How many drafts does it take to complete a novel?

The feeling of relief when you finally type ‘The End’ at the bottom of your manuscript is immense. All you have to do now is submit it to a publishing company, or upload it to an online sales site and watch the money roll in. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The first draft of any novel, be it a first time author, or a professional novelist, is going to be raw around the edges, no matter how many friends or family members have told you it is wonderful. It is only after the first draft is completed that the real work begins. Now is where the hard work begins, rewriting, redrafting, and cutting, all to prepare the book for the editor to work on and ultimately to go forward for submission. It is easier to revise and rewrite something, without that mass of words you have nothing.

Firstly, though congratulate yourself on completing this first draft of your novel. You have already gone a whole lot further than many potential authors do. You clearly have the talent to tell a story, as well as the drive and determination to get it over the finishing line.

The first draft is like throwing the ingredients into a bowl, the rewrites and edits are what will make the ingredients into a proper book. The next stage, the rewrites, can seem daunting, but every published book has been written by an author who has written a first draft and then gone back and honed the text until it is as polished as it needs to be, even before an editor works their magic on it. It helps to put the first draft to one side for a while and then you can go back to it with fresh eyes.


Draft #1 The First Draft

This is the very first and rough draft of your manuscript. This is where all of your thoughts have poured from your fingertips onto the page. This for the author is the most fun. However. No matter how experienced you are as an author your first draft will not be a masterpiece.

If you’ve written from an outline, this rough draft could be reasonably coherent.

Draft #2 Revise

The second draft is produced from checks for  any obvious grammar or layout errors so you have a clean copy to work with when the real in depth work starts. Go through the manuscript and insert all full stops and ensure commas are in the correct place. Check spelling errors that jump out at you. Your editor will check for these, but the draft should be of a reasonable standard before submission.

During the second draft, you won’t be working with how the book is written but rather the story. Make sure as you revise that you have shown rather than told. Let the reader discover the story rather than be told what is happening. Reread and look for plot holes and errors in a character’s motivation. Look at the conflict within the story, is it really as good as it could be? Are there twists and turns that stop the protagonist from reaching their goal? Does the story keep the reader guessing, right to the end?

Make sure each scene brings the plot forward and shows some new detail of the character. You may find some scenes are in the wrong place, or that characters need changing. Check for huge leaps of logic, the protagonist may be utterly against going to a certain place and in the next chapter they are there. Why? Make sure all a character’s reasoning is shown. Make sure there are no loose ends at the end of the book.

It is hard work to go through a draft scene by scene, you want to submit the book, get working with your editor, get the book on a publisher’s desk, but this work is so important, for the sake of your future career don’t neglect it.

Draft #3 Writing Skills

This is where your skill as a writer comes into play. When you are rewriting, slow each scene down, add artistry, blend the senses into your writing, smell, touch, hearing, feeling. The smell of the sea, the feel of the sand, the sound of waves, slow everything down and really ‘be’ in the scene as you rewrite it. Your writing will really improve in this draft. You have the story in your mind, but you have to make sure that your readers will see what you do.

Draft #4 Make it snappy

This is where you focus on your narrative technique. Tighten the writing, make sure any dialogue is snappy, take out unnecessary dialogue tags. Make sure you have a consistent view point and who you want to be narrating the action, the protagonist, or another of the characters. Avoid unnecessary switches. Watch out for overused words and phrases.

Draft #5 The Tweaking Draft

Now is the time to run spellcheck and fiddle with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Doing a thorough job here will allow your editor to devote more time and attention to deeper issues in the manuscript. That is the editor’s job, not to make a book out of a jumble of thoughts and words. It is helpful to read the final draft out loud before submitting to the editor as you will be able to iron out many of the grammar and punctuation errors at this stage.

Draft# 6 The finished article

Once you’ve finished with the rewrites and have the book as polished as you can you are ready to begin working with a professional editor whose job it is to hone every word

Please don’t be disheartened by the amount of work ahead of you. Every author goes through this process. Take a deep breath and get started, read the book from a dispassionate point of view, take out your love for it and read it as if it were written by a stranger.