Back in March I wrote a post about how I now approach my first drafts, and a couple of people asked me about how I then shape my extremely rough first drafts into the polished gems worthy of submitting to publishers.
Here then, is a step-by-step guide to my drafting process–I might sometimes compress some of the steps if I’m in a hurry, or add an extra one if I’ve had to make substantial changes during the process, but this is my ideal and involves a grand total of four drafts. There is no right or wrong way to draft a story, and your methods may vary, but I’m presenting this here in the hope there might be something useful for someone out there
Leave it alone!
I always leave my story alone for at least a week – preferably longer – before looking at it again. This isn’t hard to do because by the end of the first draft I’m usually feeling burnt out and want a break. However, soon enough the story calls to me again…
Scribble all over it
I always print out my first drafts on paper. Yes, I know I could read through them on my Kindle and make notes there, but I find paper and pencil to be freeing. On my first read through of the first draft I am merciless. I’m looking for flab to cut out of the story. I’m looking for the bits I neglected to write properly because I was so caught up in the flow. I’m looking at the overall story arc and the pacing. I’m looking for inconsistencies and accidentally dropped sub plots. I try to keep this first read through fairly fast, so I get a sense of the pacing. I don’t have time to look at the nitty-gritty of word choice and typos – although I usually pick a few of the worst offenders up while going through.
When I open up my document again to cut, reshuffle and add those extra scenes, I go through the whole story again. This time I do try to catch the clunky sentences, clichés and typos, but I don’t run a full spell check at this stage.
Get a second opinion
Once I’ve finished going through the document I have my second draft complete. This is the one I send off to my beta readers. It isn’t perfect just yet, but what I’m looking for from them isn’t proofreading, but their reactions to the story. I want to know if there are things that confuse them, if they understand the characters’ motivations. If they even like the characters. Sometimes I give my beta readers specific questions about the story I’d like to know their opinion on, but not always.
I always try to make sure I have at least two beta readers (one of whom is American and on the alert for anything too confusing for US readers), but I prefer there to be more. I also like to have at least one male beta on the team, although this isn’t always possible. Barging In had a grand total of eight beta readers for the entire book, and several more who gave feedback on just the first few chapters.
The Post-it stage
While I’m waiting for feedback from my beta readers, I enter into what I call the “Post-it” stage. This is when I’m constantly thinking about the story and remembering things that I’d meant to add but never quite got around to. I keep pads of Post-its and pencils at strategic places around the house and make sure I jot these down whenever they occur. Then I either stick them to my printed draft in the right place, or to a separate piece of paper. I take great pleasure in peeling them off and screwing them up when they’ve been dealt with
Pulling it all together
When the comments from betas come in I read them all then, and ponder any recurring criticisms. Do I need to write any new scenes or make any major changes? Handle with Care needed some major work at this stage, but other stories have required less.
Once I’ve decided roughly what needs doing I’ll read through the whole manuscript again (possibly on my Kindle this time, although I’ll print it if the changes are substantial), and make notes on all the things that need altering. I then go through the manuscript chapter by chapter with all my betas’ feedback to hand–all open on my desktop so I can click through them one after another. When I’ve finished, I’m at the third draft stage.
What I should have now is a story that’s in pretty good shape for submission. All I need to do is proofread one last time, this time checking carefully for the more minor editing issues: typos, spelling/grammar errors, inelegant sentence structure, etc. I then make sure I’ve formatted everything as the publisher requires, and add in my cover page with the relevant details.
The bottle of bubbly stage
Hooray – I have my final draft ready for submission! Oh yes, just the minor issue of a submission cover letter and a draft blurb. Look out for more on those next month