What they don’t tell you about the Second Draft

I belong to a few Facebook writing groups, and I have been part of a few writers workshops and other in-person groups. In college, I took creative writing courses and have a number of friends who are award winning authors, yadda yadda yadda. One of the hard things to get past is the level of experience in these groups.

90% of people in college writing courses or online writers groups are people who have only begun their journey into the wonderful and maddening world or writing. Most of them will not continue past their first story. The rest are probably some percentage of people who have dabbled in getting published, written a vanity project, or bound a memoir together for their closest two dozen family members–maybe two or three of which have actually read the book.

The top 1% might actually get published. Another 2% will probably do what I’ve done and flirted with professional recognition for decades (with a handful of publishing credits). Somehow the stories I send out usually don’t make the cut. While you watch people-who-know-people climb the ranks and sell some treatment to Amazon or Netflix or Ridley Scott buys their IP and they buy a sailboat and post their Stories on Instagram, giving half a shit as to whether or not their world or characters were treated respectfully.

Damn, it would be cool to sell out.

I’ve noticed something about being in the 2%. These groups are frustrating as hell, because most of the people in these groups hear that you have been published or that you have written a first draft and they are in awe of it. A first draft is quite the accomplishment! they might say. Which it is. But a first draft is also complete and total garbage. Congratulating someone on a first draft feels like whenever someone grits their teeth and says “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

When someone is timid about submitting a story to a magazine, it is endearing, but hardly the barrier to overcome you once thought it was ten years and a hundred rejection letters later. I’ve heard of people saving their rejection letters. Sure, I guess. Sorta like using constructive criticism in a job interview you didn’t land for the next interview at a completely different company that doesn’t want the same thing.

I look at my first draft and I see what the hazmat crews see when they open up the front door to a hoarder’s house. Most of it is unnecessary. A lot of it is broken and just needs to be chucked. And all of it reeks. Don’t be surprised if you find some dead cats and black mold.

A first draft might be an amazing accomplishment, but it’s a lot like finishing a video game only to realize that you just went through the tutorial to show you how to use the controls. The rest of the game is starting now and all of those powers and controls you got have to be earned back again as you level up.

I’m not enthusiastic about my second draft, because it feels a little like polishing a turd. Then the third draft will be mercilessly cutting scenes and chapters and rewrites just to make sure it isn’t a giant mess of garbage. It’s crazymaking because you cut stuff that once held significance, only to realize that A) nobody but you will care, B) You probably could have avoided putting it in in the first place and saved yourself a lot of effort. C) If you bang your head against your desk, it still counts as writing.

I really…just…want…to quit right now.

So, right now I’m going to work on some edits. And then write some more copy for money. As much as I might complain, the edits will be more fulfilling.