I finished the second draft of my novel-in-progress three weeks ago and then stalled.

I stalled because what I had was a mess.

The first draft was extremely rough. Some people call that stage of writing an “intentionally shitty first draft.” Whole scenes contradicted each other. I dropped and added situations and action without resolving internal consistency. I just kept plowing forward.

In composing the second draft, the one I finished last month, I added a bit of polish, prettied up a lot of ugly language, and made copious notes for changes.

And then I got stuck. I had a second draft of the novel. And I had a whole pile of notes for revision. And I was intimidated by the thought of trying to merge the notes into the novel. I had this idea where I would read through the notes, make links in each note to the place where the revision needed to be made, and then follow the notes like a recipe.

But that seemed like a huge job.

I knew I had a business trip and vacation coming up, and I knew that even under the best of circumstances I had difficulty with creative writing while traveling. So I just put it aside.

And it stayed put aside the week after I got home. I decided to not start the revisions during the workweek. I’d get going on the Independence Day weekend.

I didn’t start the revisions yesterday either. Instead, I Googled some advice on how to revise a novel, because I was starting to think my notes-and-links idea was a non-starter. In particular, I was looking for tips on doing revisions with Scrivener, the writing software I use. I found this, and this, and this, and this, and read them all and became confused. Much color-coding. Such keywording. So storyboard. Wow.

None of the advice was relevant to how I work. I’m not a visual diagrammatic writer, I’m a linear writer. I start at the beginning and go through to the end and then when I’m ready to revise I start at the beginning again. (Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether it makes sense for me to use Scrivener at all, given that it’s designed for visual, diagrammatic writers who jump all over the place in their writing. Is Scrivener overkill for me? A question for another day.)

In thinking through the problem, I found my answer. I reread my notes one more time. Turned out there weren’t as many as I thought. I dropped two or three notes in place next to the sections of the novel they pertained to. Then I started over again from the beginning. And I got a good chunk of revisions done today.

A note to readers: I have two self-published stories available for the curious. They’re both science-fiction comedy adventures.

Mr Shaddo” is about what happens when a professional thief gets hired to steal a gladiator and gets mixed up in a spat between members of an alien royal family.

The Biggest Man in Lilliput” updates Jonathan Swift’s setting and situations for the 21st century.

A note to editors and agents: The novel I’m working on now is my third. My first is complete and out to agents and editors now. The second is 90% done and ready to read, but short — more of a novella or novelette than a full-length novel. If you want to see any of the three, just let me know: .


10 thoughts on “I finished the second draft of my novel-in-progress three weeks ago and then stalled.

  1. Fuad Udemans: Hi Mitch,That’s actually really great progress. I took forever to finish my first one. The only thing I can tell you is not to overthink, write, then hand it over to an independent, else you may become obsessed with a “perfect” draft. Just sit down and hand the baby over….hope this helps you. Regards, Fuad via plus.google.com


  2. K.B. Burnfield: +Mitch Wagner Congratulations!!Years ago I met one of the main writers of MASH and we were talking about writing and he said his tactic was to do anything to get through the first draft. To finish.He would have one word dialogue for characters, things like “Hawkeye enters” as the only description for most of a scene.The whole point was to get through the first draft as fast as he could and “get it finished”. Once you’ve finished it, you’ve won. You succeeded and now comes to easy part, the rewrite.The other thing he told me was NEVER go back and rewrite while you’re writing. If you think of something you missed, wanted to add, wanted to change make a note about it for the rewrite.You’ve succeed by finishing the first draft and are even more successful getting through a second draft. THAT’S WHAT MATTERS. For rewrites you can use breakouts and index cards if you aren’t solid on your structure but all that matters is that you made it. You finished it. You got to “The End”.99% of the people who start writing a novel never get there. via plus.google.com


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