The answer should be obvious, right? Logically the third draft comes next. I wish it were that simple. Here are four things I learned from finishing my second draft, what I did to the story, and what I’m going to do next.
But first let me congratulate myself on finishing the second draft. Yay! Here’s a realistic account of how it felt to finish it:
“Okay,” I said as I came to the end of the last chapter. I typed the final word: ready.
“I did it.”
It felt normal, kind of mundane, yet earned from all the hard work I did. I stared past my computer at my bookshelf for a moment, waiting for the surge of celebration to hit me. It kind of did after I typed THE END, but nothing dramatic like the urgent text I sent to my partner the first time I completed my story.
And while my reaction was underwhelming, it makes sense. There will only be one first time to finish a story. Did I want something more? Yes, but I’m nothing if not a realist.
When you’re in the thick of it, writing feels slow, like the draft will never be over. But it does end. The closer I got to the end the more motivated I felt, but I was also inexplicably nervous. What do I work on when the draft is done? What is my purpose? Who am I? Kidding, but it felt something like that.
Writing takes the time it needs to, and I’m glad I spent the time I needed to write my story.
It's so funny, the fact that I didn’t understand how much work I had to do after finishing the first draft. I thought the story was “pretty good” and the word count wouldn’t change much. Here’s what I actually did during the second draft.
After reading through the first draft, I restructured my outline to fix plotholes and add subplots. I boiled down each chapter to its main event and asked myself 1) if it belonged where it was, and 2) if it was supported by the events that came before and after. New chapters sprang from old ones, filling in gaps and adding complexity. I improved vague descriptions. I honed in on my main characters’ voices and tried harder to make them unique. I worked on cutting back the drama and making emotional beats count. I cut the epilogue!
This brings me to lesson 4.
How much exactly has it changed? Draft two is over 15,000 words longer than the first!
And I’ll let you in on a little secret — a thank you for making it this far… I’m still working on the second draft. Technically I’m doing a “readability” pass. This means I’m fixing places where I left brackets for myself to fix later. That time is now. Once I’m done with this pass, I’ll let the draft sit in a dark room for a month.
But what comes after that? Is it finally time to give my story to beta readers??
Beta reader [ˈbeɪ.t̬ə ˈrē-dər] n.
1: someone who reads unpublished work with a critical eye to give feedback to the author of the work, usually with the intent of publication
In December I’ll give my draft to two or three people — dare I say, beta readers? Technically, I’ve already had an alpha reader, so there's nothing left to call them, right?
I sense the Imposter Bat. Who is the Imposter Bat? I’m glad you asked.
Friends, the Imposter Bat is the figurative demon on your shoulder, which right now is manifesting as Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Bat: “You’re not ready for betas because your work isn’t good enough. You’re not a real author.”
No, Imposter Bat! My work is good! And I’m ready for help. After this second draft, I can’t think of anything else to do with the plot to make it better, so I need other readers to help me see.
Truthfully, now that I’ve typed THE END, I’m impatient. I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen, and I’m restless because I can’t do anything to it for a while. This rest period will be helpful for me, but that means I can’t work on it. I hope I’ll be distracted enough with a new project in November to forget about how antsy I am to finish this one.
And finally I’d like to offer some encouragement for those writing any draft and feeling like they can’t finish it. A story is written in hours, not words. Hours of sitting and thinking and plotting and starting over. As long as you’re showing up to the page, the words will come.
We at JUVEN wish you the best of luck, and happy writing.
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.