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