I went on a wee Twitter rant on this subject recently and have decided to expand on this topic more thoroughly here. I hereby declare that Draft 2 is the worst of all drafts. I have found this to be the case several times over now, and it seems to me that this revelation is worth exploring: Why does Draft 2 have to suck so much?
When you work on that first draft, you tend to give yourself full permission to write complete drivel. Maybe, like me, you hit caps lock when you get stuck and write yourself helpful notes like:
LET'S JUST CUT TO THE CHASE. THEY RUN AWAY, MAYBE STEAL A HORSE.
THIS MAKES ZERO SENSE! MOVE THE BRIDGE SHIT TO EARLIER. THEY NEED TO CROSS SOME OTHER BARRIER HERE. A RANGE OF MOUNTAINS? MAYBE THEY FIND IT BY ACCIDENT, A WAY TO CROSS OVER. UGH, THIS SUCKS!!
(Whew. Can you get over that level of eloquence? I can almost feel the National Book Award committee salivating over it.)
As you write the rough draft, characters frequently disappear or entire plot points take a different route than you intended, and you blithely type on, telling yourself, "It's okay, [insert your name here]. You can fix it later."
The problem with Draft 2 is that Draft 2 is that "later" you were referencing when you were pounding out crap in Draft 1. Draft 2 is when you have to begin unsnarling all the terrible weirdness that is a first draft.
All right. So, time to make things better, right? Only here's the catch: Even though Draft 2 is an improvement, the book still sucks. How terrible is that? You are now busting your ass to revise a book, but when you're finished with that revision, aka Draft 2, it's still poo.
In your mind, the book should be as pretty as cheeky, winking Thor...
...or Ranveer Singh in a cowboy hat blowing a kiss. Draft 2 should be this beautiful! (Although, let's face it. I need little to no prodding to throw a Ranveer Singh gif up on social media.) (Because Ranveer Singh.)
Instead, Draft 2 ends up resembling a novel the way Gollum resembles a human being: person-shaped, but also monstrous and terrifying and pathetic.
The real problem with Draft 2 is the sense that you are making no progress, because so much of this part of the process is figuring out what your novel isn't rather than what it is. It's about figuring out what your characters wouldn't say or do. It's about figuring out why a particular event no longer belongs in the larger story arc. It's about sussing out the why behind the story and ditching the moments that don't add meaning and writing sloppy new scenes that do.
When you are finished with Draft 2, you will have a novel that has begun to take shape, one that you can begin to mold and polish into a far prettier draft. But when you're in the thick of it, it's pretty terrible.
So, ugh. Just ugh.