This is a burning question, and I’ve seen people do it wrong both ways. Lots of people will write one draft, say ‘wow, this sucks,’ and toss it right out. Others will never get done with that first book, because they must make it perfect before they move on to any other project. Brothers and sisters, hear me; these are mistakes!
I shoot for four drafts, and a final polish. Each draft has a specific job, though. Here’s how you break it down.
My first draft is all about playing. I write whatever I want, pages of um, love scenes that never make it into the book. I write my outline, deviate from it, think of something better, and write that instead. I make up characters, throw them away, forget their names, rename them, decide love triangles, make up brand new plot lines, and sub plots, give characters pets that I’ll forget all together or just forget to name. Long run on sentence short, my first draft is a mess. I’ll be damned if there aren’t some great things there, though. So keep this in mind, your first draft is something that no one is ever going to see but you.
This draft usually takes six weeks to three months.
This is the longest part. My second draft comes only after I have done a lot of research on some topics I didn’t know about. All details about worlds and characters are decided on, and written in my Woven bible. I make major changes in the book story wise in this draft as well. I also type this draft, where the first draft was long hand.
This draft takes at least six months. It is the first one I’ll print.
My draft three has three jobs. The first is the time line. I will write up post it notes as I go through each chapter that have the date, age of specific characters, and how far along any pregnancies might be.
The second job is story lines. With one wall already taken up by my time line sticky notes, wall two is my story line map. I will use very small sticky notes, and make a vertical line of chapters. My plot lines go horizontal, and I just pop a sticky note with a few quick words about how that plot line was moved forward in that chapter.
The third job is tightening my writing. I try to cut the word count as much as I can by cutting redundancies and word count in general.
This is the draft that I give to my beta readers. At this point I think the book is perfect, and I need other people to tell me I’m wrong. It takes about three months.
This is the first draft written with the opinions of other people in my head. At this point my critique group and trusted friends have read the book, told me to zip up my pants and given the book back to me. My darling husband, who does triple duty as my editor and research assistant, has literally gone through the book with a red pen, and had several domestic fights with me about it.
I myself also hasn’t looked at the book for months. I’ve done other things and forgotten about the book for the second time.
So I fix everything. I take care of all the things my readers pointed out, and all the things that are now so obvious to me now that I’m looking at the book with fresh eyes. When I’m done with this draft, I consider the book to be basically done.
Then I print it for the second time.
Do not underestimate the power of a final run through. In this draft, I am tucking in my shirt, polishing off all the rough edges, inking the picture, chose whatever analogy you like best. This is the point where I am getting this book ready to go to an agent or editor. Hopefully, this lumpy mess I started with now shines.