I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Something More Than Night. I’ve just begun what will be, I think, the final scene. I’m very pleased. So now I’m at that phase where I look ahead to the second draft and think: ugh.
This book is very different from my other novels, not only in terms of story, characters, and world, but also in terms of how I’ve approached the writing. I outlined this one just as much as the others—the 4′ x 3′ corkboard in my office is completely covered with notecards—and yet this book lent itself to far more improvisation and in-the-moment reinvention along the way. Which sounds strange, when I hear myself say it, because I hewed more closely to the outline for this book than I did to any of the original outlines for the Milkweed books.
But the rewriting for this second draft will have a different focus, a different goal, than it did on any of the Milkweed books.
When I embark on the second draft of a completed novel manuscript, I like to print the entire thing on one-sided paper and stick the whole mess into a (very thick) binder. Then I spend about a month, slowly reading over it with a pen in hand. It’s weird, I know. But for some reason my eyes gloss right over typographical errors on the screen. (As anybody who has ever read this blog can attest.)
This approach isn’t very fast. It’s a luxury I might not be able to indulge if I were writing more than one book per year. (A worry for some very far-off, very hypothetical day.) I’ve always said I’m a better rewriter than writer; this weird and cumbersome stage of the process inevitably conures major improvements to the manuscript. I’d loathe to submit a manuscript to my editor that hadn’t first been subjected to the savagery of my own red pen.
First and foremost, I read with an eye toward cleaning/clarifying/improving the prose. Probably every writer has a tendency to constantly mentally rewrite everything they read. It’s almost impossible not to do it. And it can be very gratifying to watch the manuscript improve so steadily just at the sentence level.
Beyond low-level craft issues, though, I’m always reading with an eye toward the big picture: the plot, the characters, the worldbuilding, etc. Does the magic system make sense? Are the rules of the world consistent? Is this thing in chapter 64 sufficiently foreshadowed in chapter 3? And so forth. (By this point I’ve usually run the entire thing past beta readers, so I also have all of their comments and suggestions in mind while I read.)
And that’s where this book differs from the others. With the Milkweed books, I had the rules of the world more-or-less figured out when I started. (Not entirely—there were revisions, revelations, and course corrections along the way. That’s inevitable. At least for me.) But for this project, I allowed myself far more room for improvisation while writing the first draft. And this approach was much more fun! By the end of this draft, I think I reached a pretty solid understanding of how the world works. But now the trick is to go back and make certain that the rules of the world as depicted on page 1 are the same rules as depicted on page 400.
The other fun thing about this stage is that it’s also the point where I discover, in my idle moments, that my backbrain has already spent a fair bit of time chewing over ideas for the next project without telling me what it was up to.