How many drafts do you need?

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.

Draft one-

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.

Draft two-

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.

Draft three-

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.

Draft four-

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.

Final Polish-

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.

Writing Prompt Saturday- What do you love about your first draft?

We’ve talked about what you hate about your first draft. In fact, I believe I asked you to write a great big hate letter to your first draft, and what a big disappointment it was.

Now, I want you to switch it up. While you’re reading your first draft, what did you love? What parts surprised you? Was there a scene, or a line you’d forgotten about but it just shocked you how good it was? Somehow, when I read my first draft again, I seem to have easily remembered all the terrible things I did, plot holes I forgot and terrible fight scenes. I sometimes forget the times I got the writing to sing. Thankfully, I do find at least some of these moments when I read my first draft.

Write a list. Just start writing. Try to get at least 20, but don’t stop there if you don’t want to.

And don’t forget to join the conversation every Thursday on our Paper Beats World Facebook page!

Editing Dialog

I think it’s important to know your strengths and your weaknesses in life. Doubly so when you ‘re a writer, (read small business owner.) For instance, my weakness, which has been pointed out many times, is fight scenes. Probably because I don’t like to read them.

What I really am good with, though, is dialog. Talking, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. No one runs a blog who doesn’t like to hear themselves talk. But I really love writing dialog, and I think that’s why I’m good at it. But, like everything else with writing, the first draft is shitty, and the second draft is only a little bit better. It’s really my third draft that makes my dialog sing. Here’s how I edit dialog.

Read it out loud.

I read my whole second draft out loud. Every single page. When something makes my mouth trip, I highlight it. You ears know what sounds natural, and what doesn’t. So, if you read your work, especially your dialog, out loud, think about how you’d react if someone said this to you. Would it sound natural? If not, consider why.

Different character, different voice.

Reading your dialog out loud will also help you detect different voices in your characters. Not all of your characters will talk the same, at least you’d damn well better hope not. Each person’s word choice is based on their own personality, background and lifestyle. A bar maid’s going to talk differently than than a princess or a computer programmer. At the same time, a computer programmer will talk differently when she’s talking to a friend, parent or teacher.

This requires you to get into your characters. You should know how your character would say something, and what he or she would say in a given situation. I will straight up act out scenes, much to the amusement of my family.

All the grammar rules are thrown out the window.

We don’t talk how we’d write things down. We don’t talk with proper grammar. This is a good thing. So don’t keep to those rules when your characters are talking. Write how your character will actually talk. For example, my character uses the word ain’t. I really hate that word, it makes me itch. If I was writing a book with a character from around my home town, I might have them say “Yinz.” If you don’t speak Pittsburghese, Yinz means you guys or y’all. Like, “Yinz need to settle down!” Boy, do I want to punch everyone who says that word. But it’s perfectly fine if I’m trying to show you that this character’s from Pittsburgh.

Time period dialog.

If, that is, the character is from this time period. If this is a book set in the past, I’d chose something different. If you’re writing a book based in a different time, remember that you have to write how people talked then. If you’re writing a book set in the future, consider how people might talk then. One of my favorite examples of this is Firefly. People use random Chinese phrases in everyday life. That’s brilliant, I think. And speaking of brilliant…

Nationality dialog.

Consider where your character comes from. Back to our computer programmer analogy, a programmer from America will talk differently than one from India. In researching my book, I had to find Russian dialog to listen to, because one of my fictional countries is heavily based on Russia. That was fun, by the way, except for the fact that I had Checkov from Star Track stuck in my head for days. Nuclear Vessils. Hehehe, snort haha.

Take dialog editing seriously. Dialog is one of the strongest tools you’ve got to show us who your characters are. Make sure you take advantage of that.

Red Pens

Red pens. There’s a love hate relationship there with most writers. It starts in grade school the first time a teacher whips one out and starts going through your essay with it. “Tighten this, misspelling, run on sentence.” My biggest one was misspelling.

