Twelve years of participating in National Novel Writing Month have left me with a sizeable collection of first drafts for novels. I’ve attempted to edit some of them before; a few of my Camp NaNoWriMo projects have involved full rewrites. But today, I finally hit a writing milestone and finished a novel’s second draft!
Last year was when I finally cracked getting into the habit of writing outside of NaNoWriMo. Basically, I told myself to do some writing every day, without putting on any pressure as to how much it needed to be, even if it was just a few sentences. My hope was that I would gradually build momentum – and ultimately, it worked. Writing has become a daily habit now, and subsequently getting into the habit of doing some in both the morning and the evening has increased productivity further.
The novel I was editing was my Camp NaNoWriMo 2012 project, The Approach to the New World. I started out just reading through the first draft, picking out things that needed improvement, and trying to address them one by one. Then, after reading Save The Cat Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody, I reworked the plotlines of the three main characters, based on the Save The Cat perspective of a character arc being driven by the character pursuing what they want and ultimately discovering what they need; I was able to create new, more satisfactory outlines for each of the three plotlines this way. Later, I read another book on writing advice: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr. This book offers another perspective on character arcs: each protagonist has an incorrect psychological model of the world based on past experience, and goes on a journey to correct it. I tried incorporating this into my character profiles as well.
I went into January determined to keep writing on most days, keeping a log of what I worked on and how many words I produced each day. However, I ended up going back and forth between projects based on what I felt like doing each day: sometimes I’d work on the second draft, sometimes I’d fill in gaps in my NaNoWriMo 2020 story, sometimes I’d do something entirely different. This wasn’t the way to get my second draft finished, so I laid out a plan: no more jumping back and forth – work through the first plotline in a linear direction, then the second, then the third, based on the outlining I had already done. It worked: I stayed focussed on the second draft from then on.
The finished second draft is 75,915 words, making it 39% longer than the first draft. This is mainly because there are a lot of extra conversations between characters, or entirely new scenes, to flesh the characters out and make their development clearer. Significant changes include two of the three main characters having their backstories reworked to fit their arcs better; a character who lives in the first draft, dying in the second (sorry, Elizabeth); a side character being given more to do, while another is reduced to having just one scene; and characters from two separate plotlines getting to meet each other when they hadn’t in the first draft. The whole thing definitely isn’t fit to be shared yet, and there will probably be more reworking to come; but I take a lot of satisfaction in knowing that it is a significant improvement on the first draft, which was itself one of my favourite NaNo projects. It’s also taken several months to accomplish, but then, my practice run before my first ever NaNoWriMo took four months to finish; hopefully with practice I can get faster at this, too.
My hope was to finish the second draft in time for Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I haven’t quite managed that, and being focussed as I was on this project, I don’t have much more than a basic outline for Camp. But now I’m ready to put the second draft aside and focus on something new for the rest of April. After that, I want to try writing some short stories that I can produce more quickly and share with others to get some feedback. And then at some point, I’ll re-read my second draft, and based on that, get to work on the third one!