The Art of Crafting a Great Second Draft

As Hemingway once said: ‘The first draft of anything is shit’, and when I’m coaching other writers I always advise they give themselves permission to write badly first time round.

If you’re striving for perfection in your first draft and stop-starting to edit as you go it’s impossible for your ideas and creativity to flow.

Your first draft should be raw and rough around the edges and full of typos and grammatical errors and inconsistencies, as you focus on pouring the story on to the page.

But your second draft definitely shouldn’t.

Your second draft is where you start searching for the diamonds in the raw and sculpting your lumpy, clunky first draft into a far tighter, more polished story.

But how do you do this?

Here are my guidelines for crafting a great second draft…

Look at it with fresh eyes

Once you’ve finished your first draft, leave it for a while – at least a week, preferably more – so that when you do come back to it you’re looking at it with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what you spot when you’ve had a bit of time away. I can’t recommend this highly enough.


Print out a hard copy

When you’re ready to come back to it, print out a hard copy and sit down and read it through as if you were a reader who’s just picked it from a shelf. It’s amazing how much clearer you will see what’s working and what isn’t from reading a hard copy than from the screen.

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Make quick, hand-written notes

As you read your first draft through, highlight any issues in pen on the manuscript – but don’t spend too much time doing this. The key thing you need to do is read the story through in one or two sittings to be able to get a bird’s eye view of the whole thing.


Look for bigger picture issues

In this read-through you’re looking for the bigger picture issues rather than typos or grammatical errors. These issues can be broken down into the following three categories: PLOT, CHARACTERS and WRITING STYLE…



Use the following questions as a checklist for your plot…

  • Where does it sag?
  • What could be cut?
  • Does the dramatic tension build throughout
  • Is the dramatic climax at the end? (Your most exciting moment should not be happening in Chapter 3. The everything that follows will be an anti-climax)
  • Is everything resolved at the end? Make sure there are no strands or subplots left unresolved



  • Which characters aren’t fully formed?
  • Are any characters inconsistent?
  • Who’s voice isn’t distinct?
  • Which relationships between your characters aren’t quite working?
  • Is any of the dialogue unrealistic?


Writing Style

  • Is your description vivid enough
  • Do you use all of the senses ie; smell and sound as well as sight?
  • Are any parts over-written? Time to kill your darlings.
  • Have you chosen the best, most-telling details in your description of place?
  • Is the author voice consistent?


I hope this helps and happy second drafting!



You can find more advice on writing and rewriting in my book Dare to Write a Novel.

Find out more here.

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