Earlier, I talked about the importance of just banging out your story to get the whole story done, and that is critical. If you’re someone who’s finished writing a novel, I’m of the opinion that you’re already in a certain rare area.
But, if you’re like me, and you’re invested in getting that story out into the world, that finished draft is only a draft.
Now is the time to start looking at that puppy. But here’s the oddest thing. As a teacher, I see students do this. They want to agonize over every word they type, as I mentioned in that post. Then, when it comes time to revise, they want to stare at that paper, hoping the mistakes jump up and volunteer themselves.
My time in the military wasn’t an action movie by any standards. But, one usually gets some combat training. Without going into too much detail, my point is simple. You tend to hit targets you aim at.
What does this mean? Well, instead of looking at your manuscript one time, trying to find every error, you should look at your book many times, each for a distinctly different type of mistake.
This is why I do a minimum of six drafts (and that number gets up to 14 depending on how you count a draft). Each time I do a set of revisions, I’m looking for very specific things. It’s much easier to look for a specific issue like lack of description or talking heads than it is to look at a chapter and trying to do it all. In fact, I don’t know that anyone can do it. If you’re an author who asserts you can, I’d honestly be interested to hear about your methodology. Regardless of how many drafts an author may do, I promise it isn’t one.
I can’t stand editing. I feel foolish for some of the mistakes I make. I’m frustrated when I feel like I haven’t developed in a particular area the way I wish I would. But I take solace knowing I’m making the story better. I’ve actually articulated my drafts by title, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained what I do in each draft, so to give you an idea on how many drafts I really do and how I use this technique, I’m going to elaborate on that.
The discovery draft has only one goal: Finish the manuscript. Get it done. Get it typed. If I am struggling to remember something or I know I’m going to need to do something, I’ll leave a note for myself. I’ll be typing and then do something like this (GO BACK AND ELABORATE ON THIS), or (CHECK THE NUMBERS TO MAKE SURE THEY LINE UP!)
All caps in writing isn’t something I do often, so using them as notes to myself, I know I’ll notice.
Once I finish that, I take a break. When I come back, I start my first draft. The first thing I do is go and check for those notes. Whatever I tell myself to do, I go and do it. I’m obedient that way. Then, I go back and read the chapter, looking for areas that lack description. One way I do this is to look for talking heads. Another way I do it is to look for action verbs. Those usually provide great spots for useful adjectives or sense activation. I sometimes have to add chapters or change POV, so I do that. But I don’t do it all at once per chapter. I review the notes. Then I look for description. Then I check to see if the POV lines up.
Then it’s time for another break. The first draft is done. I have to send it off to the Alpha Readers. While I wait, I work on another project to keep my mind fresh. Once I get the feedback, usually about a month later, I apply their notes. I do this by chapter. I apply the notes. Then I look again at description (because I feel this is a weakness of mine) and the visuals of the story.
Then I take another break, sending the book off to Sara for developmental edits. About here, I feel pretty good about the story as a whole. I work on something else during the month (give or take) Sara has it, and jump at it when I get it back. I apply her notes by chapter. Then I start looking at the structure and word usage. Can I trip that down? Can I replace “said” with a descriptive beat.
Then the book is off to beta readers. Rinse and repeat. I apply that feedback. Once I apply the feedback for the chapter, I look again at the word usage and start hunting down adverbs to replace with more clear action verbs.
Then the book is back over to Sara for line edits. Even that has a process. I don’t look for “all the mechanical issues.” I look at punctuation (rule by rule). I look at grammar. And all this is after I review the manuscript for Sara’s notes. Then I read it out loud. If I find another error, I finish the chapter, but then I go back and do it again. I do this until I can read the chapter out loud all the way through without finding an error.
This might seem daunting. Based on my observation of my students and other people, it certainly seems anti-productive. But it actually isn’t. Staring at your book for hours at a time just leaves you with strained eyes and errors you can’t believe you missed. This way is actually much faster. I say again, it’s. much. faster. For starters, each time you finish a look, you feel like you’re moving and accomplishing more, so you’re more motivated and willing to look again. Also, it’s more effective, so you’re not caught off guard by those mistakes you glazed over.
Give it a try and see how your beta or gamma readers (I don’t use gamma readers, but some do) feel about the book when you’re done.
Thanks for reading,