So, last week, we asked our authors What do you look to achieve in a first draft?
What did you think of their answers? How much of what you read either articulated what you instinctively believed, or gelled with what you already thought? Or did you learn something entirely new?
It’s interesting that, as writers, we can be distinct, but also share commonalities, which shows that process can hold true for all of us – regardless of how unique we are as people, where we are in our writing life, and what we write.
This week, the second question we’re putting to our authors is …
Koraly Dimitriadis:: ‘Depends on the piece of writing. If it’s a poem, not much. My novel I have been working on and off for years and years. I usually do a full draft then leave it for six months and work on something else. It really depends on if there’s a deadline or not. My theatre show I had a date which I had to stage it so I had to move faster in my revisions. I find if I have a deadline it makes me do it faster, even if that’s a deadline I set for myself like submitting to an award.’
Tess Evans: ‘Even though my first draft has been revised a number of times, there are editing tasks that can only be done when I have a view of the whole. At this point, I comb through the draft several more times, double-checking the time-line (not always successfully), looking for inconsistencies in characters and plot and judging whether a scene is long enough, too long or irrelevant. Sometimes a whole new scene needs to be written to enhance some aspect of character or plot. It’s here also, that I try to refine the language.
‘The next step is to seek feedback from friendly readers who aren’t afraid to criticise, and I rework aspects if necessary.
‘My final task is to read the whole manuscript aloud to look for small errors but mostly to ensure that the language sounds right.
‘I then send the draft to my agent, who sometimes has suggestions of her own. When we are both satisfied, it’s sent to the publisher.’
George Ivanoff: ‘Depends on the project. Novels have typically gone through ten or so drafts. My interactive You Choose kids books only go through about five drafts because they are planned out in much more detail. Short stories vary a great deal … some have had as little as three drafts; some as much as ten.’
Julie Koh: ‘It’s an inexact science. I keep going over the story until I think it’s good enough to pass on to my editor. That means reading the story line by line out loud when I’m getting near the end of the process and tweaking the wording until the rhythm and jokes sound good to my ear.’
Ryan O’Neill: ‘A lot. For a short story, anything from five to thirty-five drafts. For my latest book, I did about twelve drafts. Sometimes people will say that a piece of writing feels like it has been worked on too much. I think this is nonsense. If the writing lies there like a fish on a slab, it’s not because it has been overworked, it’s because it hasn’t been worked on enough. I don’t believe you lose freshness and energy throughout multiple drafts. The only downside is that you get too close to the work, and can no longer see what works and what doesn’t. Then it’s time to take a break and go back and revise it again.’
A.S. Patric: ‘Revision is evolution. Without it, we’re nothing.’
Inga Simpson: ‘That initial process means I have to do a lot of revision.
‘I work intensively on the manuscript for about a month. First I make a kind of map of the draft, to see what’s there, what it’s really about. When I was writing Nest, I thought it was about birds and art and living close to nature, but when I read it back, I realised it was also about motherhood and childlessness. It was not an entirely comfortable realisation, but I trusted it and worked to strengthen those bits and develop the theme throughout. I enjoy developing the themes and imagery most. And putting things in the right order, filling the gaps, cutting away the excess, landing those big moments – turning the manuscript into something more coherent and readable. If the first draft is about freedom, the second is about control. By the end of that process I have can hold the whole story in my head.
‘I will then work through the manuscript again, marking up the hard copy and tidying and polishing on screen, before sending it to my first reader. I’m always terrified that the idea is a complete disaster by then, but secretly hoping it is a little bit brilliant. These days it’s my publisher and editor who read it first, and they give me a sense of what’s working and what isn’t, and some informal structural feedback. Weirdly enough, the more convinced I am that the book is a complete disaster (most recently my first work of nonfiction, Understory) the more they seem to like the book.
‘Then I head into the regular in-house editing process: structural edit, line edit, and proofread. The feedback, and time passing in between each stage, give me a fresh look at it each time. All up, the editing process takes longer than getting that first draft down.’
Laurie Steed: ‘I revise to a ridiculous degree, really. In the space of writing and revising my debut novel, You Belong Here (now six years), I’ve had friends who’ve written and published three or four books. Of the six years spent working on the novel, at least three of those have been in revision, developing characters, tightening narrative arcs, or searching for the “third option” that makes an otherwise competent story that little bit braver, or more surprising.’
Next Week: Question 3!