Patchwork Quilts and Shitty First Drafts

photo (12)My mom is a quilter. She makes gorgeous quilts for the family, although I’d like to note for the record that my sister gets WAY more quilts that I do.  (Hi, Mom!)  Initially my mom thought I’d enjoy quilting, too, but she overestimated my patience and fine motor skills.  I like the idea of quilting, though, and love fabric stores.  All those beautiful patterns and colors just waiting to be turned into something pretty and useful.

Much like my shitty first drafts.

I subscribe to the Anne Lamott theory of first drafts – they are shitty.*  You throw whatever’s in your mind onto paper, call it a first draft, and it is terrible.  Shitty, to be exact.  And I love that concept.  It is freeing, once you’re in the groove of a story, to dump ideas onto the page and brush away concerns about plot, characters and consistency by saying, “It’s okay, it’s just a shitty first draft.”

I blazed through the shitty first draft of my second novel last fall.  I finished in in 23 days and then stuck it in a drawer for a few months.  Before I went on my writing retreat last February, I read the first draft again.  And it was shitty.

I plunged into the second draft…only to discover I had no idea how to write a second draft.  The one I did for Some Flew North was so long ago.  Plus I also had no idea what I was doing then.  (I have a better idea now – at least slightly.)  I lacked a guiding metaphor for my second draft.  If first drafts were shitty, what are second drafts?

I lacked a guiding metaphor for my second draft

I muddled through a few weeks on the second draft, which mainly involved me scowling at my computer screen and checking Facebook.  (Then Twitter, then I’d buy some music on Amazon and go back to scowling.)

Here’s what kept me from writing:

I thought the second draft would be perfect

I envisioned fixing every plot hole, every weak characterization and every inconsistency in time to send this baby to my beta readers.  Then it would be magically published, of course.  And all before the end of summer.


My second draft isn’t perfect.  It will probably need at least one more draft before other eyes can see it.  Rather, my second draft is a patchwork quilt.  I’m pulling material from my first draft and stitching it together with new content.  Some of the seams are ragged, some won’t hold, and some of the fabric is boring.  But the design is emerging.  It’s more like a blanket now – something pretty and useful – than a collection of scraps.

For now, at least, it’s keeping me warm.

Question: How do you approach your second drafts?  What tips do you have for working with rough drafts?

*For more on shitty first drafts, and all kinds of wonderful advice, check out Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and this post from Brain Pickings.