It almost happened too fast for me to have any thoughts on the process at all.
Compared to the marathon of completing the second draft of my historical fiction WIP—which amounted to a complete rewrite of a draft written years ago—there was no way, I told myself, that I’d spend another year on draft three.
Or even the better part of a year
And so, what I gained in a quick turnaround time, I lost to a gruelling work pace. Here are my reflections on the process:
1) Each draft gets shorter
I’ve written previously about how I read through—and line edited (by hand)—this current draft in just over a month.
I also mentioned how, during what amounted to a summer of unending work this year, I endeavoured to revise one of my 31 total chapters a day (and didn’t stray too far off that mark either).
Ultimately, the completion of draft 3 took a little under three months, which is a quarter of the time it took me to do draft 2.
Not that this is a great surprise to me. For although I did put considerably more muscle behind this draft, I’ve always worked under the assumption that each successive draft will take less time to finish.
The main reason for this is because, with each draft, not only does the story become more focused and aligned with the vision I have of it in my head, I become more focused as well.
That is to say, I can more clearly anticipate my life after this book is fully completed, and become more willing to make that homestretch push to get there faster.
2) Each draft gets shorter, pt. 2
I’ve always been an over-writer.
Part of this is intentional. I’ve always been the sort of writer who crams everything on the page upfront. I’m always keen to capture, not just whatever fleeting idea occurs to me, but also the mood and emotion behind that idea.
Since these ideas are often fleeting or not yet fully thought out, this results in a surfeit of words to help explain them, and to create a facsimile of their accompanying mood in my head. Very much a case of that famous quote by writer and scientist Blaise Pascal:
I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
Revision is when I get around to determining which among those surfeit of words are strictly necessary. That is to say, I revise by subtraction, not addition.
Using the sculpting metaphor, I’m the type of writer who, rather than adding extra substrate to build up the form of a framework, picks the stature out of the stone one tap at a time.
To me, my subtracting process sometimes feels more like scraping barnacles off the side of a boat.
In any case, it is thus over the course of my revisions that I get to experience the great joy (and frankly, great relief, for even when my text is at its tightest, I’m still not a “spare” writer) of each successive draft being noticeably shorter.
My first draft was a whopping 137,000 words. Draft 2, which grew by two chapters, decreased in word count to 124,000.
Now with draft 3, I’m down to 118,000 (although I’d still like to take off a little more if I can, because debut authors with books at the upper limit of length can be a hard sell in traditional publishing).
3) The sound of not my voice
There comes a point in a writer’s life when you have to be real with yourself about what your writing weaknesses are.
For me, this meant acknowledging that even though I’ve always considered myself a writer, it’s only now at the ripe age of 38 that I’m learning to write effective sentences.
The reason for this is because within my stream of consciousness, which is where all my early drafts are submerged, punctuation is somewhat optional. And when I do punctuate, I often employ no pause that’s stronger than an em-dash.
I’ve heard it recommended that reading your work aloud can help with run-on sentences, as well as overall flow. But who the hell wants to read out 118,000 words themselves?
Plus, since I wrote those words, I know how they’re supposed to sound, which presents a strong temptation to modify my speech patterns accordingly while reading.
TextAloud to the rescue! TextAloud is a text-to-speech program that is cheaper than Dragon Naturally Speaking (which on the contrary is primarily a speech-to-text program) and is more user-friendly than the built-in Windows Narrator program.
Actually, TextAloud is the best $40 I’ve spend on my writing in a long time. I used it to sound out and shorten individual sentences throughout the entire creation of draft 3. I also recently had it read out a 4200-word short story I’d written, which was an immensely helpful experience.
I can’t wait to get this program to read my WIP back to me. Especially since, although they cost more than the program itself, there have been huge advances in natural-sounding computer voices.
4) The rest of the story
Now that I’ve finished my third draft and am hopefully within striking distance of being finished with this novel period, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t actually mark the end of the story.
I have two more installments in this tale. And they’re already written!*
(*In first draft)
This was a conscious decision I made years ago—to draft out the entire trilogy all at once before trying to (traditionally) publish the first book. It was an admittedly risky move, for there’s no guarantee at all that agents and publishers will be interested in book 1.
However, I needed to prove to myself upfront that I actually could complete a trilogy. Also, I wanted to give myself some breathing space. If it happens that book 1 does sell—and sell well—the powers that be would want that next book mighty fast.
I may succeed at powering through revisions, but I am not a fast first drafter.
Anyway, it occurred to me that while I’m currently so immersed in and familiar with the plot of book 1, now would be an excellent time to read through books 2 and 3. This will surely prove invaluable in revealing how the arc of the entire story hangs together across all three volumes.
I’ll definitely not be fully revising the other two books upfront; that can wait. But a read-through of each to take general notes on revision needs and to colour-code the chapters the way I do would not at all be amiss.
And since I like doing my read-throughs on paper and the third-party print cartridges for my second-hand printer are only $2.99 each, I’ve now got my end-of-year reading all lined up. Literally.
5) Eyes on the prize
Not only will I soon start handing over chapters for my critique group to read, I also have an upcoming opportunity to get my first 10 pages critiqued by a literary agent! But I’ll write more about all of this at a later date.
Do you revise by adding words or subtracting them? Do you use any special tools to help you revise (e.g. a text-to-speech program)? Tell me about it in the comments.
(Images: J.G. Noelle)