D is for Drafts

Where does one draft start and the next begin?

This has been a huge challenge for me. I like to be organized. I like to know where I am. But I might be on the twentieth ‘draft’ of Chapter 1 and the second ‘draft’ of Chapter 18 in the same document. Confuses the heck out of me.

Writing is a process, and each writer will approach it in a slightly different way. It’s important to develop a system that works for you, because otherwise it won’t work at all. I know this from trying different methods that others use, and while I’m not able to follow their plans exactly, I’ve learned a lot of great tips on how to stay organized.

One of the biggest lessons for me was to stop back-filling changes while doing a first draft. I now create a plot outline for myself in order to know where the story is going and, more importantly, why it’s going there. But a lot of the details in my scenes—character traits, sayings, and the ways the characters interact with each other—comes from inspiration of the moment. In my first book, if I made a change in a later chapter, I would run back and try to change all previous scenes that were affected.

This is a mistake, because then I got wrapped up in the specific tiny details of the earlier scene. Started beating myself up for all the ways the words didn’t work yet. And I used that to distract myself from continuing at a decent pace and getting the damn draft out.

Now I’m committed to seeing a draft through. The simple, yet oh so agonizing challenge, is to keep copious and organized ‘fix notes.’ As I make a late change, or have a new idea to incorpor

ate, I note where I need to add that alteration in the earlier part(s) of the draft.

If you use Word, you can do this by adding a comment (under the Review tab). One nice feature of this is that you can hide them when you want a clean writing space, and they’ll disappear from the right side of your screen. Then you can imagine that everything is dandy … until you show them again.

In Scrivener, you can make notes everywhere. Notecards, project notes, document notes for each specific chapter. As I’m starting next drafts (and plotting more stories) it’s handy to be able to search my notes. Like any tool, how much you get out of it depends on how consistently you use it, so I’m also trying to be sure to keep the same types of notes in the same places (for example, all plot fixes go on the main chapter notecards).

The other technique I’m using is separating how I name and identify my drafts:

First draft is like mixing the batter. Raw. Just trying to get all the ingredients together. This means it’s not for everyone else to eat, but I can take guilty pleasure in licking the spoon and knowing it will be delicious after it’s cooked.


Second draft is baking that sucker. Adding heat (that would be critiquers) to turn it into something other people might like to sample. Here is where I try to catch plot holes and streamline clutter—like reducing two minor characters into one. This scary second draft might involve whipping up a whole new bowl of batter, because the original collapsed under the weight of some unseen fault. But it will rise again!

Third draft is about nailing the story. Streamlining action and improving clarity, layering in metaphor (you know, for that deep, chocolatey taste), and plugging any new or overseen plot holes that cropped up since the second draft.

Last, when it’s out of the oven, it’s time to ice that baby. Um, I don’t think I realized I’d baked a cake until just now. It could have been cupcakes, but now it’s definitely a big, layered, mouth-watering cake. This is where I do serious line edits. Getting rid of ‘that’ and ‘just’ and making the words, punctuation, and grammar pleasing to the palate.

Do I expect everyone to do what I do? Nope. I have my own special brand of strange. I care way too much about the things near and dear to my heart. But find your own process. Make a stew, or a pie, or some wonderful couscous. And please invite me to eat once it’s done.

Why am I hungry all of a sudden?

This is an entry from my bestselling* book, A is for Adverb: An Alphabet for Authors in Agony. To read the entire alphabet, join me weekly for #WriteTipTuesday. If you’re in a rush, get the whole book free by signing up here, or do this writer a solid and buy the book on Amazon.

*Totally a bestseller for, like, a day on Amazon.ca.


You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *