The next few months I’ve dedicated to finishing the book I’ve been working on for nearly two years. Inspired by Joe’s latest post, I’ve made the commitment to revise the second draft of my book. Book editing is hard—but if I don't sit down and do it, I'll never finish my book. (If you have a project you’ve been neglecting for too long, you have to read this.)

Book Editing: How to Survive Your Second Draft

I’ve had the first draft of this book done for a year. We all know the first draft is for writing everything and anything, spewing every thought and word onto the page just to create something, anything. And something is exactly what I have.

I believe, though, the second draft is the hardest. Actually, it's the worst. All the content of your book is sitting right in front of you like a huge slab of marble mined from your imagination, and you're expected to take the formless hunk and turn it into Michelangelo's David.

Your book is written. It's just waiting for you to turn it into a masterpiece.

5 Tips for Surviving Your Second Draft

In the last year, I've written three books and the second draft has gotten me to cry every time. It's honestly just really hard.

In finishing the second draft of three books and as I'm embarking on finishing this next one this fall, I've compiled these tips for the both of us. Here's all I know about book editing and surviving the second draft:

1. Embrace the Mess

Working on the second draft of a book is one of the messiest things I've ever done. My desk is normally filled with stacks of paper with sticky notes coming out of everywhere. I often seclude myself in the “white board” room at the office and draw charts and lists with arrows intertwining everything together.

You might decide to re-structure your entire book or add an entirely new chapter. This is the time to figure these things out, and carving away at your manuscript is never simple.

2. Use Scrivener

There are a hundred different reasons you should be using Scrivener on your second draft. I'm not trying to sell you on it; I'm just saying it works. It can give you a way to set and track goals, a place to brainstorm, a place to put research, a system to organize your characters and backstories, and so many other essential things.

To organize, edit, re-arrange, double-check, maintain flow, and not lose your mind, you need one place for everything. Scrivener does that. Enough said. (Check out details here and the book we wrote on Scrivener here.)

3. Create Goals

This tip I stole straight from Joe's productivity hacks article. You need an end date to keep you on track and smaller deadlines to make sure you make it to your end goal. For example, I want my book to be done by September 3rd, and therefore have a deadline of one completed chapter a week until then.

Goals are great, but are often not accomplished if there are no consequences. So I've come up with consequences for myself if I don't hit those deadlines. (Including deleting my Netflix account and forcing myself to eat salad for a week. [FYI: I hate salad.])

Creating goals will keep you accountable when you just can't get yourself to get through the second draft.

4. Ignore the Grammar

The second draft IS NOT the final proofread. There is a time for grammar, but it is not in this draft. The second draft is to look at the content and create something better. Book editing is hard enough, and if you waste your time in the second draft focusing on where that comma goes, you will cry even more.

But please, when the time comes, put the comma in the correct place. Our editor thanks you.

5. Find Friends

I cannot stress this point enough. You cannot do this alone. I recommend two things: find writer friends and find non-writer friends.

You need writer friends who can empathize in your book-editing misery. You also need non-writer friends to remind you that there is life to be enjoyed outside of your book.

But mostly, you need to find friends because you need people to hold you accountable.

You Will Survive

A few months ago I was working on the second draft of a book I was ghostwriting. It was 6:30 pm and everyone had already left the office. I sat on a table in the “white board” room and stared at the lists and arrows I had drawn. Then I stared back at my computer and back to the white board.

It wasn't long before I put my head down in my hands and cried out of frustration. I knew the chapter needed to be fixed, but I just couldn't figure it out. There was something really off about the sections, the story, the research, and the transitions between them. I wanted to give up on the book entirely. (Dramatic, I know.)

But I took a deep breath, stepped back, and kept trying. (And somehow eventually moved past the chapter.)

Recently, I found out that the book was picked up by a publisher. I couldn't believe it. I remember feeling like I would never even finish the project. But here I am on the other side. I survived, and it was so worth it.

You will survive too.

What do you struggle with most when it comes to the second draft? Do you have any tips for how to survive book editing? Let me know in the comments.


Are you working on a second draft? More importantly, are you not working on that second draft and maybe you should be? The only way out is through, so take the next fifteen minutes to sit down with your work in progress and tackle that second draft.

Read through your manuscript and make notes as you go about the things that are working, the things that aren't, and anything you want to change. When your time is up, share your notes in the comments, and remember to respond to your fellow writers' notes as well. Together, we'll help each other through the mire of editing the second draft.

Keep these tips in mind and think about investing in a lot of sticky notes for that second draft.

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

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