You have finally finished your first draft of your story. Now comes the real work. The cutting, the editing, the rewriting, the expanding to make your first work closer into a publishable novel.
So how many drafts does that take?
There is no correct answer. It takes as many as it takes. I tend not to break down each going through of my novel as a “draft.” As I write the first draft, I am already going back and reworking it (see my post on editing and writing at the same time). And the second draft may take just as long as the first because it is multiple reads and re-working of the first draft. (But never a full re-write of the story as some authors say they do on their second draft.)
If pressed, I would say I do three drafts. Here is a general outline of my drafts.
The first draft is obviously when you just get your story out. It may be rough or wordy, but you got the basic plot and characters down. Now how well this draft goes depends on many things. If you developed your world and characters or outlined your story, this draft will probably go better than if you just “winged” it.
Some authors consider the first draft a “junk” or “vomit” draft. This is for the people who just type without any planning or editing as they write. They write to get something on the page. I don’t write this way so my first draft never falls in this category. (See above about editing and writing at the same time.)
The second draft is going to involve some re-writing as well as cutting. You expand sections to add description and make your characters come alive. You delete scenes that don’t advance your story – even if they are well-written and your favorite. You make sure the timeline works. Sometimes you may rework an area once or twice. Maybe you will rewrite it many more times. (Ernest Hemingway admitted to rewriting the final words A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, 39 times before he was satisfied.)
Optionally, you may have more drafts of rewriting depending on how much work your story needs. So this could possibly be drafts two through four…or five or even more.
When done with this draft, you may be ready to send your story to a beta reader. But they will undoubtedly have their opinions which you may feel the need to heed. That will mean more editing and adjusting of your story.
Note: One key to improving your editing is to take a break from the book between drafts. You will return with “fresh” eyes and catch more things that need to be changed.
The third draft is more about polishing. It is perfecting word choices, deleting words, tightening scenes even more and of course proofreading. This can be laborious as I can always find thing that I want to tweak and fix. But your goal is to finish the book, not keep piddling around with the same manuscript.
And finally you end with one final (or we hope final) read-through where you will deem it ready for publishing.
Now this is just a sample of how my work typically goes. Depending on the author, it can take many more drafts based on how much work needs to be done and what you consider a “draft.” Just as there is no “right” way to write a novel, each of us will have a different number of “drafts.” All that matters is that you take the time to polish and perfect your work BEFORE you publish it.