Currently, I am knee-deep in the middle of draft #2 of Book #2 in The Madman’s Daughter trilogy, and I’ve reached a tough scene so I’m doing the logical thing and procrastinating.
I remember first learning about drafts in my hazy memories of elementary school. A first draft was very rough, almost more of an outline. The second, aka final, draft was where you recopied it (before the days of computers) and fixed run-on sentences and spelling and whatnot. Ta-da! Done! When I first started writing fiction, I stuck with this model. I wrote a first draft, and then I ran spellcheck, changed a character’s name, fixed a typo, and was ready to send it off. Guess what? None of those manuscripts sold.
Cut to the present. Before I even begin a first draft, there is the outline. For me, an outline usually takes about 1-2 weeks to write. It’s simply a synopsis of the book, anywhere from five to ten pages long. This is where I plot out the basic facts of what happens: when the characters meet, what happens, who dies when, who betrays who, who kisses who, and the big twist at the end. There’s usually a gaping hole about ¾ of the way through where I really have no idea what happens.
Then comes the first draft. This takes about 8-10 weeks to write. This is my very favorite part of writing, because I’m still really excited about the idea, and I know I’ll end up rewriting it a thousand times and no one will see ever this draft, so it’s a license to write really poorly. I can freely write whatever I want, cheesy action scenes and all. As I’m writing, I’ll go back and quickly rework certain scenes here and there that need to be “fixed” for some reason or another. So already, some of these scenes have been rewritten two or three times.
And now it’s time for second draft! No one has seen any of this yet, except probably my husband, who must suffer through lots and lots of drafts, but that’s marriage for you. Before I start writing Draft #2 I take about a week to re-read Draft #1 and jot down lots of notes about what doesn’t work and what needs to change. Some examples of my notes are:
- This character just kind of disappears. Make him die earlier?
- Her best friend hasn’t been mentioned in eight chapters.
- More romance here!
- Totally rewrite this chapter; it no longer works with the plot.
- Add a scene here where character X explains X plot twist.
And then I start on Line 1, Page 1 and I rewrite everything. In some chapters, only a few lines get switched around or rewritten to sound better. Other chapters get 80-100% rewritten, or new scenes are added, and some scenes are cut. After this, I’ll probably take another week and read through this draft again and clean it up and reworking a few minor parts. I could easily spend another 6-8 weeks on this.
Now, it’s ready to be seen by critique partners. My philosophy is: if I can fix it on my own, there’s no point in showing it to other people. So by now, I might know that certain plot points in the book don’t work, or the pacing is off certain places, but I don’t know how to fix it (or else I would have already). So I give it to 2-3 critique partners. Then wait a few weeks for them to read & return it. Then I hem and haw and wonder 1) if I agree with them on everything, and then 2) yes, they are always right, I just didn’t want to admit it because now I have more work to do. So I read through all their comments, let it simmer for a day or two, and start rewriting again.
By this point we’re at Draft #3-#5, because as I’m going I might rewrite certain chapters again and again. Once I’ve incorporated my critique partners’ comments, I’d probably show it to my agent, and maybe one or two other critique partners. After receiving all of their comments, I’d rewrite yet again.
Now, finally, at around Draft #7-9, I’m ready to show my editor. This is where the “official” revisions begin. She will have lots of good feedback for me, and I’ll probably do another 3 rewrites for her, and be showing it to beta readers as I go and getting their feedback.
Next, once all my rewrites and revisions are done for my editor, the book will go to copyediting, which fixes the grammar, consistency, and does fact-checking. Mercifully, someone else does this and I just approve it.
And there you have it! By the time a book is finished and published, I’ve probably gone through about 12 drafts, though it’s hard to tell because some chapters virtually haven’t changed at all since Draft #1, and other chapters have changed 20+ times.