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Phases of revision

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by skip.knox, Nov 17, 2021.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    It's customary to speak in terms of first draft, second draft, etc. Often copyediting and proofreading get their own billing, and rightly so. But I think I'm seeing a pattern in my own work where there's a qualitative difference in the editing phases.

    First draft happens when the story feels done in the sense that all the elements are there. Somewhere in there. The story is still a mess, there are gaps, and maybe even a few unanswered questions, but at least in the latter case I have a list of possible answers and just have to choose among them.

    That's a place of wretchedness. Everything could happen. Anything could happen. Maybe I should just toss it all. Learn to play the saxophone.

    But somewhere in the process, which consists mainly of diving into one tangled mess after another and just deciding I'll get this _one bit_ sorted and worry about the rest later, somewhere along that jungle path things get clearer.

    Not necessarily easier, but easier in one important way: I start to see how things gain order. This bit here, it really needs to be in a later chapter. How I fit it in remains to figure out, but at least I see where it must go. I see this secondary character has to remain, but this other can be shown the door, thanks for your service. What was done by that character gets rolled into this one. It's big chunks of story that click into places with a satisfyingly dramatic sound effect. They become the unalterable parts around which the rest of the story must arrange itself.

    Maybe we can call all that the second draft. It's the phase where things are moving into place. Third draft would be fitting in the rest. Or maybe it's just on to copy editing and continuity work. However that may be, I'm happy to see any sort of patterns in how I work, because there was a time that my work process resembled a toddler throwing a tantrum.
     
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  2. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

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    Sounds logical. For me, the first draft is only "new" stuff; I'm going off my outline and moving pieces from one point to another. It ends once I hit "the end"* on the last page. The second draft starts with reading the first draft and taking big-picture notes (reorder these chapters, the motivation doesn't make sense, the kinda stuff you mention) but no actual touching it. Then I read it again, actually putting "pen to paper," marking stuff up and making changes and going through my to-do list from the reading notes (and the list I made while writing the first draft, cause stuff changes sometimes as you write that you gotta go back and make consistent).

    Each subsequent draft starts once I complete my to-do list and then start on a fresh read from the start. Some of the tasks get kicked down the road, like "include more dialog tags" or "search for -ly words and judge if they're important" because I'm a big believer in not making extra work for yourself. It doesn't make a lot of sense to go through line-level editing when there's a decent chance you might just rewrite an entire chapter/scene/paragraph.

    But I also know some people edit as they go, so once they hit "the end" everything is "complete." Or there really isn't strict "version control" and everything is more fluid. Also the complexity of the work matters, too; I imagine my multi-POV epic fantasy novel is going to have more drafts than my fantasy romance that's supposed to be only 60K.


    *Not literally, I really don't like THE END but you know what I mean
     
  3. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    For me, the first draft is a 'completed' story in that it has a beginning, middle, and end. It also has lots of plot holes, character issues, and gaps - chapters that are mere stubs or outlines. And let's not forget my personal bane, sequence issues, a product of how I write - I am 'writing out' a great many 'mental movie clips' and determining their order is a pain. For me, the 'first draft' is not a single continuous work - at least for novel length stories. Instead, it is split into chapters, each with a given POV character.

    The second draft 'fixes' the big issues with the first draft. Character's get...character. Plot holes get plugged. Flawed chapters get tossed. And I spend lots of time rearranging the assorted 'mental movie clips.' With the conclusion of the second draft, I have an actual, readable story...albeit one with grammar bugs and assorted trivial plot and character issues. This is where I combine the individual chapters into a single file.

    Next up is what I think of as the the '2.5 draft' - basically editing for grammar and consistency. On occasion, I will come across issues that require adding new scenes, and rarely, new chapters. Occasionally, I'll drop the odd scene during this phase.
     
  4. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

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    I'm a plotter. So my zeroth draft is creating an outline for the story. This makes sure most pieces are in place.

    First draft then is writing the story start to finish. I begin at page 1 and write straight through to the end (and I do actually write "The End" at the end, it's very satisfying...). I take notes as I go of stuff which needs editing or is missing. If I find out I need a gun that needs to go off in the third act I make a note that I need to add it in the first act somewhere. That sort of thing.

    Second draft is reading it through start to finish and noting high level changes that are needed. Draft 2.1 is reading through it again, but now I read per view point character, and I note all low level changes that need to be made. Changes in sentence, gramar stuff, word choice, that sort of thing. So if a character is the view point character in chapters 1, 3, 7, 12 and 13, then I will read those chapters, skipping the stuff in between. This helps me focus on the character voice. And this for all POV characters.

