Writer's Road

The Stale Bread Analogy

Hey BookWyrms,

I have been working furiously this year to finish the second draft of Shenanigans, and with NaNoWriMo this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the expectations we hold for ourselves and what each draft should actually accomplish. A friend recently asked to read my WIP, and in giving a disclaimer for the realistic expectations of a second draft, an analogy was born. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I had something that could actually be helpful, so without further ado, I share with you: The Stale Bread analogy.

First Draft | Garbage

Every author has to start with a first draft. Whether you’re a planner or not, there is always a first draft, and that first draft is definitely the worst draft. (If it’s not your worst draft, then you are definitely doing something wrong.) Thus, the first draft is garbage. Or at least, it is allowed to be garbage. It’s meant to be thrown out. It can be filled with moldy plot holes and disgustingly broken rules. It will probably smell and certainly isn’t edible, but it has something to it, right? It may be a whole bag of garbage, but at least it’s a bag of something. Maybe there’s a banana in there that reminds you to put bananas on your shopping list.

I like to say that first drafts are allowed to be garbage because maybe your first draft isn’t that bad. Maybe it’s just a full recycling bin rather than heading straight to the city dump. The important thing is not to be disgusted by your garbage. It has it’s purpose.

Second Draft | Stale Bread

Your second draft should be stale bread. Now, maybe this isn’t the exact second time you’ve put your story down, but it is the second phase of advancement in editing, so we’ll simplify it and call it a second draft. More accurately, it is stale bread. Stale bread doesn’t look like garbage. It probably doesn’t smell, and it could be edible if you ignore the taste. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a little mold hiding here or there, so it should be inspected carefully before consumption. To put it even more plainly, your second draft should look like a book. There shouldn’t be any plot holes, although it probably isn’t well told just yet. Maybe there are a few things here or there that were missed, but it definitely looks like food, until you eat it and realize it’s stale.

Third Draft | Unfrosted Cake

The third draft or phase of editing is an unfrosted cake. Absolutely editable. You’d be perfectly happy to have a friend taste your unfrosted cake, and while they would be happy to try it, as even unfrosted cake is delicious, they might find themselves a little disappointed that your cake isn’t frosted. What I mean here is that your story should be utterly complete. No plot holes, no broken rules, no stale narrative. The only thing missing? Pizazz. You haven’t gone through to bring your character’s voices to life. You haven’t trimmed it down and fluffed it up until every single word makes your reader’s mouth water like a bite of the perfect cake.

Final Draft | The Perfect Slice of Cake

As you may have guessed, the fourth and final draft is the perfect slice of cake. How often have you put down a slice of cake and come back for it later? Would you even be capable of such a thing if it were the perfect slice of cake? Of course not. It’s simply too good to wait until later to finish. This is your last draft.

As I mentioned before, not every phase of editing is a single draft. You could rewrite your story ten times before solving a problem area and continuing on to the next level of edits. The most important thing that I want you to understand, fellow writers, is that it is okay to write garbage and stale bread, because it is part of the evolution of writing. There is not always a direct path from point A to point B. Maybe in your first draft you’ve got every plot point down, but you’re lacking character arc. Maybe by the time you get to an unfrosted cake, you see that your narrative voice isn’t quite gripping enough. You simply need to learn to recognize what phase you are in, and what it will take to evolve.

I wish you luck, writers! As always, drop me a comment. Are you attempting NaNo this year? Which draft are you presently in? If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to sign up for the email list. Happy writing, BookWyrms!