Writing Beyond the First Draft
When I was a teenager, I didn’t know anyone else who wanted to write. I felt lonely and different, sitting in my bedroom, tapping out novels on my manual typewriter, while other teenage girls I knew spent their weekends hanging out in each other’s houses, talking about music and boys. I grew up in the North of England in a working class steel town where most kids saw me as fairly bizarre. The experience was profound, because without it, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to create communities for artistic kids. I wouldn’t have known how important it was that such places existed.
But there is danger in thinking you are the only one. I didn’t know anyone else who wanted to be writers, so I assumed there could not be very many of us out there. As a result, my first-draft manuscript felt like something rare and special. I’d written a novel. If no one else I knew was doing this, then it had to be a thing of value, right? Measured against nothing, it had to be good. So I packaged it off to publishers, expecting they would all fight to take it on. And the rejections poured in.
Even despite the disappointment, it took me a long time to truly learn that a first draft manuscript is something only the writer should see. For most writers, the same is likely true of a second and third draft. Then comes the version that is as good as the writer thinks they can make it without help. Is it ready for a publisher now? Absolutely not. It’s ready to be seen by a tight circle of readers and writers who understand what good writing looks like, and can be honest enough to tell you where the manuscript is lacking. It’s important for all writers to have that community, something I did learn at fifteen, though back then I was thinking of emotional health, not critiquing support.
I guess it’s different for all writers, but for me, two or three more drafts usually follow the one I show to my online circle of writer-friends. Then, finally, the book might be ready to send out.
If there’s anything I would say now to my fifteen year old self, tapping away at that first draft and thinking the world might be holding its breath to see it, it’s that there are likely hundreds of thousands of people in the world doing exactly the same thing. Writing a novel. And I’m guessing a good half finish their first draft. But unless you are a true genius (and so few of us are) then the first draft is just the beginning. The second draft is where the real work begins. And only a critical eye and the willingness to sacrifice every one of your favourite sentences for the sake of creating the best possible book… only that will lead to a manuscript worth a publisher’s time.