Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Phew, you got there! Hero and heroine have overcome all the obstacles you threw at them and they’ve reached their ‘Happy Ever After’ ending. Triumphantly you write (or type) ‘The End’ and get ready to send off your ms. to the publisher of your choice.

Whoa, hold on a minute! This is the First Draft – and there’s still a lot of work to do.

In this month’s UK ‘Writing’ magazine, one publisher says that most aspiring writers make their first error by submitting far too soon without realising how much re-writing needs to be done. He lists a ‘10-draft’ process: typing out a rough draft, tightening the structure, developing the characters, improving the dialogue, working on the language, restructuring some parts, adding layers of conflict, improving crucial opening pages, more work on character development and finally proof-reading for mistakes.

A pretty scary list, right? I’m not sure it would actually take 10 drafts, since some could be combined. But the important point is that a first draft is very much a ‘first’ and can’t be considered as a manuscript which is ready for submission.

Normally, even in my first drafts, I tend to agonise over language and dialogue, trying to get it right the first time. However, having just taken part in NaNowriMo, with the aim of 50K words during November, I’ve surprised myself by being able to abandon my ‘inner editor’ as I sprint-wrote the whole story (57,380 words) in 21 days.

Okay, so it was pre-plotted (unlike my normal pantser method) as I was trying a rewrite/updating of a novel I wrote in the 1970’s. It did require some serious updating, especially my style, and also some of the content, since the world has changed since the 1970’s. Cell phones and email probably present the trickiest problem in updating because it’s so much easier now for characters to contact each other.

Even so, I’ve been aware that it was what I call ‘lazy’ writing. I ignored my usual careful honing of words to convey the exact meaning I wanted, I let adverbs and speech tags slip by, I repeated my favourite words and phrases (probably ad nauseam), my heroine’s heart did so many jumps and jerks, she’s in danger of an imminent heart attack. I also ignored the detailed research which can often hold me up for a long time. My mantra became ‘I’ll fix that later.’

But, at the end of 21 days, I have a first draft. The hero and heroine finally got to their happy ever after ending. However, I know I’m nowhere near that ending.

Could I submit this as it is now? No way. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a real ‘rough draft’ and, believe me, it IS rough! I know I still have a HUGE amount of work to do. 10 drafts? Maybe that’s what it will need.

How many drafts do you write, and what do you concentrate on improving with each draft?


  1. In my WIP, I'm on draft 2, edit 2.4. I panstered draft 1, so in draft 2 I cut and added to follow my new plotting outline. Now I'm tweaking for clarity and adding thoughts and emotions (my worst weakness)

  2. Hi Paula,

    Great post. I am always so thrilled to finally connect all of the dots and have my couple get to their happy ending...

    ...but you're right, that's when the real work begins.

    I do several pass-throughs on my mss's, looking for different things each time. Repeated words, words that don't need to be there, too many adverbs, continuity, etc.

    Sending a mss off to an editor or agent too soon can be a big mistake.

  3. Sounds ike you're very organised with it, Ana (and I know it's going great!)

  4. Debra, I usually do much as you do, but with my NaNo story, I'll have to do a lot more with the structure and characters (not to mention adding another 12K+ words!)

  5. I commented before, but apparently it didn't stick (see, this is why I have to proofread!). I must do 4-6 drafts at least, between self-editing, sending things out to my critique partner, looking for "those words" we're not supposed to use, etc. It takes me almost as long to edit as it does to write.

    Great post.

  6. I agree, Jen, it takes me as long (if not longer) to edit/revise than writing it in the first place. And this NaNo story will take even longer!

  7. I'm amazed you were able to do that at all (not you personally). I'd love to try that sometime, I'm just not sure I'd be able to.

  8. Well, it WAS a re-write, so it was already plotted out, which helped. But I did work afirly hard at it. Couldn't keep up that pace all the time though!