"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

IWSG: How Much is Enough?

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs. You can also join us on twitter using the hashtag #IWSG, or on the Facebook page.


A new writer recently asked me how many drafts, or revisions, did I feel we should go through before submitting. I thought a minute about my own style before answering:

“I’ll produce no less than four versions, but usually closer to seven or eight before I submit. Even then, I’ll find things I want to change. I guess most writers are never really done.”

She stared at me, perhaps in a mixture of confusion and horror. Was I too honest? I didn’t mean to discourage her. Finally, she asked, “How does that work? What do you change each time?”

So I explained:

Draft 1 – Falling in Love – This is where I start with an idea and just let the story and characters take me where they want. No preplanning. No outlining. I just enjoy the ride.

Draft 2 – This is where I go back and flesh out the characters, fill in plot holes, and make sure everything is flowing toward the conclusion I want.

Draft 3 – This is where I check my facts. Did I spell character names the same way throughout? Did I use repetition of words, phrases, or gestures that I need to adapt? This is where I’m checking for accuracy, consistency, and other issues that can distract the reader, or detract from the believability of my tale.

Drafts 4 through 7 – Most people call these line edits. This is where I scour the story for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I usually won’t show ANYONE else my manuscript before I get to this stage. However, this is where most of us are ready for a second pair of eyes. Someone to help us identify: Is my POV consistent? Did my main character develop in any way? Am I being too cliché? Am I showing instead of telling? Is the dialogue awkward, or wordy? Do I need to clarify any action, or backstory? This is where we are polishing the manuscript, and strengthening our voice.

Additional Drafts – Hopefully, you’ve had at least one other person review your work by now. That could be family, friends, fellow writers, readers, or even an editor, agent, or publisher. The truth is, the more people you can trust to give you honest feedback, the better story you’ll be able to produce. Once you submit, the editor or publisher who accepts your work will likely suggest at least one more round of edits. While you may grow to hate your story by this point, remember it’s all in an effort to produce the best version of your creation.

Don’t give up. Don’t deny the world your BEST writing.

What do you think? How many drafts are enough? What’s your routine for revisions? When are you ready to “let it go?”

11 comments:

Tamara Narayan said...

I'm not sure I can properly count the drafts, because I think of something that needs fixing, and in the process of doing that, I find more things that need attention. So I'm working here and there all over the place which must be done, but at what point do I have a "new draft". Hmm . . . I do love editing though, and I'm sure it's more than 7 drafts.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

She thought it should be less? She's in for a surprise. I'd say when really counting everything as a whole, eight or so is about right.

L.G. Keltner said...

Honesty is probably best, even if it can seem intimidating. We're writers because we love it. We're writers because we have a story that needs to be told, even if we sometimes feel like we may never get there. I don't keep really good track of how many drafts I do since I, like Tamara, I'm a little all over the place in the way I fix things. It has to be a lot, though.

Yolanda Renee said...

7 sounds about right, and I do number them! :)

Chrys Fey said...

I always do 3 rounds by myself. Then two with beta readers. Then 3 with my editor before it's published. So 8. Wow! I always say that you're not done editing it until it's published.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Great post, Sylvia! I agree you have to feel you have produced the best ms. you can. I heard Terry Shames speak at a Sisters in Crime meeting a couple of weeks ago, and she made the point that "Good enough is not good enough," it has to be your best. I don't think there's a magic number for how many rewrites you should do, but I think the moment comes when you realize you've improved it the best you can, and that more might diminish the quality instead of improving it. That's when it's ready to send out to the world.

Taryn Tyler said...

I personally do not count my number of drafts. Or decide on specific things I intend to look for for each draft. I edit while working on the first draft and will run back or jump ahead and adjust bits as I work my way through each revision. I consider it finished when I read through it and can't think of anything that wants to be changed. Then I step away from it for awhile and work on another project for a couple of months, then go back with fresh eyes and make changes willy nilly until, once again, nothing wants to be changed. Sometimes I will show it to a BETA but, to be honest, I have not found any of my BETAs's advice to be especially helpful. The story has a mind of it's own and that is the voice I listen to. My BETAs know how to write their own stories but not mine.

But everyone has a different process and I am glad that you have one that works for you :-)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Just part of the great machine called the writing process.

Susan Kane said...

Sometimes writing feels a little like Alice in Wonderland.

Cynthia said...

I think the number of drafts is different for everyone, which is why I think it's good to have reliable critique buddies who can tell you when you're done.

Rebecca Douglass said...

Even if I kind of lump things to make it less daunting, I can't come up with fewer than 4, and several of those are really multiple drafts. I've taken to copying and numbering each draft (so I save the previous draft in case I want to go back to something, though this is less necessary in the final polishing drafts), so I have a rough count. But is it a new draft each time I go through looking for a particular problem?

My answer to the question of how many revisions: as many as it takes. And yes, somewhere in there, usually at two or three places, I need outside input.

Rebecca at The Ninja Librarian