In the Golden Age of writing, I suspect many Great Writers produced a single draft by hand or by battering a typewriter. Perhaps they or their publisher then annotated the text before it finally went to press.
Not so in the age of the word processor and the ever-busy writer with a parallel career. My first draft is usually a rush of consciousness, 40,000 words or so, where I hammer out the story that has been growing in my head. There will be notes, research and a ‘plot spider’ to refer to and a few false starts but at the end of Draft 1 I know I have a story. Its unpublishable illiterate gabble in some places, but there is a beginning, middle and end.
So to Draft 2, the Plot Edit. I expand out my draft with all the ingredients necessary to support the story I have imagined. In go the sub-plots, the backstory and in the crime novels this is when the clues are planted and the perpetrator finally determined. It hits maybe 60,000 words.
I call Draft 3 Animate! Here I edit the writing itself, revising the flat text I used in the first draft to hurry the plot along. Simple ‘he saids’ are accompanied by actions, gestures, movements. I flesh out the locations now I am sure I am actually going to have a scene in that location. The book approaches final length at the end of this, say 80-90,000 words.
Draft 4 is the Character Edit. I read through the book one key character at a time, looking at only their scenes as if this were exclusively ‘their’ story. I make sure their language is consistent, they are fully fleshed out and their motivation is clear. I insert a small number of extra scenes if these are needed to build up a character. For economy this can mean rewriting an existing scene to better introduce or explain that character.
Draft 5 is the Continuity Edit. I check the book against the calendar – a real calendar in some cases, an internal timeline for other. I check the weather and seasons, the blooming of flowers. In some stories I’ve had to co-ordinate with known historical events. In ‘Glint..’ for example I read the Guernsey Evening Press for the years 1913 to 1919 so in some cases was able to insert actual storms or local news stories. Whilst writing the Flint novels there were particular problems caused by weekends (when things are closed) and by the speed of the post, causing some scenes to be juggled. Sometimes I need to write filler scenes to explain where those days went. Continuity is also the reason I’m wary of over-writing in the early drafts. I once wrote a lovely sunset scene for Flint, then by the final draft the action took part in mid-evening in the dead of winter. I also check that the blonde on page 17 had not turned into a brunette by page 89.
Draft 6 is the clean-up, using the spell/grammar checker as well as Mark 1 writer’s eyeballs. At this point the draft then goes to one or more willing friends for their opinions. I ask them to be brutal, as the publishing industry will be!
Draft 7 is the post-read revision. In the case of Glint there were some historical facts and language to check up on and change. There will be continuity errors to chase down, and questions of taste – my wife would write ‘Yuk’ beside purple or clumsy prose. Volunteer reviewers are not necessarily God though. Roughly one third of comments I revise as suggested, one third I stick to my guns and one third I look at carefully. I may not do exactly what my reader suggests, but if they have a problem with a paragraph then so will other readers.
Draft 8 is the ‘final’ clean-up before it goes off to the agent, editor or publisher. In truth it is not final as it will bounce back to me one or more times before there is an acceptable proof. And then of course there is the final, final page proof corrections…