I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that rewriting a beloved story can get addicting. There’s one fiction novel in particular that I’ve been working on for a total of seven years, and it’s still not complete. While this is partly due to “laziness”, and “life”, it has more to do with the fact that I’m never happy with it. My first, and maybe even second rewrite was probably justified, but as I grew older and built relationships with new people, the story kept changing. Every time the story changed I would start a new draft.
This isn’t a terrible thing. The evolution of a story is good, even necessary. In all the years of rewriting, that story has transformed from something average into something meaningful and grand. But there’s one problem: I haven’t finished it. If I keep rewriting it instead of settling for one version of the story, it’ll never be finished. This wonderful story will never be read, by anyone.
The Perfect Number of Drafts
The answer is three. After three drafts, your story or fiction novel should be finely polished. The only exception to this rule occurs when an editor or publisher asks you to write a fourth. The key to doing this lies in focusing on the right things in the right drafts.
The First Draft:
The very first draft is your rough draft. In this draft, the only thing you should worry about is the story. In order to keep your story moving forward, you also have to keep your hand moving. It can be tempting to constantly look back at the first paragraph, wondering how to improve it. The most important thing to do in the first draft is to focus on what happens next; what is currently happening in the story. Focusing on past pages and paragraphs will hinder your focus, and your progress.
Write with the door closed, with as little distractions as possible, as fast as you possibly can. Write the story quickly, and put the words down exactly as they come into your mind. This helps to eliminate self-doubt, and to keep you optimistic throughout the entire writing process. During the first draft, don’t take any help or advice from anyone else. In fact, you should be the only one to see your first draft until it’s finished.
Essentially, the most important task in the first draft is finishing the material, and getting the story down on paper. The story is the most important thing. Corrections to grammar, punctuation, and spelling will come later.
The Second Draft:
Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s good to take a long break from your story or fiction novel. This amount of time varies on the author, but, a month is usually sufficient. The way to know for sure if it’s time to start on your second draft is based solely on whether or not you’re still thinking about it. If you’re still thinking about the plot, and what might need to be fixed, you aren’t ready to start on your second draft. This helps you to look at your story objectively, as if you’re looking at someone else’s work.
Once you’re ready to start on your second draft, get as much done in one sitting as you can. If it’s possible to pump the entire second draft out in one sitting, do that. If not, get it done in as few sitting’s as possible.
If you find any major problems with your story, don’t get upset about it. Don’t get emotionally involved, simply fix the problem and move on. Just as you would with someone else’s work.
Do your best to focus on holes in the story, scenes that could be improved. This is where you add content (if necessary), and revise the story. As you run across spelling, grammar, or punctuation problems, do your best to fix them.
The Third Draft:
The third draft is the polishing draft, and the final draft. This is the last time you look at your story, where you fix anything you might have missed when writing your second draft. This could include typo’s, grammar errors, or anything that you might have missed.
Also, after the second draft it’s not a bad idea to allow friends and family to take a look at it. (Or, frankly, anyone you feel comfortable sharing your writing with). During the third draft you’ll make any revisions that another set of eyes may have pointed out. Keep in mind that, as the author, you don’t have to make every change that your second pair of eyes sees. However, another person is likely to find errors in the story that you may not have noticed yourself. Generally, it’s good to have more then one other person look at your story. Different people will see different things. If more then one person sees a problem, you’ll likely have to fix it in the third draft.
Rewriting can get addicting, but after a certain amount of rewrite‘s, it becomes a form of procrastination. It’s usually fear that keeps you from completing that story, and taking the next step–submitting it to a publisher. Don’t let fear stop you, do the necessary amount of revisions/rewrite’s, and then call it finished. Submit it into a publisher, and then move onto your next work.
The writing and revision process varies with every author, this is just what I recommend. Adapt it if you must, and find what works best for you. But, whatever you do, don’t spend years rewriting a single story. At some point it has to be done with.
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