Over the last few years, I have settled down into a fairly standard process for writing stories. This process typically involves 2 full drafts, an edit, and a final pass. The following illustrates my process at a high level:
Basically, it goes like this:
- In the first draft I tell myself the story. I don’t worry about how long it is, or the language or the research. I just get the story out as best as I can. Usually there are lots of notes and placeholders in my first draft manuscripts, but that’s okay because I am on the only one who sees this draft.
- In the second draft I tell the story to the reader. Now that I now the story, I can tell it to the reader in a way that I think will make it worth their time to read. This is a complete rewrite of the first draft. If research is required, it is here, in the second draft, that I do it. This is also where I fill in the placeholders I’ve created in the first draft. The second draft goes out to my beta-readers.
- In the third draft, I incorporate the feedback I get from my beta-readers. About 30% of the time, this means another full rewrite. About 70% of the time, however, it just means some edits to the second draft, sometimes light, sometimes heavy. This is my vetted, pre-submission draft.
- In the fourth and subsequent drafts, I have one goal in mind: Omit needless words1. I read each sentence slowly and carefully and decide if it is possible to make it more succinct without losing the rhythm I’ve established in the story. I ask things like: am I being too repetitive? Do I really need this description? Am I hammering the point too hard?
This process means that even a relatively short story can take a couple of weeks to produce, but because I am now writing every day, and because I have found a good “quality control” system for myself, it also means that the stories that result from this process are much better than the stories I used to produce.
- Rule 13 from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. ↩
Hah! This meme must be in the air this week. I’ve got to say, I’ve resisted the idea for a long time, this notion that what I type isn’t absolutely fabulous when it exits my brain and enters the screen.
And yet here we sit, you on your side, and me hiding on mine. So maybe there is something to this “let it sit and fester a little” idea after all. Thanks for the insights (and as always, the graphics), Jamie!