On a variety of blogs lately, writers have been talking about drafts, and I’ve been taking note. I’ve enjoyed reading other writers’ processes, and learning where I can. My process is a little different from the others I’ve read.
I begin with an idea and an opening scene, which sets up the core problem for the main character. As the idea develops while I’m working on other things, I jot down more ideas—a scene later in the story, a line of dialogue, a supportive character, a subplot, an interesting name, setting details. After a while I have a few pages of these bits and pieces, and I can feel the story growing warm and alive. That’s when I begin writing. I know it’s the right time because I wake up in the morning looking forward to working on the story.
By about page fifteen I have added something else, a detail not on my original list, which will mean correcting an earlier statement. This happens all the way through, with sometimes larger changes and scenes inserted to bring the various threads into alignment. Is each change a new draft? By the end of writing out the story for the first time, which could be Draft 23, I’ve made numerous changes, added at least half a dozen scenes to flesh out information I hinted at, and changed the murderer at least twice. Each change shifts the story, tightens the plot, clarifies and sharpens. What I end with feels close to what I had imagined, but in execution it can seem quite different with a fullness I didn’t imagine.
And then comes what I consider the real work—reading through the entire ms again, before printing it out, to ensure that other details (motivations, physical appearance, timing of revelations) are consistent throughout. This is when I find it necessary to add another two or three scenes to reinforce the logic of the entire mystery, and the story begins to feel complete. After that, I print out the whole thing, which by now should be the word length I wanted, about eighty thousand words, and read it again, this time with pen in hand to polish and tinker with words. I may do this twice. I know I’m finished when I find less and less to change or improve, and can read through pages without scratching out or inserting anything.
Perhaps I have only two drafts—online and printed, or four, two online and two printed. Or perhaps I have about 25 online drafts and two printed. However they are counted, the drafts pile up slowly until the finished narrative feels new to me, partly a surprise and partly a relief that it actually holds together.
How many drafts do you produce? How do you count them?