Even so, I love red pens. I have a lot of them, but I only use them for one thing, editing. It’s one of the reasons why I have to print out drafts, so I can go through them with red ink, crossing out and leaving similar notes as the ones my teacher would have left, but probably with more swear words. “Show, Don’t Tell!” I’ll write, or “Cliche, rewrite.” My favorite one, “You can do something better than this!” By the time I’m done, my manuscript is awash in red ink. Then the next draft isn’t so bad.

Why do we use red ink for editing? Is it a sense of tradition, dating back to when pens only came in three colors? If so, why do we keep doing it when we’ve got so many options? I actually can’t bring myself to write in red ink, only edit. I can write deadlines in it, too.

Is it something about the color itself? It’s a very authoritative color. Maybe it’s the symbolism of blood, as though while we edit and cut our darling drafts, they are literally bleeding.

For me, color is so very important. I’ve mentioned before that my books are told from two character’s third person pov. I switch ink colors when I switch character. Right now I’m using Le Pens Blue and Oriental Blue. But when I edit, I’ll be using red, for much of the same reason. From years of habit, it tells my brain, ‘We are editing now. We are perfecting.’

The red pen also helps me step away from my writer self, and into my editor self. This is not my darling. This is a piece of work, and it’s my job to find the flaws. With my red pen.

Print out your manuscript, at least the first, second and fourth draft. Go through it with a red pen, preferably a brand new right out of the package one. Cut, shred, prune, correct and murder. Kill off characters, cut whole pages, whole chapters! Underline when you’re being cliché, learn the short hand editing notes. Your book needs a firm hand just like your children. When you’ve gutted it, then all that’s left standing is the good, the gold. Then you build up more gold around it.

But first, you’ve got to make your book bleed.

Writing Prompt Saturday- What do you hate about your first draft?

Alright, this is something I do with all of my fist drafts. I unload. I am furious at my first draft! I spent all that time and ink, slaving over a hot notebook and keyboard to make it perfect and for what? It’s not perfect. It’s not just as I want it to be. It’s full of spelling mistakes, terrible dialog, and plot holes I could drive a Buick through! Basically, I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.

So I write about all the things I hate about my first draft. I get it all out on paper, without judgment. Then, I know what I want to fix.

What do yo hate about your first draft? Tell it all about what you don’t like about it. Go ahead and hurt its feelings. It hurt you.

As always, feel free to post what you hate about your first draft in the comment section below!

Check This Out- The Pomodoro Method

If you’re getting into the thick of your editing process, you’re in danger of running into one of two walls. Maybe you’re getting immersed in the process and forget about other things, like eating or personal hygiene. Or, you’re so daunted by the whole process that you’re waiting until you’ve got ‘real time’, to get into it.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need more than a small snippet of time, so long as you take it every day. And you shouldn’t even try to devote too much time on it, or you’ll burn out.

I recently found a new tool to help with both of those things. Actually, I’ve got pretty bad adult ADD, and this is helping me with literally everything in my life. It’s called the Pomodoro method.

Here are the basics. You set a timer for twenty five minutes, and work like hell on whatever your project is for those twenty five minutes. You do this with a pad of paper next to you, to write down anything that might pop into your head while you’re working. I mean things like random story ideas, ‘oh, I have to do this soon,’ to do lists, and whatever . The website suggests keeping a journal, but I just use a legal pad, and transition stuff into my bullet journal.

After twenty five minutes you take a five minute break. Stretch, get some coffee, use the potty. After four 25 minute sessions, take a longer fifteen to twenty minute break. Keep track of how many sessions you get in.

So, the names a little crazy. It’s the Spanish word for tomato. The creator started this out by using a tomato shaped timer.

I love this method. I’ve been getting so much more work done since I’ve started using it. As already stated, I have ADD. It’s very hard for me to focus on one thing for long. My brain just starts racing if I’m only doing one thing at a time, and this helps. Instead of telling myself ‘you must focus until this project is over’, or worse, ‘I’ll just go and fill the dishwasher real quick’, I work for the whole session. If I think of something I need to do, on this list it goes, to be dealt with after I’m done with whatever I’m doing.

Check out pomodoro this week. And let me know what you’re doing with your sessions in the comment section below.

