Step One: Wait
If you haven’t done so already, you should hold off on starting your second draft once you finish your first one. Starting right away can make you tired of your story and you may have trouble seeing issues.
I can’t tell you how long you should wait since the “right time” differs by person, but I would put one week as a minimum. Some people wait several weeks or even months. Many writers will work on another project during this time to get their mind on other things.
Distancing yourself from your first draft is important because when you go back to it for major revisions, you want a fresh mind and you want to forget some of the details. You want to pretend that you didn’t write whatever you’re reading. It helps with making critiques.
Step Two: Read Through
Read through your first draft when you’re ready to start your second. Many people highly recommend printing out your manuscript because editing on paper allows more freedom and it seems more “foreign” than the digital version. However, this can be daunting for some people.
This is a quick read. Do not sit down and look over every single detail.
While you are reading, do the following:
- Outline: Make an outline while you are reading. You can do this by scene, by chapter, by plot point, as a synopsis, whatever. This will help you with organization. You should also include a timeline and details such as when important information is revealed, who knows what and when, when characters are introduced, and other details. To start with your outline, it can be helpful to write a summary of each chapter after you read it. After you’ve read and created an outline, rewrite the outline into something more coherent. Don’t be afraid to change it.
- Big Picture Comments: Go into your second draft thinking of the big things. Make comments on the plot (any plot holes? does it make sense? can it be stronger? should some things happen earlier? do you need to foreshadow?) and on characters (are they flat? is characterization consistent? do you want them in that scenes?). Think about the order of scenes. Think about combining scenes. Think about omitting scenes. Think about changing large parts of the plot or taking out characters.
- Small Errors: IGNORE small errors like grammar mistakes, punctuation mistakes, and misspellings. Ignore too-big paragraphs or awkward sentences. There is absolutely no point in fixing these when you’re just going to rewrite the whole thing.
- Important Details: If you find plot holes, if you want to change a character motive, if you want to change world building details, or if you want to change/fix/omit anything else that is not major but still important, make a note about it.
- Impromptu Decisions: If you came up with something as you were writing your first draft and you just stuck it in, take notes on how you can revise your manuscript to include that thing. For example, if you created a plot twist, you might want to foreshadow it in your second draft.
Step Three: Writing
Your second draft gets its own document. Do not just go into your first draft and change things. Rewrite the whole thing. Do not go directly off the first draft. You can reuse things you like, but try to start from scratch if you know your story needs massive revisions.
When you begin writing, schedule and plan ahead. Plan to do one scene or one chapter at a time. Pay attention to these sections. Write them with care. Your first draft was directionless, but this time paying careful attention to details and to prose will help you. Focus on one thing at a time. Take notes as you go along.
Unlike the first draft, you can go back and edit this one as you go along. Once you finish a section, you should reread it and take more notes or make changes. However, it does not need to be perfect. Also: always keep track of the changes you make in plot and characterization.
Step Four: Break #2
Take more breaks when rewriting. This could be after every chapter, or 1/3 through, or 1/2 through. Taking a break while writing will give you more distance, more time to think, and it will give you a fresher mind when you return. If you power through the whole thing, you might start to get tired of rewriting, thus leading you to slack off at the end.
Step Five: Major Revision
The second draft is a major revision. Some writers end up writing a second draft that barely resembles the first draft. Do not confine yourself to the first draft. Anything can change. Do not be afraid to deviate.