Secret Weapons of the Prose Ninjas #1

When I was but a wee sprat of a college undergrad, back in the day of stone knives and bearskins, I discovered a secret weapon.

The second draft.

When everyone around you is carving their essays directly into imperishable marble, taking the time to scrawl a preliminary version into the mud of the riverbank can save you from making a lot of embarrassing mistakes.  As I soon discovered, it can do even better for you than that.

Because the second draft is where the revision process begins.

Some writers hate doing revisions.  For them, the rush and the glory and the excitement are in the telling of the story, and once it’s told, going back and working on it in bits and pieces feels at best like necessary drudgery.  Other writers — and I’m one of them — enjoy revision.  There’s pleasure and satisfaction to be found in taking the rough mass of your finished story and doing the shaping and tweaking and cutting and expanding that will make it into something truly good and effective.

The other noteworthy thing about second drafts is that they let you postpone some stuff.  If you’re the sort of writer who can be thrown out of your own story for thirty minutes just by trying to think of the most appropriate name for a minor character with only a few paragraphs of page time, you can designate him or her as [SpearCarrier#2] in your first draft and keep on running for daylight.  If you know that your first-draft self has an excessive reliance on adverbs or semicolons or the passive voice — or any of a myriad other compositional twitches — you don’t need to worry about them while you’re putting all your energy into getting the story done.  Later, you can go back and terminate them with extreme prejudice.  If you can’t spot them yourself (and a lot of writers can’t, when they’re first starting out), then a good second reader will.

It doesn’t matter which kind of writer you are — if you’re serious about the craft, then second and third drafts are going to be part of your life.  If you can’t learn to love the revision process, you’ll have to at least learn to tolerate it.

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