Finishing your First Draft

This post is the twenty-ninth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

If you have followed all the lessons, hopefully, you are done (or close to being done) with your first draft of your novel. Congratulations. But you are far from being done…What you have written is nowhere near ready for publishing.

Many first drafts tend to be just writers getting their story ideas down on paper. It may be rough or wordy, but at least the basic plot and characters are there. Now how well written this draft is can depend on many things. If you developed your world and characters or you outlined your story, you may be in pretty good shape.

But some authors consider the first draft a “junk” or “vomit” draft. This is for the people who just type to get something down but didn’t do a lot of planning. They type whatever comes to mind and don’t worry about plot holes or complete sentences. These authors often toss this first draft and start over.

Now whether you outlined or just wrote, you need to be prepared that you will throw out some of what you have written. Great scenes may get cut. Even minor characters may have to go. Your word count may dwindle as tighten up your wording, but it also may grow as you expand on other areas, ideas or descriptions. A lot of things will change as you shape your story into a publishable work.

Personally, I find the “junk” draft idea a complete waste of time. Why spend all that time and throw it away? My method of writing my first draft involves writing and editing the content at the same time. This method can make the first draft take longer but it means less work of rewriting in the second or third draft. This method isn’t for everyone, but I thought I would put it out there for those of you who are still working on the first draft or haven’t begun to write.

First Drafts – Editing as You Write

Instead of waiting until the first draft is finished to begin editing, I edit as I go. Every few chapters, I have someone else read them and make suggestions. In my case, that person is my husband.

So here is how it works. I write a few chapters. I re-read them and make sure that the general idea of what I want is there. Then I give those chapters to my husband to read while I continue writing.

My husband will jot down areas that don’t make sense or areas in need of improvement. His favorite question is “why?” He loves to understand the character motivation for their actions. I then take his comments and go through making any simple corrections. Anything that is going to take some more thought or work, I make notes at that section (highlighting the comments so I can find them again). When I have time (i.e. I get writers block or can’t get motivated to work), I go back and start changing the story based on what he noted.

I find it helpful to do this as I write because it allows me to ensure the story is going in the right direction. It saves me from having to re-write entire sections or from throwing out pages of my novel that no longer match my goal.

Using this method means that by the time I am done with my first draft, my story really has been gone over at least twice. Instead of my second read through being one where I cut out scenes, I use it as a time to tighten up my novel with less to rework. So in other words, I am probably doing drafts one and two at the same time.

Of course, to use this method, you must find someone willing to work with you, all the while realizing that what they are reading is a work in progress. Whatever they read now may or may not make it into the final novel. They also must be willing to give you critical comments and you need to be able to take their criticism and suggestions. It isn’t an easy method. It is kind of like having a Beta Reader in the early stage rather than when you think you are done. (More on Beta Readers in a future blog.)

So how many drafts does that take?

As you are reading this, you may wonder how many more drafts your novel will go through before it is publishable. There is no correct answer. It takes as many as it takes. Some authors do three drafts, some do five or seven and some do many more.

Some of this depends on what you consider to be a “draft.” Obviously, your first draft is everything you write down as the basis of your story. It is done when the story is complete. (Some authors consider their outline their first draft.) After your first full-written draft, there will be drafts to fix structure/plot, story arcs, grammar, word choices, tightening copy, corrections from Beta Readers and more.

If pressed for an answer, I would say you are going to have three to five drafts.

Draft One – Writing out your story

Draft Two/Three – Fixing consistency and plot problems. Making sure sub-plots work and scenes are necessary.

After this point, you might consider sending it to a Beta Reader. (You can do this again and again if you want – depending on how many issues your Beta Reader finds.)

Draft Four – Make Beta Reader Changes & removing wordiness and polishing writing. (This is where I also might use my Revision Outline which will come up in the next few weeks.)

Draft Five – Final Read Through

Now as I said, this is just an outline, a guess, a suggestion of drafts but what you need for your novel will depend on many things – your writing style, the type of book you are writing, your amount of experience and more.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

How many drafts does it take to complete a novel?

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.

First Draft

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.)

Second Draft

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.

Third Draft

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.

Editing a Novel Recap

proofThis week is Spring Break for my kids. As we have activities planned each day, I am going to take the easy way out and instead of writing something new, I am going to do a recap of some of my posts on editing your novel.

First Draft: Editing and Writing at the Same Time – One of my past posts was about writing your first draft. My advice to new writers was to just begin writing and not worry about editing until you had everything down. And this is great advice, but it isn’t how my first draft goes. (To read more, click here.)

Working on my second draft – I finished the first draft on my current work in progress at the end of September. Now to many a first draft is just getting the story down.

If you use an outline and plotted out your story, it might be in good shape. Or you may have just written whatever came to you and have a lot of work to do before reaching the final product. (To continue reading, click here.)

