So this is sort of an addendum, a side note to the entire editing post I did. On one end, we have the question of how much editing you need (often working down to how can you afford and how much you can stomach) and the other, the question of how many drafts you need to do before your work is ‘done’.
Whatever that definition of done is.
Now, I’m going to be frank here (and yes, you can be Suzie); I’m a low draft person. I do 2 drafts before it gets shipped to an editor.
Like so many things with writing, it’s all personal choice. Patrick Rothfuss is known as a multi-drafter, working and reworking his books (Name of the Wind supposedly took 10 years) till the prose sings. And it shows. Lois McMaster Bujold takes 2 years per book, though I’m not sure how often she redrafts.
Other authors (some really big ones like Asimov (1 draft I believe) or Stephen King (3 drafts) ) do minimal drafts before their work is ready.
Here’s my own thoughts on this contentious topic, over and above the usual corollary when we talk about writing processes that everyone is unique.
And it’s pretty simple – the less words you have down, the more you need to revise.
If you’re writing your first book, you’ll probably end up revising quite a bit, just because you’re learning the basics of writing. Now, this might literally be learning the basics of English and writing a novel in some cases, while in other cases it might be learning to add in specific aspects.
Example, I’ve heard people talk about redrafting for theme, for prose, for dialogue, for pacing, to trim out uneeded characters or sub-plots, etc.
However, as you grow more experienced, you find that you incorporate such aspects without thinking and you also remove the need to rewrite that. I also think, to some extent, what we write is a subconscious thing, so as we do more work, the better we get at doing that work.
That being said, learning to deal with the simple fact that no work is ever going to be perfect is a necessity for authors. And this is where thoughts like Dean Wesley Smith and Heinlein’s Rules can be particularly useful for new writers (i.e. don’t rewrite unless an editor asks for you to do it – or do minimal rewriting); because you need to write and move on at some point. And having a specific rule where you do X and publish and move to the next book forces you to move on.
Sadly, most of us don’t do well with rewriting the same work over and over again. Personal note – I had a recent editor push me to rewrite my work multiple times. Much more than I would normally do, and they were right. I had a bad tendency to use repetitive words (some of which is on purpose for rhythm and pacing purposes but most not); and it kept showing up. Now, I hated doing it, but I have to say it did force me to see it in my future works too. However, there’s only so much you can rewrite the same piece before you have to move on and see if you can keep that lesson in new work.
Which, I think, I have. I hope so, though we’ll see in the next few books.
Write, edit, publish. And then do it again. However many times you do a draft, at some point, you have to publish (or put in a drawer somewhere or internet archive or what have you) before you move on.
As an indie author, the vast majority of my mistakes and my progress are open to the world. For trad authors, who often write 3 – 4 manuscripts before they are taken on and published, many of their older works are hidden.
But, they still write new work, moving on from the draft stage. Because at a certain point, you have to if you want to do this as a career.
If not, if you’re a hobbyist or just want 1 book out that will be your magnum opus… you do you.
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