Typically when I write “The End” on a story, that is the beginning of the journey. Revisions and editing are a much longer, and to me, more difficult process than writing. Writing is a lot of fun! Editing? Not so much.
We each have our own methods and our own ways of doing things. I tend to get more granular as I write each draft. Ooops, but hold on. I really need to talk about how I define “draft” here, because it may be different than you think.
In ways my background as a computer nerd come to the surface in my draft numbering scheme. There are two or three components. There is the draft number and then the revision number and often a date-stamp.
I follow normal writing convention by calling my original rough draft “1st draft”. If I were really following the software model, this would be draft “0”.
I change the draft number when there are significant changes, usually end to end. This is typically rewriting chapters, deleting large blocks of text, adding chapters, adding large blocks of text, etc. Of course, as I said, as I go on it gets more granular, so I’m not adding or subtracting chapters at draft five! At that time, it is just a feeling that there have been significant changes since the last draft number.
I call a new revision after I got through end to end and make small corrections. That is at the word, phrase, sentence and perhaps paragraph level.
At some point if I go through the entire manuscript several times and call each a new revision, there may be enough changes to call it a new draft. So after Draft 4, Revision 6 I may say, “You know, this is significantly different than Draft 4. It’s time to call it a new draft.”
As I edit I often will “archive” my progress. This is simply taking the file at the end of the day and adding the date to it and put it on a different computer drive. This is in case something happens and the working draft is crunched I can always find a recent version.
One thing that I did not mention. I have one and only one file in the Universe labeled “working draft”. That copy is just what it sounds like, what I have open to do the editing. When I want to call it a draft or a new revision, I make a copy and then name it something like “wipbook-2nddraft-revision3”.
Drafting vs Editing vs Rewriting
I have used a few words almost interchangeably, but they have different meanings to me.
For me, “drafting” is going through looking for major changes. This is can be changing words, phrases or sentences, but usually implies larger scale, such as paragraphs, chunks of text, and chapters. It might be simple substitution, deleting, adding, changing order or completely rewriting. Notice how it goes along with what I call a draft? Of course, I can do what I call “drafting” but end up with a revision. What makes it “drafting” is that I am not “just” correcting, I am making changes that are larger scale.
“Editing” is closer to “correcting”. It is usually small scale, like words and sentences, though it can be larger scale, though typically not beyond a paragraph. Typical editing would be correcting typos, misspellings, wrong word usage, clumsy word order, unwanted repetition (words or ideas), etc. Editing from end to end creates a new revision, unless, as stated before, I have performed several revisions and I feel that there have been significant changes since the last draft number and so it is time to call it a new draft.
“Rewriting” is just what it sounds like. I typically don’t call it “rewriting” unless I sit down with a blank page and start typing. Sometimes I will put a few new lines into the document and write, sometimes in a separate document and then past it in. I might look at the existing text and occasionally copy parts I like in, or I might do it brand new from beginning to end. Rewriting is usually larger scale, from a paragraph up to a chapter. The end result is not a new revision or draft, just part of the process of creating a new revision or draft. Unless I later find a mistake, rewriting is typically performed as part of creating the second draft, to a lessor extent the third draft sand maybe a little bit in the fourth draft.
Granularity – Examples of Drafts
The more I have done this, the better organized I am in drafting. Every work is different, with different needs, so nothing is set in stone, but below is a quick example of how it might go.
First draft – You know all of those rules you talk about when you write? Those go out the door for the first draft. This is purely to get the words on “paper”. OK, most of my first drafts have been posted on my blog, so I do try to make the writing at least OK, but there are tons of mistakes. This f=draft might have some flesh, but only really needs the bones of the story – basic plot, basic order, basic atmosphere, the main characters, etc.
I typically wait a while after my first draft, from two or three months for a few short stories to two or three years for larger works, like The Old Mill. I will read it once, doing as little correction as I can (slap my hand when I do) and then I sit and plan the next steps. Here is a post that was an in-between time.
Second draft – This is in ways the most important draft. I take the raw story and beat it into something that works. Sometimes there are minor tweaks of plot and such, sometimes chapters are added and deleted and reordered. I am still not thinking of most writing rules here, I am just trying to make the story consistent, make it flow and all of those other things. I might add and subtract characters. I might even put in or develop subplots. I try to find ways to limit my data dumps. In other words, I put some meat on those bones (first draft) after making sure that the bones are the right ones and in the right place.
