Over the last few years, I have settled down into a fairly standard process for writing stories. This process typically involves 2 full drafts, an edit, and a final pass. The following illustrates my process at a high level:
Basically, it goes like this:
- In the first draft I tell myself the story. I don’t worry about how long it is, or the language or the research. I just get the story out as best as I can. Usually there are lots of notes and placeholders in my first draft manuscripts, but that’s okay because I am on the only one who sees this draft.
- In the second draft I tell the story to the reader. Now that I now the story, I can tell it to the reader in a way that I think will make it worth their time to read. This is a complete rewrite of the first draft. If research is required, it is here, in the second draft, that I do it. This is also where I fill in the placeholders I’ve created in the first draft. The second draft goes out to my beta-readers.
- In the third draft, I incorporate the feedback I get from my beta-readers. About 30% of the time, this means another full rewrite. About 70% of the time, however, it just means some edits to the second draft, sometimes light, sometimes heavy. This is my vetted, pre-submission draft.
- In the fourth and subsequent drafts, I have one goal in mind: Omit needless words1. I read each sentence slowly and carefully and decide if it is possible to make it more succinct without losing the rhythm I’ve established in the story. I ask things like: am I being too repetitive? Do I really need this description? Am I hammering the point too hard?
This process means that even a relatively short story can take a couple of weeks to produce, but because I am now writing every day, and because I have found a good “quality control” system for myself, it also means that the stories that result from this process are much better than the stories I used to produce.
- Rule 13 from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. ↩