Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – Part 26: One More Time – Second Draft

Welcome back! Over the next several more months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month twenty-six:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 26: One More Time – Second Draft

You’ve just accomplished something that few people ever do. You’ve finished the First Draft of your novel. You’ve written it down on paper, or it’s on your computer, or floating around on The Cloud somewhere. I hope you treated yourself to a wonderful celebration.

I also hope you’ve completed that celebration, because the Second Draft looms large.

In my experience, the Second Draft is always easier than the First Draft; however, I’ve also found that each Second Draft turns out to be more difficult than I thought it would be.

Here’s why. When I complete the First Draft, I envision my novel as an amazing work of literature. I’m at the top of my form. I can hear the critics’ applause. Then I begin the Second Draft. The first chapter usually goes very well. Second, not quite so well. By the end of the third chapter, I’m winded. In the fourth, I’m horrified. This novel is NOT amazing. It’s not even CLOSE to amazing. Oh, rats, oh rubbish. The critics will boo and hiss. Oh my poor, poor readers — I’ve let them down eternally. *Sigh* *Whimper*

You get the picture. It’s not the rewriting that’s so tough. It’s the discouragement. I’m not perfect, and, far worse, neither is my novel.

I wallow in self-pity for an hour or two. Then I raid the cupboards for something fattening, and I eat it.





Then I decide that none of that has helped my ego or the novel, so I do the brave thing. I go back and attack the Second Draft not as the wimp that I am, but as the warrior I intend to become, which means I don’t do the easy stuff. I don’t worry about typos, spelling, or even research. Second Draft is all about “major repairs.” I concentrate on two  areas — point-of-view-character development and plotline. I work chapter by chapter, and, within each chapter, I work scene by scene.

I ask myself these two questions:

1. Does this chapter or scene advance my plot onward and upward toward that far off eventual climax? If not, I chart out a quick outline of what I need to do to make the plot work.

2. Do my characters’ actions illustrate what the reader will eventually discover about those characters regarding their motivations,  emotional baggage, needs, and abilities?

Then I rewrite the scene or the chapter.

Over the years, I’ve adopted a “Second Draft coping mechanism.” During Second Draft, I seldom skip backwards within the novel to make minor changes in earlier chapters simply because in Chapter Forty-Seven or Chapter Sixty-Two I decided to add some odd little quirk. I leave myself a note within the manuscript. For example, [“Sue, go back and give Jorn unusually large hands.”] I do the same thing with areas that need more research. [“Sue, look up Eastern European elm trees — shape of leaves.”]

I’ve found that if I go backwards in the manuscript during the Second Draft to make minor changes, I tend to get caught in a loop, and I keep rewriting the same few chapters over and over again, because it’s easier than going on with the remainder of the novel to address plotline failures and weak characterization.

Yes, as I write the Second Draft, I’ll rearrange my words, shorten or lengthen descriptive passages, and sometimes throw in new scenes or new minor characters. Sometimes even a whole new chapter. Nonetheless, in my novels, Second Draft is all about admitting and correcting imperfections on the “big screen” of plot and characterization.

Question for you: Do you write your first draft by hand, record it as an “audible,” or do you work on a typewriter or  a computer? (There’s no wrong answer on this. Every writer should do what is comfortable for him or her. I’m just curious.)

Strength to your pen!


*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back April 23, 2015, for part 27.


7 responses to “Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – Part 26: One More Time – Second Draft

  1. I tend to scribble bits of the first draft in a note book, then get on the computer and do what I call the real first draft. The second revision is hard but by then you have the whole picture so it is easier to fill in the holes and delete unnecessary parts. Then there is the third draft and fourth…….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was chuckling after I read your comment, Darlene. Yes, the drafts continue…. I never truly finish writing a novel. There’s always something more I will see or think of after it’s in print. Which is why I usually don’t reread my published books!! I’m a note scribbler, too. I always have a drift of notes on my desk for my current manuscript. I think it’s a healthy habit!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice! I tend to get bogged in details. I write my First Draft in a similar way to Ms. Foster. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Most of my work is now done by computer, but I sometimes make notes when something strikes me and I’m not near a computer. I do know one author who writes her complete first draft out by hand. I believe that would take me forever.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever written a draft without going back and changing things. It’s just too tempting for me, although I suspect it slows the process down a great deal.

    As for the discouragement you described, so many of us struggle with that.

    As usual I enjoyed your post, Sue!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, Laura. I can’t imagine writing a book by hand, although the first “novelette” I ever wrote (and threw away!) I wrote by hand. Carpel tunnel pain is too intense now for me to write much by hand — even letters!


I look forward to reading your greatly appreciated comments. Thanks for making my day! :)

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