Notes from a Writer’s Life #16

Someone asked me yesterday how many drafts I do when writing a novel, and couldn’t quite believe it when I said that for Badlands I’d done twelve drafts in all, including three rounds between acceptance and publication.

How many drafts does it take to go from manuscript to finished book?

So for today’s post I thought I’d explore exactly what I do during each of these drafts.

Draft one is the initial writing phase, and draft two is usually where the major changes happen. At this point whole sections of the text will change (or in the case of Bleak Waters it’ll be a complete rewrite).

Characters may be cut, new characters added in, storylines removed, rebuilt, redeveloped.

Draft three is normally more of the same but to a lesser extent. The final framework of the story is in place after draft two, it’s now just a case of figuring out the best way to tell the story.

Scenes may be cut or combined or shifted to a different order in the text. Information will be delayed or revealed earlier and there may be new scenes written.

By the end of draft three, the story is probably ninety five percent finished.

Draft four onwards will be reviewing the text for clarity. At each draft I’ll focus on one element of the text, so draft four may be looking for weak words (just, very etc), draft five may look at passive and active voice, replacing adverbs with stronger verbs, draft six could cover spelling, punctuation, grammar.

These take less time so while draft one or draft two may take three months, drafts four, five and six etc… may take a week each, maybe two.

I will also be gathering beta reader feedback while doing this, and also reflecting on my own instincts towards the story, particularly with regards to the opening scene.

In Badlands, the last scene I wrote was the first scene in the finished book.

The importance of the opening scene cannot be overstated, particularly if you’re an unpublished author.

It’s the hook into the story for your readers, who will, during the querying stage, include agents and editors.

You need to make it the best scene it can possibly be, so if you’ve got any doubts over it, you need to be thinking constantly of how it can be improved.

Want proof of how important it is?

When I did the first two rounds of queries for Badlands, I had a different first scene. Result? No full manuscript requests.

After rewriting the opening scene, I sent another batch of queries out.

This time, I got three full requests and one offer to publish through Darkstroke, which I accepted.

Nothing else changed. Just the first scene.

Changing the first scene meant draft eight became draft nine.

As it stands, I’ve just rewritten the opening scene of Bleak Waters, which is the start of the third draft.

I don’t know how many drafts in total I will do. I’m projecting six at the minute, but that may change.

The risk with editing is that you get caught in endless revisions. After all, there’s always something to change.

So when do you stop?

Well, for Badlands, I stopped after nine and yes you could argue that it was because I got published.

But when I’d finished draft nine, (the rewritten first scene) I knew that was it. It was done, for good or ill.

Fortunately for me, it got picked up.

When I reach the point where I know that Bleak Waters is finally done, fingers crossed it will join Badlands in publication heaven.

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