Dear Auntie Romaniac …
I get anxious when I read about how other writers have deconstructed and reconstructed their work-in-progress several times. I tend to be a slow first draft writer and tweak as I go along. My inner editor loves to play, and I am compelled to rewrite sections of what I consider to be the first draft, before I’ve reached the end. I aim for my second draft to be the one I send out to my publisher.
What constitutes a draft? Is it a draft only once I’ve written ‘The End’? I also wonder if rewriting it mentally and altering notes, scattered in pads, sheets of paper and on my phone, count as drafts.
Dear Auntie Romaniac – it’s a minefield. Please help me through it.
Good morning, Laura!
I’m usually a fairly fast writer, but with very little time to spare at the moment, my normal style (of writing a couple of chapters and then next time revising/editing and so on) has had to change.
Recently, my WIP, with which I was seriously stuck, was given a hefty edit by the marvelous Mandy James, and she gave me so many pointers and hints to improve it, that I’m now bowling along at a cracking speed and trying not to get side tracked by too much in-between editing.
The final product will probably have had at least six or seven complete edits and overhauls. I’m aiming to finish the first complete draft by the weekend and bounce it back to Mandy. She did the same job on Little Boxes, and her ideas for storyline revamps and tweaks are second to none.
My advice to anyone struggling with numerous drafts is to get a trusted reading buddy or editor. Our very own Jan Brigden is also a super talented typo queen, with a grasp of grammar that most of us can only dream about.
Wish me luck, and the same to all of you out there trying hard to get the words down before life gets in the way,
Lucie – I really feel your pain, Laura. I, too, have often wondered this exact thing. For me, I think you know when you need to edit. When I wrote my first book, I wrote it chapter by chapter and had it critiqued this way. This was because I was doing a writing course and so my tutor (who was the very lovely, Margaret James) was checking it as I went along. So my first book was slow to complete. And then, because it was my first book, it went through a number of edits; through the NWS, through private critiques and personally editing. It will still probably need another one when my agent sends her edits through to me. And then, if it is ever accepted for publication, no doubt it’ll have another edit with their editor!
However, when writing nowadays, I tend to find that there is less editing. I don’t know if it is because I know how to structure a story now and my writing, generally, has improved, but I tend to blast out a first draft as quick as possible and then begin editing. I try to get as much of the story down in the first draft so that I can concentrate on the edits. I find it easier to get the story down as a whole, keep the flow going, and then worry about fiddling with it after. I try to only read back a scene or two, before I start writing for that day, just to get back into the story, and then continue. If I thought too much about editing previous scenes before going forward, I fear I would be stuck in a rut, two steps back, one step forward.
So, I do think it is a personal thing. Some people edit as they go, some, like me, get the story down, typo’s and all, and then polish the rock into that diamond. :-)
Vanessa: I usually go for a dirty first draft that’s only around 60-70,000 words. I leave that to brew for a while and then go back for a more polished draft. I then look at structure and pace and plotting, kill some darlings and produce a third draft which is getting close to what I hope is the finished thing! (I say this, but I’m currently on draft four of my wip!) I think how we write and how we edit is going to be different for every writer and no way is the right or wrong way.
Debbie – Oh, Laura, this is a dilemma many will relate to and as someone currently on the fourth re-write of a WIP, I can sympathise.
I can hear myself saying, ‘Just one more draft and it will be complete …’ But one more draft turns into another, and another. Of course not every writer is a perfectionist, but it’s worth remembering that re-writing a novel has the potential to become infinite with rewrites, and remain ultimately unfinished. Only you can break a cycle of rewriting and editing your work in the constant battle for satisfaction. We’re all different, although most writers I know are of the same mould.
I went on an Arvon course last year. Uber experienced writers, Kate Long and Simon Thirsk were tutors. Simon did a reading from his novel, ‘Not Quite White.’ There were post it notes and red pen all over the pages of his copy and when someone asked why, he admitted that after every reading he did (despite being Costa Book Award shortlisted and bestseller) he could always find some word or line to tweak!
Since then I’ve stopped twiddling with my WIP as I go along. It’s hard, but when I start on a draft I keep writing – something, anything – until it’s finished. The aim is to get the main bones of the novel down. I’ve learnt that most writers, even the most accomplished, need at least two drafts (preferably with a few weeks or months ‘breathing space’ between the two.) Then, after, ideally, another two edits and read through, once you’re as happy as you can be, stop tweaking and twiddling and get a friend/writing buddy, or if you’re lucky enough to have an agent or editor, and let them read it.
Sometimes we can become bogged down with the intricacies of the story or become so close to it we no longer see blatant errors. Taking a step back can help see it in a different light or often a second pair of eyes from a trusted opinion and someone not too close to a beloved piece will help give an insight into some points we may not even have considered.
Take it from one who knows, if you wait until you’re completely happy with your WIP, it might never see the light of day. So believe in yourself. All the best to you.
Great answers. Thank you.
How do you approach drafts?