You Might Let in a Draft.
As I have recently finished the first draft of my next planned publication, I thought it would be a good time to write a blog post talking about my first draft processes and how they've changed.
What’s your first draft-writing process?
The most recently finished first draft was something of a triumph for me. After a couple of false starts, I decided I needed to begin again from scratch. I expected it to be six months at least until completion. But then I challenged myself to write every day for a hundred days, and zoomed through. The ninety-thousand-odd words took eighty-nine days to write. That's compared to Lucky Seventh, the first draft of which took me around three years. While I still have challenges with my chronic illnesses, I proved to myself that when I set my mind to something, I can still write quickly.
Handwritten or typed/word-processed?
I've been using a fabulous website called 750words.com to keep myself accountable. There are no punishments for not writing, but there are little encouragements to keep a writer in daily habits. (Well, okay, if you sign up for the monthly challenge and miss a day, your name goes on the Wall of Shame. Not the worst thing that could happen, though.) I first discovered the site through a friend about four or five years ago (thanks Hannah!!) and used it fairly consistently, but then for one reason or another I tapered off and then stopped paying membership because I wasn't using it very much and could put the money towards other stuff. It's only $USD5 per month, but sometimes every cent counts. In April this year, I felt like I was meandering too much and not structuring my writing, so I signed up for the site again. It was a great decision. The site keeps track of how many days a month I write, whether I make it to 750 words each time, my word count for the month, how many days in a row I've written - and it even gives little badges for different achievements. Not much, but something to focus on!
So obviously, these days I type my first draft, on 750 Words to be pasted into a Word document when I pass the magic number/finish my writing for the day. My best day so far was the second-last day of the first draft of Never Let Go, when I wrote over 5,300 words over the course of the day. If only I could manage that every day!
Do you leave your drafts for a time before coming back to edit? How do you feel about editing?
I'm a big believer in leaving my first draft alone for a good six weeks before I come back and begin my editing process. It means that my brain has had time to move on to something else, so when I read the first draft I'm more likely to spot issues, inconsistencies, and plain old bad writing. And I love editing! It feels so good to go back to the story I wrote and slice out the things I don't need, tighten up the bits that sag, laugh at myself for the incorrect word usage - on the fifth or sixth run through of Lucky Seventh, I caught a moment where I'd mixed up my homophones: someone's face was taught instead of taut. At that point, two other people had read the manuscript besides me, and none of us had caught it before.
What is your process for subsequent drafts?
My editing process has stayed pretty much the same over the years, although it did become longer and more focused after I made the decision to self-publish Lucky Seventh. After a suitable interval, I print off my first draft and sit down to read it with a red pencil, a pen, and a notebook. I read the draft through, marking pages which have something I need to fix with a red X in the top right corner. If I think I might forget what needed doing (my memory is shot), I make a note of the page and which part needs attention. Once I've done the read-though, I give it another day or two and then sit down with a nice sharp editing pencil and make the corrections on my hard copy. At the end of each day's work, I make the changes to the digital copy - so much easier than the process when I was using notebooks and a manual typewriter to write. Back then, I'd sit at the typewriter with my scribbled mass of pages and try to edit as I typed. Not the most effective system.
How many drafts do you usually produce?
Once I've gone though and entered all those corrections, I wait a week or so and then repeat the process. The third draft is what I used to send out to publishers, hoping it was polished enough to interest an editor. No such luck! When I changed tack, I went back to the manuscript that had been languishing for a while and went through the draft process another two or three times, not really reading the story but studying it for small errors or glaring faults that had somehow slipped through all the preceding edits. And finally, I sat down with a hard copy, a ruler, and my trusty red editing pencil, and did a line edit. I'd work each day until the letters were swimming around the page and I had to take a migraine preventative. Or have a nap. Or both.
With Never Let Go, I'm not entirely sure how the editing will go. It's the first manuscript I've ever written with the express intention of self-publishing. I know I'll need to go through my process very carefully. I think it's human for a mistake or two to make it into any published book, no matter whether it's edited and published by an enthusiastic amateur like me, or a multi-national publishing company. At the end of the day, no matter who's doing the work, books are produced by people, and people - even highly-trained professionals - can and do make mistakes. At the moment, I'm particularly aware that my brain muddles up letters and forgets words on an extremely regular basis, so there will be at least six edits plus line editing, and input from others, before I even think about putting the book out there. By necessity, I run a one-woman writing and publishing ship, and I always aim to do the best I can. And I hope that any mistakes I make are pointed out to me by readers. I am always willing to learn and do my best to improve with every new project.
Until next time,