Writing the second draft

I’ve recently begun writing the second draft of my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock (title subject to change). It’s been an exhilarating experience, yet I can already think of several things I would like to change when I get around to writing the third draft. In particular, one of the protagonists doesn’t seem nearly as alive as the other one, although he apparently has a secret that he’s trying to keep from everyone else, so we’ll see how this goes.

For me, the second draft for longer works is always a bit hazy. With the first draft, I can pretty much do whatever I want, even (perhaps especially) if it makes no sense. The first draft let’s me play around the characters, the plot, the setting, and anything and everything else. Admittedly, the first draft can be hard because I don’t know my characters or plot as well as I’d like, but that’s why I give myself the freedom to do whatever the hell I want. I never show my first drafts to anyone anyway, so it’s never a problem if they suck.

With the third draft, I usually have a concrete idea of the characters, plot, and setting. Things can still change, of course, but while writing the third draft I rarely feel the need to strike out in a completely new direction, though I may make several minor changes along the way. The third draft is what I consider the “complete” draft, which basically means I stop rewriting the story and move onto the editing phase.

The second draft is very different from the first and third drafts. On one hand, I know the story a little bit better now than when I wrote the first draft. On the other hand, I give myself more freedom to experiment and try out new things than I would if it was the third draft. Sometimes the second draft looks absolutely nothing like the first draft or third draft, yet in my experience the second draft is every bit as important to my writing process as the first and third drafts are.

Let me use a metaphor to explain it a bit better:

Imagine the first draft is a young child. Children have not been in the world nearly long to have a concrete identity (though there are probably a few details that children are born with right away). They have their entire future ahead of them. They could be anything when they grow up. As a result, they have to make a lot of mistakes before they can find out who they really are.

The third draft is an adult. Although there are still things that can change, for the most part, adults have a better grasp of their own identity than they did as a child. They’re not perfect and can still grow in many ways, but it is unlikely they will undergo any major changes in their lives or personalities from this point forward.

But I skipped an important step in the writing process here: The second draft as a teenager.

Teenagers usually have a much more solid sense of identity than children do; however, they’re still a lot more awkward and confused than adults. They are at a crossroads in their lives. Many important decisions are made during this time, decisions that shape a teenager’s identity and future for good or for ill. The second draft is much the same, although it usually has fewer pimples and angst.

Thankfully, the second draft, like adolescence, doesn’t last forever. It is a necessary step in the writing process, one I can’t just skip, at least not without producing a shoddier story than if I’d written it instead.

And just like adolescence, the second draft can be pretty fun sometimes.