Trimming unnecessary words during my third draft –  In October, I wrote about starting my second draft, which was all about fixing story errors and concentrating on the continuity of the storyline. In November, I began the third draft which is mainly about tightening my writing. (To trim unnecessary words, click here.)

(This is obviously an important topic as I have written on it twice – once when completing Destiny and again when I finished up The Heir to Alexandria.)

Trimming excess words from your novel – As I am editing my latest work, Destiny, I noticed that my word count keeps decreasing as I polish the sentences and remove many unnecessary words.

I have found that one word I used a lot in my original draft which is totally unnecessary is “that.” Now there is nothing wrong with this word, but often it can be cut without any loss of meaning to the sentence. (To read more, click here.)

Focusing on Content Editing –  I have discussed writing your first draft and even doing some editing as you write, but today I wanted to talk about content editing. This is where you aren’t fixing just wording or punctuation but looking more at the plot and characters. (To learn more, click here.)

Using a revision outline to guide editing your novel – Last week, I posted about content editing your novel. In the post, I mentioned that I use a revision outline, so I wanted to share that with you today. (To see the revision outline, click here.)

Picking stronger words – Today’s blog topic comes from helping my son do his homework last week. One of the assignments was to replace the verbs with stronger ones. (For help choosing stronger words, click here.)

Using beta readers to improve your novel – You have written your novel and been through it many times tweaking and perfecting the plot and scenes. You just know it will be well received. But if you think it is ready for publication now, you are missing a valuable step in the self-publishing process. As a writer you have been too close to your work. You may have not caught plot inconsistencies or realized the characters aren’t staying true to themselves. One of the best ways to catch these errors before submitting your work to an editor is to have your manuscript read by a – or better yet several – beta readers. (To continue reading, click here.)

Hopefully, you will find some useful information in these posts. And I promise a new post will be up next Thursday.

 

Working on my second draft

I finished the first draft on my current work in progress at the end of September. Now to many a first draft is just getting the story down.

If you use an outline and plotted out your story, it might be in good shape. Or you may have just written whatever came to you and have a lot of work to do before reaching the final product.

As I have mentioned in the past, I write the first draft and edit it at the same time. As I am writing out the story, my husband is reading chapters and making comments – “expand here,” “I don’t understand this,” or “This is good.”

Based on his comments, I go back and rewrite sections as I continue to write the rest of the story. (I don’t use an outline per se but am not a total by-the-seat-of-her-pants type gal either. I usually have the next few chapters planned out but not the whole story other than a general idea of where I want it to go.)

So now that my first draft is done, it is on to my second draft. Every author does things differently. Since I have really already fleshed out a lot of my novel, there is less of that to do in this second draft. My main purpose with this draft is to read through my novel looking for consistency and where I can amend the story (either by trimming it, fleshing it out or developing subplots).

I read through the whole 98,000 words without making too many corrections. I will add a word or two here if one is left out or correct the spelling of a word, but I try not to get into re-writing at this stage. As I read, I am making notes of areas that need work. I am also writing down some events to make sure I am consistent with them.

In this latest work, my main character has visions. I have been jotting down what happens in each one to make sure what she can see is consistent in each one. She also has premonition dreams, and I have been writing down each dream to make sure that when they happen later that the action matches match up with the dream. It really is all about consistency at this point.

Now once I have read through and made my notes, my second draft isn’t done until I go back and make all those changes. Now I don’t make the changes as I am reading it as I don’t want to get bogged down with making corrections. I need to read it straight through to be able to pay attention to all those details.

When these corrections are done, I can use my revision outline to tighten my writing, perfect word choices and descriptions and cut unnecessary words. And when I get to that stage, it will be my third draft. There will probably be at least one more draft after that before it is completed.

So glad the end feels near…though for me, it is the third draft that requires the most work (after the first draft, of course).

Setting and meeting a writing goal

checklistI have posted before about setting goals when writing a novel. I typically don’t like them as they never seem to help me. Something always seems to come up, so I don’t reach the number of hours or words that I want to achieve. This leaves me discouraged.

My latest novel has been a slow process. It has been almost two years since Destiny, the conclusion of my trilogy, came out. Some days I feel the need to hurry up and get this one completed. I would like to give my readers something new and of course, a writer’s credibility increases with each published novel.

Lots of things have happened in the past two years that have kept me from working on this latest book. There have been big vacations, lengthy hospital stays for my mom, the death of a friend and of course the normal crazy busy stuff of being a parent and an active community member.

Another reason this book has taken a little longer is that unlike working on Destiny, I had to start over and create a whole new world. There were magic systems to set up, characters to develop and a plot to tweak.

