Writer’s Diary #7: how many drafts does it take to write a novel?

I am currently immersed in writing my second novel, trying to write most days. It’s quite a while since I wrote my first (The Occidentals, published as Caron Eastgate James by Asia Books in 1999 and later in German editions), because a PhD and a non-fiction book, not to mention employment, got in the way.
So I’m getting into the swing of writing again, aiming for 1000-2000 words a day, but currently doing 300-500 words most days. Still, anything is better than nothing. If you wrote only one page a day, every day, for a year, you’d have a novel-sized manuscript at the end of it. The main thing is, just keep going, no matter how small the input seems. Regular writing is the key to success.

The other important thing is the number of drafts you will write before you deem the novel finished, or at “final draft” stage ready for submission. The other day, I came across a writing journal I’d kept in 1992, when I was starting work on The Occidentals. In it, I had written a blueprint for drafts. I’ve done a lot of writing since then, but I think this brief piece of advice from myself more than 21 years ago is still relevant, and I’m going to keep it in mind this time, too. Here it is, unedited and exactly as I wrote it back then:

My painting of my old manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok in 1991, on which I wrote part of my first novel. I bought it so I could continue working on the novel during the frequent power cuts we had in those days.

My painting of my old manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok in 1991, on which I wrote part of my first novel. I bought it so I could continue working during the frequent power cuts we had in those days.
Image ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

 

1. First draft—tell the story;

2. Second draft—check out the facts; continuity; fill in any gaps in research; rewrite;

3. Third draft—polish the writing;

4. Fourth draft—Complete the polishing; small adjustments etc.

 

 

 

As a journalist, I’m used to writing quickly, but of course, journalism usually requires short pieces, most less than 500 words each and rarely more than 2500, even for features. But I still believe step one on that list is paramount: get your story down, no matter how badly you think you’ve written it. Then you have something to work with.

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7 thoughts on “Writer’s Diary #7: how many drafts does it take to write a novel?

  1. I follow your same 4 steps with everything I write — whether it’s my blog, a TV commercial or an ad or my book. I’ve always done it.

  2. Caron – Thanks for sharing your perspective. You’re absolutely right that it’s not productive to do editing during the first draft. That’s for just getting your ideas out there on the paper. That’s its purpose. Revising, adding/subtracting, edits, etc. all come later.

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