What Happens After This Draft? – My Revision Process

As I approach the end of my next Paradisa draft, I’m already thinking about the steps that will follow. “Spell check it and send it off to beta readers!” says the village fool. Actually, completing a draft is just the first step – a few other “semi-drafts” will follow, plus a heck of a lot of re-reading.

There are a few types of drafts that I operate in at separate times. That seems like it takes too long, but trying to accomplish all of these tasks at once is just too much to me – I would get stuck on the same page for weeks, picking it apart, when I should be writing the rest of the book. So, splitting it into multiple steps is a much more refined process.

1. The Rewrite. A rewrite is a draft that is formed from a new outline. This is absolutely the roughest draft to slug through, because it basically requires me to write a new book (or a third of one, at least.) Unlike many authors, I do not start with a completely new document, riffing from a completely new outline, utterly ignoring all words used in the previous draft. I do pull massive amounts of content – all I can pull, really – from my last attempt. But when you want Plot Point A to occur three chapters before it did in the last draft, and when you want to separate your characters into two all-new locations for the big mid-book fight scene, and when you want to totally restructure your ending…there’s a lot of new content to be whipped up. This is honestly why Draft Five has taken me 4+ months. I am not only rearranging and cannibalizing so much of the existing text, but I’m adding over 30,000 words of new scenes.

2. The Big Picture Revision. Once a rewrite is done (assuming it was needed in the first place – hopefully 5 will be the last real ‘rewrite’ I do, and that all future edits will be minor), I reread my draft on my tablet. Reading as an ebook gets me into the mental state of a reader. Contrarily, reading it as an editable computer document makes me too much of an editor. I do keep a notebook beside me though, documenting all character, plot, pacing, continuity, setting, and structural issues with the novel. Does each scene have a purpose? Does each scene end on a cliffhanger? Does each scene begin in a way that sets the reader into the scene? Does the novel have a good hook?

Now that I’m past my first beta round, I will also revisit my previous critiques during this stage. I will make sure that all valid concerns from my betas have been addressed in the rewrite. When I’m happy with my re-read, I will annotate my Word doc with comments pertaining to all these concerns.

3. The Seasoning. This is where I trudge through and address all the comments. Sometimes it means changing some dialogue in a scene. Sometimes it means deleting or swapping a scene. The most “writing” I’ll do at this stage is to add paragraphs clarifying intent and setting, or to build pacing.

After this, another reread. Steps 2 and 3 may need to be repeated, depending on how much I like the new version of the book.

4. The Style Revision. I have yet to do a style revision for any previous draft. Now, I feel that the book is ready for a line-by-line analysis, in which I make sure every word is used to its full potential and all lines are my own. Ditch the clichés, ditch the redundancy, ditch the awkward phrasing. My style is very functional and inelegant right now – I have yet to regain the naturally beautiful way I wrote as a teenager (which I swear is due to my lack of reading in recent years, but hey, I’m working on that part!) Until I can turn on good style at a whim, this is the gritty alternative.

5. The Copyedit. Just for grammatical and typographical errors. This is my final read through before other humans see the book.

So basically, five ‘drafts’ in one! I will probably start considering this Draft Six around step 3 though.

And while some may warn me of over editing, fear not – as I said, this is my very first time editing style at all, and that is where over editing rears its ugly potential. I don’t think one can go wrong by making the story a more enjoyable one. I’m kicking myself a bit for taking five drafts to get where the plot needs to be, but part of me knows those previous four trials were all necessary. It’s like a scavenger hunt – you can’t jump to the end until you’ve found all the clues.

I do hope to start Beta Round Two in the spring, but you can see I have a lot of work ahead ;) I feel like it’ll all be downhill once I finish the rewrite though. Ugh. Rewrites really are the hardest part.

What is your editing process like? Do you revise your novel in multiple ways at once or break it down into steps?

9 thoughts on “What Happens After This Draft? – My Revision Process

  1. When I was at ThrillerFest a couple years back, an editor gave a talk and mentioned how each book needs at least five drafts, all focusing on different things and becoming narrower in scope with each draft, kind of what you’re doing here. My second novel went through five drafts and then a final small one after I hired an editor. I suspect my current work-in-progress will, too. But I start with a very thorough outline to keep later plot revisions to a minimum. I know some people don’t like doing that, but I do, and I never feel constrained. I can change anything I want.

    I’m the weird one who enjoys the revisions. Feels less frenzied to me than the initial creation draft.

    • I actually start with a very detailed outline as well. I think my outlines for Paradisa have all been about 15-20k words, which is a fifth of the length of the book! But I always knew that pieces of the outline were sort of “filler,” you know? Like “I just cannot crack a better way to write this middle part, so we’re going with this for now.” Only once my betas read it and I chatted with them did I come up with much better uses of my characters’ time.

      Perhaps in the future, it would be best to write an outline, let it sit, then pass it around to friends. Basically, make sure that the book I’m writing is really the book I want to write. I feel like we always get better ideas down the line though – I just wish we could get some of them sooner :P

      • Oh, yes, the “filler.” I have plenty of that in my outlines. “Oh, I’ll just work that out in the first draft.” Then first draft time comes, and it’s not so fun to hash it out. :)

    • I know to hold onto every good beta I can get ;) Really, it was nice fto have someone encourage me to get/stay unique with the lore. I heard the opposite from another beta and it….kind of made me doubt how much I should slant the source material. But I truly agree with you that that a good myth fantasy needs an original spin on things.

      And I promise the survey portion of Round Two will be *much* more succinct :P

  2. I really like the system you’ve developed here. It seems to take a lot of discipline, tough. I find myself doing a lot of “hop back” editing, where I haven’t finished my entire manuscript and it has slowed my writing a lot. I think I am going to have to print this and pin it up as a reminder. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Don’t worry – I don’t set rules for myself and then feel like I need discipline to follow them ;) I just do what feels right at the time, and this process seems to have laid itself out in front of me.

      However, I do suppose I had to train myself out of the “going back and reading what I just wrote” thing. Then again, perhaps my method wastes more time than yours does. By editing back, you can nip problems in the bud before you finish writing your book. With my method, you may have to write half a book over again. Lots of authors advocate light editing/re-reading what you wrote the day before, actually. That’s just advice I don’t follow because I – personally – only feel like I’ve made progress when I finish something. You do what’s right for you though! Writing is a slow process no matter what, so I think it’s best to follow your muse.

  3. I like your process. Mind is not dissimilar, but I have far more boring names for each stage:

    Draft 1: Whack it out. It’s going to have loads wrong with it, because it’s a first draft, but get it done. It’s hard enough work as it is, without stressing over every word. (Though I have to admit, I do try to make it not too awful. There’s no point in producing something so bad you’ll need to rip it up and start again from scratch.) Draft 1 is for my eyes only – it’s not good enough to show anyone else.

    Draft 2: Trying to turn the first draft into something halfway decent. Depending on how good/bad it was, the changes might be bigger or smaller, but there will be quite a lot. Characters might get cut, scenes deleted or inserted, the ending changed. After this (or possibly another draft), it’s ready for beta review.

    Draft 3: Taking on board beta review / edit comments. Possibly still fairly significant changes at this draft.

    Draft 4: The ‘copy edit’ really.

    Draft 5: Proofread/polish

    The above’s the minimum really. There might be more than one edit/beta stage for example. Both my first two books had seven or eight drafts.

    • Our processes are very similar! I think I use 1-3 drafts between the first and the beta round, depending on how indecisive I am. I’ve rewritten the story substantially after my first set of betas, but hopefully the plot is solid now. Hopefully all I’ve got left is style and some minor fleshing-out.

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