Thoughts on Reading Through My Novel’s Third Draft

Three drafts of my WIP: first (in the box), second (blue), and third (clear)

In truth, the title to this post should actually be as follows:

“Thoughts on Reading Through My Novel’s Third Draft and Completing My Fourth Draft at More or Less the Same Time”.

Because that is how it went down.

And no, it wasn’t gruelling at all.  I didn’t not learn my lesson from the arduous production of my third draft during August.  I love producing whole drafts in a little more than a month.

Actually, that last bit isn’t entirely untrue.  But I’ll get to that in a moment.

For as usual, at each new stage in the process of writing this book, I have Thoughts:

1) Faster all the time

As I’ve noted previously, over the course of writing and revising this novel, each stage has happened faster than the one preceding it.

So too was it the case with this draft, even though it involved simultaneously reading and revising.

One reason for this is because, after already having done massive rewrites in draft 2, and a ton of cutting and shifting of text in draft 3, the objective of draft 4, more than anything, was to provide a final polish in preparation for reading by my critique group.

Another reason is that I was under an unexpected deadline.

I really wanted one of my long-time writer friends to join the critique group.  She wanted to join too—but was still several chapters away from completing the current draft of her book.

So I did as any good friend would do.  I put her on a deadline and threatened to ban her from the group if she didn’t finish on time.

Which thus made her deadline for finishing three chapters (one month) also my deadline for an entire draft.

(Lesson number one in group formation and life in general: don’t subject people to deadlines that you yourself can’t meet.)

As well, for a final polish, it just made sense to do the whole thing quickly, to get the best sense of story continuity.

2) Making it harder on myself

As always, I read and did my preliminary revision of draft 3 in hard copy.

This time, though, instead of printing in the customary Times New Roman that I write in, I used Garamond, which is a smaller, more compressed font that’s really not that easy to read, especially when printed on a second-hand printer using third-party compatible ink.

This was intentional, although it’s not something I came up with myself.  Many writing blogs assert that changing your manuscript’s font can make it easier to see familiar work with fresh eyes.

It’s a concept that Charles Duhigg, author of the book Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, refers to as “creating disfluency”.

Disfluency, according to Duhigg, is the solution to “information blindness”, which he refers to as “our mind’s tendency to stop absorbing data when there’s too much to take in.” (p. 302)

And there is rather a lot of data to take in in a novel.

By creating disfluency, you’re purposely making data hard to process at first, which has the result of making you engage more thoroughly with it.  To quote the book, “When information is made disfluent, we learn more.” (p. 306).

And it really worked.  It forced me to read every word of every sentence and to really think about them—their sound, their meaning, their purpose, their necessity or lack thereof.  This disfluency was particularly useful, I found, with those parts of the book that have changed little from their initial conception.

3) Text, aloud

On the subject of disfluency….

I’ve discussed before my problem with writing unnecessarily long, information-heavy sentences.

Reading one’s work aloud is the conventional wisdom for getting a better sense of how your writing mechanics will be perceived by others.  But I had no interest in reading that way myself.  So I purchased a text-to-speech program called TextAloud to read it all for me.

Screenshot of TextAloud

I listened to the entire book—all 118,000 words—narrated in a surprisingly not terrible computer voice named Sophie.  At the same time, I followed along as each word was highlighted one at a time on the screen.

I had no idea how very instructive this process would prove to be.

I paused the playback constantly to make changes.  Not only did listening to my writing help me break up dense sentences, it even gave me insight into those that weren’t overly long.

It allowed me to play around with rhythm and sentence variation, to check my punctuation, to catch typos.  I could even program Sophie to pronounce all my made-up proper nouns correctly.

The only thing the program couldn’t do, at least as far as I’m currently aware, was give italicized words their proper emphasis.

Regardless, the power of hearing my work aloud was fairly mild-blowing.  It’s since become an essential part of my proofreading process, and helps inform many of my revision choices for many types of writing besides just my WIP.

4) Clip it good

Chapters of all three drafts colour coded by their revision needs

In the past, upon reading each chapter of a draft, I bound its pages with either a green, yellow, or red paperclip based on its revision needs.  This time, I used the same colour paperclip for every chapter:

Black.

(Technically, dark purple, because that’s what I had on hand.)

This is because by now, each chapter is as green as I know how to make it on my own.  Yet, I have no idea how they’d be perceived by anyone else.

I’m completely in the dark as to what’s good and what’s bad about my novel.

I’m at the point now in the writing process where what I think about the story doesn’t matter anymore—or otherwise isn’t the only important opinion, or necessarily even the best one.

Now is the time to import additional data points into my assessment of my novel’s essential merits or lack thereof.  And that’s exactly what I’m currently doing.

5) In the eye of the beholder

After almost half of year of finagling, and organizing, and doing a whole lot of waiting for the stars to align, my critique group is finally formed.  And currently doing exactly what it was created to do: critiquing.  Success!

Now that this group actually exists somewhere other than my wildest dreams, as previously promised, I’ll write about the (many) steps I took in creating it, as well as the way we’re currently operating.

For now though, I’ll just say that we’re actively reading each other’s books one to two chapters a week.  And I can already tell that the result, regardless of the many different emotions experienced along the way, is going to be so worth it.

Do you work well under deadlines?  What’s the fastest time you’ve ever taken to complete a novel draft?  Let me know in the comments.

(Image source #2; #1, #3, and #4 – J.G. Noelle)

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Reading Through My Novel’s Third Draft

  1. I don’t have much choice about working under deadlines during the day. As far as the sequel to Generation 0 goes, I was aiming for the end of this year to finish my manuscript, but I’m not sure I can squeeze it in. I’m currently about 1/4 of the way through the second draft. This pass is to line up the story elements better and make sure all the timelines and events fit together. Next pass will be to tighten the prose and dialog (I need to ct about 3000 words to get it under 90K). Then proof it for typos. I’m still shooting for December 31. I know, dream on.

    My plan was (and still is) to research write a new novel in the calendar year 2018. I have a (very) vague idea and have obtained a few books to begin my research. Whether I can research, write, and revise an entire novel in one year when I’m not even done with this one is questionable, but if I don’t set competitive goals, I’ll flounder.

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    • I really don’t like writing under deadline. Which is the complete wrong thing for a writer to say, I know. But this is part of what motivated me to draft my entire trilogy before seeking representation for the first book (I also did it to prove to myself I could write a trilogy at all). If all goes according to plan, I’ll have created a very large buffer for myself in which to write my next project. Incidentally, I’ve discovered I have no problem at all with revising under deadline, even when this revision involves significant rewriting.

      I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Nothing feels better than setting a ridiculously ambitious goal and actually meeting it, or even coming very close to meeting it). I usually set goals that are very practical and doable in the time I have on hand (to the point that it becomes more an exercise in time management than being competitive). But every so often I’ll give myself a stretch goal just to see if I can do it.

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      • I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss my deadline (which I will). Just trying to keep the fire lit.

        Maybe you didn’t set hard deadlines, but from what I know of you, you seem quite diligent and consistent in chipping away at your project. I tend to write in bursts (which means there are periods of stagnation). I admire your patient resolve, even if you don’t view it as such.

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  2. I’m taking note of your revision tips Janna. My present WIP will almost certainly need drastic revision, which will be a first for me. The text-to-speech program is something I’ll certainly consider down the line.

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    • It’s a brilliant editing tool, Roy. And this particular program (TextAloud), which was recommended to me by a stranger on Facebook, has really impressed me. It has a ton of features I haven’t even explored yet.

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