draft -- the best draft, the one you will show the world. The sooner you get there, the better."

Oh, yes. True words...

Apr 26, 2016
starting second draft.
by: Anonymous

I just finished my first draft. The story is complete and as I like it. But parts are a little 'clunky' so a complete re-write of the chapters are necessary. I think it's necessary to have the story finished before a re-write so that the story can follow to its conclusion.

In my experience, re-writing before it's finished leads to inconsistencies and clunks.

Good luck and best wishes however you do it.

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