Last month, we heard from several different authors about how they attack the first draft. So, today, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at subsequent drafts.
Personally, I think it’s impossible to write a really good story in just one draft. Okay, there are some people who can do it, but they aren’t the norm. And, some people can revise as they go, but I’d still argue that, technically, they’re still writing in more than one draft—it’s just difficult to know how many. :)
My writing process is done in layers, because that’s the easiest way for my brain to keep track of everything. I used to try to do everything at once, and ended up so overwhelmed that I usually wanted to throw the whole project out the window. So, now, I break everything down into manageable chunks, doing the real work in revision.
Draft 1: Raw Materials
For all my first drafts, I consider this to be the equivalent of slapping a big ol’ lump of clay on a table and preparing to mold it into the shape of my story. Nothing more. I’ve tried doing more than this in first drafts, and I’ve always ended up getting myself lost and frustrated.
Draft 2: Voice
Voice is extremely important, so this is something I try very hard to nail early on. I will work on some of this before I even write the first draft, when I’m getting to know my main character. I do this through journaling from the character’s point of view, and that usually gets me directly into her head. After I get the first draft down, I’ll go through the entire manuscript and make sure that everything sounds like it’s coming from my characters and not from me.
Draft 3: Subplots
Subplots are always in the back of my head when I’m planning and writing out that first draft, but I consider them too important to tackle along with something else. I will devote an entire draft to them to make sure they’re being introduced in the right place, as well as resolved appropriately before the story ends. I often have several subplots, many are subtle and some are more obvious, so I find that giving them my undivided attention is the best way to keep track of them. (in case any of you are wondering why Plot isn’t in this list, I go through an elaborate Plot process before I even write the first draft)
Draft 4: Character and Dialog
Character is not one of my natural strengths, so I usually wait until I’m close to the end before attacking this. If I feel that everything else is in good shape, then, somehow, that gives me the confidence I need in order to tackle character and dialog. Often, I don’t have enough of how my characters think and feel in vital situations, so I painstakingly go through each chapter to look for that...and it usually take more than one draft to get it all. :)
Draft 5: Polish
Once I feel that all the big pieces are in place—the voice is strong, my characters are solid, and my subplots make sense—then I will go through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and look at every single paragraph, sentence, and word to ensure it’s in exactly the right place. This always takes more than one draft, because it’s easy to miss a detail when you’re focused on the one above it.
The order of these drafts always varies depending on what story I’m writing. Some stories pull me in one direction. while others pull me the opposite way. Certain aspects of one story may come naturally to me, but, in the next story, I may agonize over it. But I do keep these areas broken down like this, because it helps me get my head around the concepts. It also means I can’t write a story in less than five drafts. If I did, my story would be incomplete.
Have you found your revision process? What is it?