I put a couple of weeks between drafts before I pick it up again just to clear my head.
After the second draft, it all depends on where the work seems to be. I might add detail at this point, putting in descriptions. I try to make sure that the characters are three-dimensional and consistent. I try to clean it up. I shave down the data dumps even more. I make sure that the ideas and scenes flow smoothly and logically, even if the story itself skips and jumps. I try to make it more real.
Although I do this from the beginning, it is around the third or fourth draft that I really start looking at some of the writing style mistakes I make. “He did this and then he did this and he did this.” That is exaggerated, but I might have a few paragraphs that is all “He did this”. Nope, needs to be rewritten. “John heard a noise. He turned and say a creature.” Nope, needs to go – we don’t need the noise and sight filtered through John’s eyes! We need to hear and see. There are words I use too often, like “suddenly”. I do searches on those words and rewrite as many of them as I can find (this is usually done during the fourth or fifth draft).
It is this point that I start concentrating on all of those rules, hints and tricks we all read about. Yes, I try to do it from the beginning so that it is pretty clean by now, but I am often surprised at how much of the txt is still “amateurish”. This is also the point where I go beyond the flow of the story and look at the flow of the actual words.
After each draft I do at least one revision run, going through and cleaning up typos and other obvious issues, before going on to the next draft. Around the fourth draft, most of my effort is more along the lines of revisions, but still keeping my eyes open for large scale issues and problems and still doing some rewrites.
Around the fifth draft it is mostly editing, but still consider it part of drafting.
At some point I then call it “done-unedited”. I send it to a couple of proofreaders. After I incorporate their feedback, I do a couple of more editing runs, digging deep, and then call it the “finished draft”. This is what I use to create the ebook and paper back – I make a new copy of the file, “Book Master”, and use that copy for the books.
Editing Details and Tricks
After the major rewrites and large-scale drafting, I get to the editing part. I hate editing.
I have discovered a few issues with my editing. First, I know the story so miss quite a bit. Second, after a while I start to read it instead of edit it. Third, I grow bored. Over time I have come up with different ways to help.
One thing is search. I use search a lot. There are words that I often misuse. Search for it. There are typos I make all of the time. Search for it. There are mistakes I make in formatting (spaces, line feeds, etc.). Search for it. Odd names that are misspelled. Search for it. Sometimes there are other easy fixes. Put an oddball name into the dictionary so misspellings can be more easily caught. If you find a misspelling, search for that variation.
Next is going through the manuscript in reverse order. I do this chapter by chapter. I have noticed that I have more mistakes as I go on, including lazy writing. I get impatient at the end. I start reading instead of editing. So by doing the last chapter first, I can concentrate on it.
Actually, from the beginning I will usually go through each chapter at least twice, sometimes four or five times before moving on. Of course doing this I get tired and impatient, so at some point I do the same thing in reverse. Go through the last chapter five times in a row before moving to the second to the last.
I try not to do too much in a day, so I don’t get as tired of it. I also make sure I wait at least a week before going through after I finish a pass.
I read the entire manuscript out loud. This really helps. I will often use a pointer to point at words as I read them. I catch a ton of typos and misused words this way. I also find these clumsy phrases and sentences that I don’t notice when reading in my head. Repeated words stand out. By the time I call it “finished”, I may have read the manuscript out loud from front to back, and back to front, a dozen or more times.
So that is pretty much my editing style at this point. A lot of what I do I came up with to fix issues. I relied on two proofreaders for The Fireborn and missed literally hundreds of typos. I read it out loud (for the first time) when that fact was pointed out and was shocked to discover how many issues I had missed and my proofreaders had missed. So now that is part of my system. It is pretty much the same with everything. Sue Vincent read a draft of my two novellas and noticed how inconsistent I was with oddball names. She made the suggestion of adding those names to the dictionary. But I discovered that normal names were inconsistent, so I expanded my searches (i.e. which is: Brandon, Branden or Brandan).
I hope you got something out of this. Do you have any tricks that you use that I missed?