    Third draft is then taking all notes and making all the changes I've indicated. This I do once again from start to finish.

    At this point, I'm usually sick and tired of the story (having written it once, and read it 3 times). So I pass it of to my editor, which lets me forget about it for 1 to 3 months (depending on his schedule), and I work on something else. When that comes back I will do a fourth draft and sometimes a 5th, depending on his remarks. If he mainly has language changes, then the fourth draft is just changing those. If there's more structural stuff in there then the fourth draft is changing the big things and the fifth draft is the language stuff.

    After this it's slap on a cover and publish the damn thing.
     
  5. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    My first draft (as in the first draft I'd show to another human being) is usually pretty well polished. The reason for that is that I edit as I go along.

    I would begin by getting the basic plot outline clear in my head (in skeleton form anyway, not necessarily in finite detail). Only then would I make a start.

    My typical approach would then be to write a chapter or so and take a break. After at least a day I would come back to it, re-read it and edit it before writing the the next chapter. I find it helps get me back into the flow of the story that way. I also find that coming back to something with a fresh eye the day after you write it means that you pick up a hell of a lot. If it has been a while since I last worked on a project I might re-read the whole thing from the start before re-starting (editing as I go).

    Occasionally I might think of something mid-way through whilst writing a chapter that I know will impact on some of the earlier chapters - perhaps something that I need to sign-post earlier on, or perhaps in how I see one of the characters. If that happens I might well go back and edit/ re-write earlier chapters to add this in / rectify any consistency issues. One time I altered the way one of the characters spoke half way through to make her more distinctive. I then had to go all the way through everything from the start and tweak her dialogue to make her consistent before I could write anything more. Maybe that is a bit OCD on my part. I suspect a lot of other writers would have cracked on and left that kind of stuff until the end.

    By the time I finish something, I will have probably re-read and edited it all several times. I would then go through the whole thing again for any final edits or continuity issues. That gets me to what I would consider to be 'draft 1'.

    Then I would get someone else (ideally 2-3 people) to read, edit and comment. That gets me to draft 2.

    Then I would go through the whole thing one last time and tweak it / make any final edits. That gets me to draft 3, which would be the final one (unless it changes).
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2021
  6. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

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    Interesting that everyone here writes one to three drafts. I'm a three, although my first novel took many many more than that, but thankfully, not the eighty-one of Patrick Rothfuss.

    Listening to people talk about this over many years, it seems that for some, the word draft is used to mean editing, for others, it means deepening the story, so they're still in a creative phase. For me, the first draft is getting the basic story down; in the second draft I tighten the story; and in the third draft, I polish the prose. Then I think about editing.
     
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    I only ever write one draft, and that then goes to my editor. There's no re-drafting, and editing is usually only a check of spelling, grammar and continuity. But that's because I'm severely dyslexic, so what a lot of authors do in the form of outlining, plotting and rough first drafts gets done in my head before I ever reach for the keyboard.
     
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  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Interjecting here only to say that this thread has a good deal of excellent information, precisely because various approaches are well represented. Future writers will do well to read this!

    Well, ok, not "only" to say. Also, this: does anyone know of a good book on *editing* for writers? I know there are several, but they tend to present one approach only. A Genuinely Useful book would present multiple approaches and would deal sympathetically with the difficulties of each that a writer might encounter. To generalize wildly: writing is hard but editing (revising) is harder still.
     
  9. Jac Buchanan

    Jac Buchanan Dreamer

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    Although I do use "first draft" when it comes to the first time I write the full story from start to finish (as that in itself is a milestone). After that, it comes down to rough draft, early draft, working draft, advanced draft, final draft, then published manuscript - each following the editing cycle from structural to proofreading, as each of these are milestones.
    Even if you're self-editing (revising) or using beta-readers, following the usual flow saves a lot of time and heartache.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >following the editing cycle
    The challenge for me has been in figuring out how to tell when I'm on early vs rough, or advanced or final or really any of it. For me, writing is rather like tumbling down a steep hill into a vast, overgrown swamp with only the vaguest notions of where north or west might lie, then spending so long slogging about I'm not even aware I've emerged until I sort of look around one day and declare Progress Has Been Made. Gradually I become aware that I'm spending more time copy editing and proofing than I am in writing or rewriting scenes, at which point I again declare Progress Has Been Made.

    But as for reproducing anything, naw. It's more like there may be a pattern to being lost, but while lost the patterns don't much matter. All I can really be sure of is that if I keep walking, eventually I arrive.
     
