Monday, August 26, 2013

How many drafts until you’re done?

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I think when writers ask how many drafts another writer completes for a finished story, they’re really wondering whether they’re spending too much time editing or too little time editing.
That’s what happens when you work alone—you have no basis of comparison.
I got this question emailed to me recently and I had to really think about it.  What comprises a draft to me?  In general, how many times do I go through the manuscript before I send it to my editor?
I definitely keep going through it if I keep finding mistakes.  Obviously, if you think it’s not a clean document, you want to keep working on it.  And I continue reading through the manuscript if I feel I could have used better diction or if I think of other ways to improve the story.  But there does get to be a point where a writer is making changes just for the sake of making changes.  You can write the life out of your story and when it’s tough to say if a change makes the story better or worse…it’s probably time to either put it aside for a while or send it out on submission.
What comprises a draft?  To me, it’s a new version of the manuscript with significant changes.  A draft is something, to me, that would make me want to send an updated copy to my editor or beta reader (“No, read this one, actually.  Not the one I sent you.”)
I’d say that I have probably four or five drafts of a story before I turn it in.  That’s mainly because I write in layers and the second draft is where I put in the book’s character and setting description and the third is where I stick in chapter breaks. Then I have another couple of read-throughs for errors, pacing, continuity, etc.  
You can also approach it a different way—a bunch of targeted mini-drafts.  This could take more read-throughs, but each time you’d be looking for specific things: weak scenes, conflict/tension, description that pops, out-of-sequence storyline, grammar, etc.
After I’m done,  I’ll email the story to my editor.  Months later, there will be more editing.  Then it goes to the proofreader…and even more editing ensues.
How many drafts do you usually go through on a manuscript?  How do you know when it’s ready? 
Image: MorgueFile: jppi