Twenty Drafts

I think I did pretty well considering I started out with a bunch of blank paper. - Steve Martin

This week on the blog we’re talking about revision so feel free to jump in and share your thoughts about the subject. Right now I’m in the midst of major first draft writing and the process is so different for me than revising. When writing a first draft, I’m trying to write down whatever comes out and restrain my inner writing critic from backspacing over everything I put on the page. It isn’t easy. Revising, however, is when I can let that inner critic go wild, scrutinizing every word, every phrase with painstaking detail. It’s almost the exact opposite mental process of the drafting stage for me.

In an earlier blog I mentioned my experiences in a novel writing class at Rice University. My instructor, Venkatesh Kulkarni, often claimed that a writer would need to write at least twenty drafts of any novel they might hope to publish. At the time, I thought that was absolutely crazy. Also, at the time, I had not finished anything remotely resembling a novel. Now I think I understand a little bit more about what he meant. The subsequent drafts aren’t necessarily complete re-writes, but they are focused re-reads (and re-writes as needed) for specific elements.

Below I’ve described my twenty drafts and what I might center on with each read. Perhaps you might consider going through your rough draft with different color pencils, or colored sticky notes, for each of the focal points. Each time you re-read the manuscript, you’ll be looking for one major area of improvement. Yes, it’s time consuming, but I think the results will be worth it-especially when I think (on about draft #12) of how polished my manuscript will be with these twenty focused reads.

1. Dialogue
2. Plot points
3. Sensory detail
4. Character description
5. Show don’t tell
6. Active voice
7. Continuity of details
8. Unnecessary adverbs and adjectives
9. Clichés
10. Pace
11. Transitions
12. Character subplots
13. Main character change/growth
14. Themes
15. Timeline
16. Consistent tense
17. Backstories and history
18. Conflict
19. Overused phrases and words
20. Read aloud

The last step in my revision is reading the story aloud. I recently found a good trick for this part of the process. There is a voice selection on my Kindle that will read my manuscript aloud for me. The voice is sort of a weird, computerized version, which is a bit distracting at times, but I’ve found it especially useful to play it in the car while I’m driving. It’s amazing how much you can pick up on when you hear someone else (even a computer) read your manuscript aloud and it’s a great timesaver for working on your manuscript even in the midst of a busy schedule.

So what would you include in your twenty drafts?


Wow, that is detailed! I love it. My last step is the read aloud too! I've recently discovered how priceless that step is. I didn't know Kindle would read your manuscript aloud, wow! I wonder if the Nook has something like that...

Thanks for the comment, Heather. I don't know about the Nook, but if you find out let us know. I'm sure there are others that would love to try it out.

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