Over the last thirteen weeks and more, I’ve shared with you my own process for rewriting the first draft of your novel manuscript. But is it my way or the highway? Hardly. And thankfully, I’ve got Andy Peloquin back with me today to share his own revision process. Andy is the author of The Queen of Thieves series and The Last Bucellari series. Book Three of The Last Bucellari: Gateway to the Past, publishes today!
Rewriting 101: How I Turn Rough Drafts into Finished Manuscripts
Unless your name is Stephen King or Brandon Sanderson, it’s highly unlikely that your first manuscript is ready for publishing. No matter how great a first draft is, it’s never quite good enough. There are always typos, syntax errors, plot holes, grammatical problems, and character inconsistencies.
(In my current WIP, it turns out my character got out of bed twice in consecutive paragraphs—she’s not magic, it’s just a silly mistake!)
Thankfully, the first draft is just that: FIRST. It will go through a number of revisions and rewrites before it ever sees the light of day.
The first draft (100-130,000 words) usually takes me about 6-8 weeks, depending on how fast I write and how much time I have. I’ll focus on putting the story down, often without getting into too much detail. It’s all about getting the book out of my head and onto paper.
Once I finish the first draft, I send it off to alpha readers. These readers comb over it for general plot holes, character inconsistencies, and any big mistakes. Some get into the nitty gritty as well, but for the most part they focus on the big picture items.
(As this is happening, I move on to writing the first draft of the next book or finalizing the previous book for publishing. ALWAYS have multiple irons in the fire!)
I’ve found Stephen King’s advice (from On Writing) very sound: “step back from your manuscript for 6-8 weeks to let it rest.” After finishing the next/previous project and letting the prescribed time pass, I’ll sit down to work on the second draft. When I come back to work on it after that time, I approach it with new eyes. I’m still familiar with the story, but I’m not so stuck on one way of expressing what I want to say or a specific sentence structure that I can’t edit it.
The second draft is tightened up, polished, and fleshed out as “perfect” as possible. I try to make it good enough to hit “publish” the next day. I get as nit-picky and perfectionist on the manuscript as I can. Then, it’s off to the beta readers, who slice and dice both the big and small picture: plot holes, character inconsistencies, grammar errors, typos, silly mistakes (I still struggle with “like vs. as if”), and so on. Once again, another 6-8 weeks will pass while I work on another project.
Once I get the notes back from the beta readers, I make the corrections and edits required. It may need an overhaul of the story or just a few small changes. If I wrote it correctly on the first and second draft, the third draft is a much shorter process. It’s just going over things and seeing if I can tighten it up more.
Fourth Draft/Final Manuscript
For the fourth and final draft, I’ll print out the book onto paper and sit on my (very comfy) couch and read it, red pen in hand. I’ll read some of it aloud or simply go over it to see how it “feels” when I read the printed version. I’ll often find mistakes or sentence structures that may not have looked like a problem on my computer screen, but feel off when on paper.
Instead of reading the whole manuscript THEN editing it, I’ll do it chapter by chapter. That way, the mistakes or “things that felt off” are fresh in my mind, and I can edit them out. I’ve found the sentences are smoother and flow better after this final read-through.
But I’m not quite done! As I’m drafting, I find myself noticing words and phrases that are used too often. I’ll make a note of those words/phrases and go over the manuscript one final time.
For example, for Gateway to the Past, I ended up using “burning” and “fire” too often. I had to go back and trim down the number of uses to a reasonable level (from 100+ to 20-30). It’s on this final draft that I really start looking for my “crutch words” to edit them out.
Once I’m done with that, it’s off to the publisher (for an additional two rounds of editing by people with fresh eyes). But the pains that I’ve taken with my own drafting and rewriting process enables me to turn in clean, cohesive, and mostly error-free manuscripts!
As you can see, the first draft isn’t the last gasp, there’s still a lot of work to do before the final version of your story reaches the reader. But with discipline, hard work, and perseverance, you can get there too!
Big thanks to Andy for sharing his revision process with us here today! If you’d like to learn more about The Last Bucellarii Book 3: Gateway to the Past, Andy is hosting a book launch party on Facebook tonight, 31 March! Check it out, and I just might see you there!