How many drafts?

Earlier today on Twitter, my friend Jen Brubacher retweeted about Anne Rice and how she only writes one draft: Doing drafts.

I watched/listened to the short blip with great interest. Anne Rice’s process supports some thinking I’ve been doing since I started perusing Dean Wesley Smith’s Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, especially his ideas on Speed and ReWriting. (Okay, I’ve been pretty obsessed with his pontifications about agents too, but the thoughts sparked there are beyond the scope of this post!)

I don’t think I will ever get to a place where I do only one draft, and I’m not sure I want to. There’s huge value in going through work with the purpose of getting it to say what you want it to say, how you want it said . . . And there’s equally huge value in having that “Don’t worry” card to hand your nasty inner editor (presuming you have one of those too): Just let me fly through my story–it’s wonderful fun. And if I’ve screwed something up? Don’t worry. I’ll fix it when I’m done. (A cheerful rhyme infuriates my I.E. to no end!)

Most writing I do (and most writing I edit for others) needs at least one thorough self-edit, one more edit after trusted reader response, plus a proofing. But even that — for me to say, maybe things only need four drafts, total — well, that’s an enormous change in my approach to craft and process.

I didn’t rewrite my first novel; I just wanted to know I could write one. And I did it — 86K, with a solid beginning, middle, and end . . . What a rush!

I rewrote my second novel, literally, about 20 times. And tried to sell it. Sort of. I sent it out to about 30 people at various stages of its 20 drafts. But I knew as I edited, I wasn’t really so much editing as I was teaching myself how to write.

My last novel was stronger at the end of its first draft than that second one was at its 18th. And these days I rarely put things through more than four edits. I felt incredibly intimidated by that. Maybe I’m fooling myself? I wondered. Maybe I’m embracing mediocrity. Maybe . . . ARGH.

Lately my maybes have changed. Maybe, just maybe, I show a story better on the first wonderful spill . . . and again, just maybe, I see better _exactly_ what needs to be added, chopped, refined, respun, deleted on my first read . . .

I don’t think how many drafts a writer does actually matters. We all have our own processes and methods for getting stories out on the page, and so long as we’re finishing things, sending them out, and starting new stories at pretty regular intervals, our differing systems are perfect.

It’s been really motivating to have my current way of doing things affirmed by pros, however, even if it’s also a bit scary (in a delicious, wonderful way). I have quite a body of work. It’s time to stop stop hacking at it and starting sending it out with greater focus and energy (and less fear!) than I have before.

Wish me luck!

And now it’s your turn. Weigh in, please. :) How many times do you work through a story (short or novel length)? Do you have an overarching system and rules, or is your approach to editing more piece-by-piece?

Happy writing (and editing),
Ev

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About Ev Bishop

Ev Bishop is a writer, editor and workshop facilitator, living in beautiful Terrace, British Columbia. Her works appear in a variety of publications and she writes in many formats and genres. She loves Barbara Kingsolver's belief that "There is no perfect time to write.... There is only now," and has modified it to be her own motto: Write here. Write now. View all posts by Ev Bishop

9 responses to “How many drafts?

  • Jen B

    My answer is changing, too, piece by piece and how much experience I have. I think it’s great that the more you practice of course the cleaner a first draft is going to be. Since I don’t plan out my plot from the very beginning I can’t imagine I’ll ever write one draft and that’s it, but I certainly might get closer and closer to needing less work when one draft is done.

  • Ev Bishop

    Dear Jen,

    “Since I don’t plan out my plot from the very beginning I can’t imagine I’ll ever write one draft and that’s it, but I certainly might get closer and closer to needing less work when one draft is done.”

    I don’t plot from the beginning either, and last night in bed I was worrying about this “brave” new post of mine — I gave a number, I said four edits . . . what if the book I’m working on now needs eight?

    I guess a bigger part of me wanted to sleep, because all of sudden my I.E. snapped, “Then you’ll do eight! It’s not rocket science.” Heh. I dozed off feeling very assured.

    It is exciting to see/feel your writing reaching a new level, but every book will probably have its own unique needs too.

    ~Ev

  • Jen B

    It sounds like your IE was being very wise! :)

  • Laura Best

    I tend to edit as I write, going over a certain sentence, paragraph, passage until I get it where I want it. Once it’s there I know it. I’m not sure I could write a first draft straight through. There would be too much to fix all at once. That said, I don’t expect that what works for me now will always work for me. I like to think I can be flexible, and that each new story, perhaps, warrants a different approach.

  • jenniferneri

    I too know my first novel was a learnign novel. It was really the first thing I ever wrote other thans scribbling as a kid and teen. I cannot begin to say how times I re-drafted but it was over a few years. I am now re-drafting my second novel and I notice myself thinking, how can I possibly think to be done so quickly? it is all about growing as a writer.

    I would not ever like to write a novel in one draft because I do not think I could connect with it in the same way. I love the novel I am writing. I love the people in it, and I want to stay in it. It’s not an in and out production for me. But, like everytone has pointed out, we are all different.

    I do wish you great luck, Ev!

  • Ev Bishop

    Dear Laura,

    I do a lot more fixing as I go than I used to too, and that obviously affects how many times I need to revisit sections after the story is done. My first books were written with the Just Write, Never Look Back philosophy (that I think can be really helpful in that it keeps insecurity about quality from preventing moving forward in the story).

    Re:”I like to think I can be flexible, and that each new story, perhaps, warrants a different approach.”

    Well, you certainly sound like you are. I hope I am too!
    :) Ev

  • Ev Bishop

    Dear Jennifer,

    Yeah, like you said, it really is all about growing as a writer–so exciting! ;) And I hear you about not wanting to leave your characters’ world. In fact, right now, for the first time ever, the book I’m working on would be Book 2 in a trilogy, should the first one sell. It’s fun, but difficult in some ways.

    Thanks for the luck!

    ~Ev

  • Deb

    Bwaahaa! You do not want to know how many revisions my manuscripts go through. I tend to write like a potter makes clay bowls – slap a whole bunch of clay on the wheel and spin and shape until I am satisifed. Sometimes I cut away too much, and have to pick up some droppings and massage them back in – other times I hack away big hunks and toss it.

    It is…a process. ;)

  • Ev Bishop

    I like your metaphor a lot, Deb. Your process sounds very creative and fun and I can relate to sometimes cutting away to much, only to have to put it back in (although your way of expressing it is way for fun!).

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