But even as much as I usually resist setting up a writing goal, in July, I decided I need to come up with one. I actually set up two. One was very aggressive with me putting in lots of work in a short time frame. But knowing that I would have other things – such as my bigger role with the PTA – taking up some of my time, I created a second set of goals that was probably a little more realistic.

I accomplished the first step of that second goal on Tuesday. I completed the first draft of Alexandria*. (*This is the working title and probably will change before publication day.)

Now I know there is a lot more work ahead but when I say I have done my first draft it is more than that. You see I have a habit of writing and editing at the same time. While I am writing, my husband is reading completed chapters. As he makes suggestions or corrections, I am continually adjusting and rewriting my novel. So as I began to work on my second draft, I have already basically been through the novel in its current state twice.

My official second run through will involve making sure the story line stays on course and that there are no major discrepancies. Since I have already flushed out many of the sections based on my husband’s comments, I hopefully won’t have tons of rewriting to do. If anything, I hope to trim it down some from its 98,000 words.

So the next goal is to have the second draft completed by the end of October. Well maybe it will be more like the middle of November. Either way, here is sticking to this new goal.

First Draft: Editing and Writing at the Same Time

One of my past posts was about writing your first draft. My advice to new writers was to just begin writing and not worry about editing until you had everything down. And this is great advice, but it isn’t how my first draft goes.

Now the way I write will certainly not work for everyone, but I thought I would throw it out there as another option for those writers working on their first draft. Instead of waiting until the first draft is finished to begin editing, I have someone else reading and making suggestions as I go. That person is my husband.

proofSo here is how it works. I usually write a few chapters. I go back and re-read them but don’t usually mess with them too much. I am mainly making sure the sentences are complete and make some sort of sense. I then give those chapters to my husband to read while I continue writing.

My husband will write comments about things that don’t make sense or areas needing improvement. I then take his comments and type them into the appropriate sections (highlighting them so I can find them again). If it is something really simple to change, I sometimes make the changes right away. When I have time (i.e. I get writers block or can’t get motivated to work), I go back and start changing the story based on what he noted.

I find it helpful to do this as I write because there is no use writing the whole thing if the story needs to go in a different direction. This saves me from having to re-write entire sections or from throwing out pages of my novel that no longer match my goal.

Or it means I correct a problem before it gets too big to easily fix later. An example would be on my current WIP Finding Alexandria. The main character has visions when she touches certain people. When my husband read the first vision, he said it was not clear when the vision ended and the current situation continued. It was an easy fix but one I would rather know about now than have to go back and hope to find every vision and repair it. Now, I just remember each time a vision occurs that I need to make it clear to the reader when it is over.

Using this method means that by the time I am done with my first draft, my story really has been gone over at least twice. Instead of my second read through being one where I cut out scenes, I use it as a time to tighten up my novel with less to rework.

Now I know this method won’t work for many authors. One, you have to be willing to let someone read your WIP when it is in a very rough stage. To be able to use this method, you have to accept criticism and comments about your work all the while knowing that you are NOT done with it. And, two, you have to have someone who understands that this is ROUGH. That it is a first draft and that the final story will not look probably anything alike. Luckily for me, I have already found that person.

Writing your first draft

So you have decided to write a novel. You have already developed a rough plot and built credible characters and now before you is a blank white page on the computer screen. Writing your first draft can seem a daunting prospect. So how do you get started?

The answer is to just begin writing. Let your ideas and thoughts flow freely. Even if you know the passage seems rough or feels clichéd, just write. You will go back later to tighten up your story. The key here is to get the story written down.

man at a computer desk uid 1053387As you write, don’t stop to edit as you go. Don’t worry about getting everything perfect. If you wrestle with perfectionism, you will never finish your first draft. Turn off your inner critic and just focus on writing. You can always add or delete things later.

If you are working from an outline, realize that as you write your story, it might develop in a different direction. Characters may do and say things that you did not plan. Be prepared to take these interesting detours. Just go with it.

Try to keep your writing plain and simple. Don’t worry about detailed description or flowery phrases. It is much easier to go back and add to the story then to cut it down. Use simple words. Don’t use uncommon or “big” words just to show that you know them. Write so your readers understand.

And you don’t have to write your book in chronological order. If a scene sparks your fancy, go ahead and write the bar scene before they have even arrived in the city. You can always connect the scenes later. While writing my trilogy since I flip back between several character points of view, I would sometimes get caught up writing from one of their point of views. I would just go with it. Write when you are in the mood and write what you’re in the mood to write.

Accept before you begin that you may throw out a lot of what you write. I have noticed in my first drafts I end up being awful wordy. But on the next draft, I tighten up the sentences. The only time that I have had to throw out or majorly change something was on my first novel, Summoned, where I struggled on what should be the opening scene of the story. (Hmm, that might be another blog topic.)

Anyway, the best advice for writing your first draft is just to go ahead and write. Get that story out of your mind and on paper (or into a computer file).