Thursday, June 21, 2012

Once more, with feeling

The manuscript I'm working on now is in at least its 16th major draft. I can count the drafts by looking at my files, since I number them. If I've nicknamed a project "Starlight" (for example), my files will be starlight, starlight2, starlight3, and so on. When I submit, I rename the file with the formal title, and any revisions then become "rev1," "rev2," or something like that.

I start a new numbered file whenever I'm making such significant changes that I'm not sure how they're going to work out, so I want to preserve the previous version just in case. That's what I'm counting as a major draft. But within each major draft, I've done countless* passes through the file.

Naturally, my editors have not seen all 16 drafts. The first version they saw was much closer to #16 than #1.

Out of curiosity, I looked back at The Secret Year and Try Not to Breathe to see how many drafts they took. The Secret Year was somewhere around its 8th or 9th major draft when acquired, and I did two more post-acquisition. The 11th or 12th version of Try Not to Breathe was the first one that went to my editor, and I did a few more drafts after that. (My brave agent first saw the 3rd or 4th draft of that one, which is much earlier than I usually show a book to anyone, but that project was unusual.)

I'm not sure if I've really been doing more drafts with each project, or if I just save my files more often. It could be both.

I'm sharing these details just because I always find it comforting whenever writers admit they don't pound out perfect prose right out of the gate. And to emphasize just how important revision is. For me, writing is mostly about rewriting.


*Well, one could count them, of course. But I choose not to, for fear it would depress me. Also because I am too blinking lazy.

p.s. If you'd like to talk writer craft in person this weekend, and you're anywhere near Mays Landing, NJ, please consider joining us for this:

Saturday, June 23, 2 - 4 PM: Panel on writing: "I've Finished My First Draft, Now What?" Atlantic County Library (Mays Landing Branch), 40 Farragut Ave., Mays Landing, NJ. Appearing with New Jersey Authors Network.

10 comments:

  1. I do the same thing, numbering each major draft. The numbers are a badge of honor. ^_^

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I started wondering is it a good or bad thing that I have more drafts now? LOL. I can't even resist comparing me to myself! But the story's what matters.

      Delete
  2. I love getting a glimpse into your writerly methods. I do the same to a certain extent. Do you use Word? or some other writing software (ie, Scrivener, etc.)

    That talk would be great to attend this weekend. I wish I could. I hope you have a chance to hang out by the shore for a bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just use Word. Sometimes I use spreadsheets for outline-type activities. I have heard so many people rave about Scrivener, but software doesn't really excite me, and I haven't felt any need to try it.

      I hope I will get to see the ocean!

      Delete
  3. I hope one day you visit near where I live. I would love to meet you in person. :) But, yes, I usually have about 20 drafts of a book before it's finished. I think I might save new draft versions more often than I need to. Right now, on my current draft, I'm in #2, which means I have a long way to go!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm daydreaming about my next project already. Have to finish this one, though!

      Are you in Utah? Because I have been there before and will be there again.

      Delete
    2. Yes, I am. I live like 10 minutes away from Natalie Whipple. Let me know when you are here again! :)

      Delete
  4. I do something similar with my titles; I make a copy of all drafts I want to revise, then rename them [story title] Rewrite.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the great thing about writing--we can always go back to earlier versions!

      Delete