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),

Fiction Addiction

So I’m smack in the middle of a huge project with a tight turnaround—yay! It’s challenging and gets my brain churning; I’m really enjoying it. The only thing I find daunting about it is just how much work there is to do in such a short time, so out of necessity, not desire, I’m on a one-month hiatus from my fiction work.

I was okay for the first week or two, but now I’m going crazy. A few times I’ve actually felt itchy with need to get back to it. It’s funny how it builds up—the worst part is that it’s not a burning desire to get editing. No, it’s much worse. I have a new book brewing. Anyway, brew it will have to. My coping strategy is thus: I’m dedicating a small notebook to New Book! When the voices get too loud, I will jot down the details and snippets they share. It’s pretty exciting—by the time I’m done editing my latest WIP, I will have (I hope!) another full book worth of ideas and plot in scribbled form.

So that’s me this week—loving my business work (excited because I already have another project lined up for March), and anxious to return to my *fiction addiction.

I hope your own writing—in whatever its form—is going great. And for the love of all that is good in the world, if you have the time to put into your novel, short stories, or poetry, get busy! Let me live vicariously through you.

*I’m running a set of writing workshops in late spring by this name. I can’t wait

My Editing Process

I’m getting ready to launch into edit-land this February, and on a forum I moderate, I asked the following question: Do you have a specific process or system for your edits, or do you just kind of wing it, improving whatever you notice needs work each time through?

Laying out my answer was very interesting – what a lot of work editing is! It was also affirming – what a lot of work I do! I think the list will even be helpful; I can use it as a guide over the next few months. When I hit the dreaded, “I’ll NEVER finish this book” stage, I can come back at myself with, “Of course, you will. Only three edits left!” Heh heh.

Without any further ado, in the hopes that might be of some use to you too, here’s my answer.

I have a very specific editing process. I go through 8-10 full edits (not including that I edit for punctuation/spelling/grammar as I go, and that I usually do a page or two of storyline tweaking before I begin each day’s new writing).

  • 1st edit: Make sure the story line is intact and write notes on holes/time glitches,etc.
  • 2nd edit: Fix said holes in plots, time glitches, etc.
  • 3rd edit: Look closely at each character’s motivations/voice/way of coming across and make notes about anything I find out-of character, contradictory or unconvincing.
  • 4th edit: Character therapy! Try to get those characters to be/show who they really are (good, bad, terrifying – it’s nice to not have to make them healthy per se, heh heh).
  • 5th: Can I amp up the tension/suspense? (Always Yes with a capital Y.)
  • 6th: I usually have noticed more holes in plot by this time and more places where it seems slow or plodding — fix, fix, fix.
  • 7th: This is pickiest edit yet. Using points from Self-editing for Fiction Writers – How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King, I do a chapter-by-chapter look at show and tell, characterization and exposition, proportion, dialogue and interior monologue, easy beats, the concept “once is usually enough” (looking for places where I keep dropping redundant hints re: characters personalities, etc… The reader knows the mc’s afraid of the dark already! Wink), and at sophistication and voice.
  • 8th: I read the whole story aloud to hear its cadence, especially trying to hear how the dialogue comes across.
  • 9th: Proofread for typos.
  • 10th (etc): Try to incorporate suggestions from first readers, if I feel the suggestions have merit (and sigh, they’re usually dead on!).
  • Etc 1: Proofread again.
  • Etc 2: Decide so and so is an utter failure–re-write him/her again (sometimes Etc 2 gets stuck on replay and I end up doing a lot of character work at this point).
  • Etc 3: Go a little crazy (crazier?) and realize that for better or for worse, I need to put the story down and step away from the story. It’s finished and I must start something new.