The Writing Life- Editing Shopping List

Don’t lie, you’re going to love this part even if you hate editing.  I’ve never met a writer that didn’t walk into Staples and hear the Halleluiah chorus in their head.

Editing is an intensive process, and it requires special tools.  While it’s true that you only need a pen and a notepad to start your rough draft, you need a little more than that now.  That’s okay, you’re worth it and so is your story.  Besides, if you sat your ass in your chair long enough to produce a first draft, you’ve earned a shopping trip.

So, here’s my suggested editing shopping list.

1. Printer paper and at least two new ink cartridges.  Or, you can do what I do and have your manuscripts printed at a local printer.  It saves me time and money.  It also prevents me from trying to replace the ink cartridge, which I seem to have some sort of mental block over.  Personally, I write out my first draft long hand, then print out my second draft in preperation for the third.

2. Red pens.  As always, I’ve got a great red le pen that I use.

3. sticky notes, to add notes to the manuscript itself while you’re reading it.

4. A legal pad.  I get ideas while I’m editing that I want to address in later parts of my book.  That’s why I keep a legal pad right at my side for stream of conscious note taking.

5. Highlighters.  All sorts of uses for highlighters, and I suggest a five color pack.  I use them for poor dialog, bad phrasing, plot holes, characters acting out of character, grammar mess ups and spelling mistakes.  Some people use them to track plotlines, but I’ve usually got so many of those that I’d need more colors than they make.  Though I will use them to track ploteline importance with the next tool.

6. Index cards.  I use these to make plotline maps, because I can make it bigger as I go along.  What I do, is write the chapter title in the color ink I used for that character’s pov. (one of my org tips for keeping povs in order in draft one.)  Then, I’ll write any plot lines discussed on the index card, higlighted by order of series plot, book plot, sub plot, or character development.  I also make a little note of the last chapter we talked about this plotline in.

7. One big plastic crate, to corral all of my drafts as I go.  I’ll separate them in the boxes I get from the printer, but if you’re printing at home, I advise shoe boxes, or any other box that’s the right size.  No need to get fancy unless you really want to.

8. Coffee, obviously.  At least for me.  But really, I’ll use any excuse to buy coffee.

9. Binder clips.  I use these to hold my pages together in later drafts so I can flip them like a book.

10. Treats.  Editing is hard.  Even for crazy people like me who like it.  I feel better if I’ve got a piece of chocolate after each chapter.

Editing is a big job, and you need the tools to get through it.  I didn’t add any specifics about these tools, because there are a hundred different kinds of high lighters, and you should pick out the ones you like best.

Take some time to pick these things up, and let’s get started.

Plans For February 2015

Here we are, another month, another theme.  This month, we’re talking about a writing topic you either love or hate.  It’s editing.  Like I said…

I really enjoy editing.  It gives m a chance to combine some of my favorite things, organization, creativity, and anal retentiveness.  It can also be terrifyingly intimidating if you don’t have too much practice, and when you’re looking at a huge project like a novel.

There’s a lot that goes into editing.  You write your first draft all by yourself, with no external input.  Editing is when you start letting other people in.  You do the research, get other people to read your work.  You run through red pens and coffee.  You think over, and re-think every word you wrote.  I often think of editing as taking my rough draft, which is a giant lump of wood, and using a chainsaw to cut it into shape.  I’ll use smaller tools to get it closer and closer to what I want, until finally I’m going over the whole damn thing with sandpaper.

This month we’ll break down step by step how to edit your novel, what you’ll need, and go over some of the trickiest parts of editing fiction.  Stick with us this month as we take our work and rip it down so that we can build it back up again, better than it ever was.

By the way, I don’t think I’ll mention this anywhere else, so let me say it here.  One of the best tips I ever learned about editing is from Steven King’s On Writing.  Don’t start editing your work right away.  Give yourself some time, at least six weeks.  Work on something entirely different, so when you come back to it, your manuscript feels like someone else’s work.  This makes it easier to edit clinically, not emotionally.

So buy some red pens, print out your manuscript, and get ready to make it better than it’s ever been.

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