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  11. MommaKat

    MommaKat Acolyte

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    I am definitely a pantser in my writing. I haven't written what could charitably be called a draft yet, I started writing with a pretty firm idea of who my MC is, and some of her backstory (although she made me rewrite part of it). I haven't gotten the ending written yet. I write, then I go back and re-read what I wrote and change things. I need to figure out some way of moving my momentum forward rather than laterally.

    I have a gigantic section in Scrivener with sections of writing that will eventually get dropped into the right part in the book, or are thoughts to hopefully guide me in developing a plot line or character that has yet to fully show itself. I did several hours of what I call writing diarrhea, then I spend some time sorting them into similar topics, then in dropping them in the folder of the appropriate time in the book (i.e. Monday night, The accident, Scotland, or whatever)
     
  12. Jac Buchanan

    Jac Buchanan Dreamer

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    It's beta-readers that usually tell you (acknowledging we can't all afford editors for every stage of every manuscript - though wouldn't those deep pockets be nice?) This usually requires very targeted questions. The guide I originally used is this one:
    Frankie Waters - Author Workflow
     
  13. Nighty_Knight

    Nighty_Knight Minstrel

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    I do 4, possibly 5 drafts. That's also because I'm a pretty bad writer though so I need it. I do keep versions of each draft though, in case I change too much or I prefer and earlier draft.
     
  14. Jac Buchanan

    Jac Buchanan Dreamer

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    The danger of counting "This is my x draft" is that it can be depressing, and the fact that every writer has different needs to produce their version of the optimal manuscript. That's the beauty of art - we're all different. In other words, judging by the number of drafts, or comparison to others, is fruitless. It simply comes down to what gets you to where you need to be.

    There are techniques that people use to cut down on the number of drafts, but that's about efficiency. It's a sign of "this writer is better" because of it.
     
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  15. MommaKat

    MommaKat Acolyte

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    is a writer better for it or not, or is it just the way different writers do what works for them.
    I think you meant to say that it's *not* a sign that the writer is better...
    Cheers
     
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  16. Jac Buchanan

    Jac Buchanan Dreamer

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    Sorry. What I meant was that people interpret efficiency as being a better writer. But the fact is that's not the case. They simply found a way to achieve their version of the optimal manuscript, quicker than they did before. i.e. Such efficiency in other writers may produce a lesser-quality outcome than they would otherwise achieve.
     
  17. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    Hemingway re-wrote the ending of Farewell to Arms 47 times before he was happy with it.
     
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  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm impressed he was organized enough to have kept count!
     
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  19. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

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    One would only need count the retyped copies, maybe. They don't disappear like mine (thankfully) do on a computer.
     
  20. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    Although I'm severely dyslexic I have quite a lot of writing experience, some professional in the form of research papers, military plans and orders and some what you might call semi-professional in the form of novels and short stories. For me, quality of writing depends on the target audience if you will. Who is reading it and why?

    In writing military plans and orders, speed is of the essence and quality means expressing all the essential information as clearly and succinctly as possible in the time available. Unclear orders lead to mistakes in the field and can lose you the battle. And an order which doesn't go out on time is useless. So it has to be right first time, it has to go out on time and that means it only has to be good enough.

    Research papers are very different. In these you have to expound the current theories in depth, explain your methods, give a detailed analysis of your results, discuss the results and what they mean and then propose some conclusions. Quality means academic quality, not getting it to the academic referees by a certain date.

    So where does that leave novels and short stories? Here I think quality means producing something readers want to read, and that means meeting the readers expectations. That isn't the same as producing the best prose possible, even if some SFF magazines would have you believe otherwise. Which leads to the question of deadlines and how you meet them as an author. Yoru readers want your book, they wanto to enjoy it and they'd rather not wait several years for a sequel. So you have to meet the deadline at the same time as producing something your readers want to read. For me, that isn't going to be the very best prose I could write. But it does mean meeting my readers expectations, keeping them interested, engaged and engrossed in the book. If the book sells well then I don't much care if the literary critics don't like it. Like Edgar Rice Burroughs, I'm out to sell enjoyable books, not produce deathless literature.

    Which takes me back to efficiency. For me efficiency means finding a method by which the book gets written and sent to my editor on time. Some writers produce loads of drafts and stress themselves half to death in the process. I'd suggest that possibly they have the wrong focus, and certainly the wrong method. My advice is simple - find a method which works for you, get some idea of how long it takes to write something good enough (whatever that means) and then use that to set your deadlines. Most publishers are not unreasonable, if you meet your deadlines they're usually happy to give you the time you need.
     
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