Friday, November 25, 2011

How many Drafts should a Manuscript Undergo?

Few months back, a writing friend asked me, “how many drafts did your manuscript undergo?” I said, “several.” I really had lost track of the number of drafts I had made of that particular manuscript. She was shocked. According to her, manuscripts that undergo 7 to 8 drafts are just not a normal writing procedure.

 “Ideally, a manuscript should undergo just 3 drafts,” she said. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that, because the manuscript I am subbing has definitely undergone more than 3 drafts. I may not remember the actual draft count, but I had revised the book like hell.

 I don’t think there is a standard draft procedure or a norm where books are concerned. All I am aware is that the first draft is no where ready to be published, its not even ready to be shown even to the family members whose critiquing abilities don’t match other writers. The first draft is often a literary mess, a jumble of words that make sense only to the writer. It’s just a clutch of scenes, sometimes the scenes are not even linked. It’s as we move on to the next few drafts that the manuscript gets a semblance of a story; that there is a cause and effect sequence to it.

It’s different for every writer. 3 drafts may be too less for some writers, while it may be too much for few lucky ones. My first drafts are sometimes too lengthy and sometimes too sketchy. There is never a balance. I add the finer details slowly. The first draft is just the basic scene.

Do you think there is a set rule for drafts? How many drafts of a manuscript is normal? How many drafts do you all make of your manuscripts? When do you feel its time to send it to Crit Partners or Beta Readers?


19 comments:

Rahul Bhatia said...

Nice one Rachna!Since I do not indulge in very serious writing usually three drafts suffice but poems may require more!

Jim Murdoch said...

I don’t do drafts. Until I started poking around online the concept was quite alien to me. I am not alone in this. Anita Brookner says, “It is always the first draft. I may alter the last chapter; I may lengthen it. Only because I get very tired at the end of a book and tend to rush and go too quickly, so when I have finished it I go over the last chapter.” I edit constantly from the very start and so a book is in a constant state of flux until I finally decide it’s finished enough to publish. Paul Valery said that “a poem is never finished, only abandoned” but I don’t see why that should only be the case for poems – I’ve just sent off my next book to the printer and I pottered away with it until the very last minute but you have to draw a line. I did scrap the first 10,000 words of my last novel but in my mind that’s not a first draft merely a false start. For those who do draft though I don’t think you can set down rules. Writing is not like plumbing or bricklaying and writing every one of my novels was a very different experience from writing the others. And I wouldn’t see it any other way. The idea of production-line novels makes me grue.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The book I'm about to query has ungone 13 drafts. But that's because I made a huge plot change at one point, and because I send my book out in waves to beta readers and my CP. There's no point sending it out to everyone at the same time (like some writers do). Also, I won a full ms critique by an agent. We didn't share the same vision for the book (obviously not the right agent for me), but her feedback was amazing. So that resulted in another round of edits and another wave of beta readers.

There's no magical number. You do as many drafts as it takes to produce a strong novel that agents and editors are going to be impressed with. Anything less than that, and you've wasted your time.

Great post!

Alka Gurha said...

I am not a published writer so I may be wrong..but there is always room for improvement..Depends from person to person and article to article.

Julia Hones said...

I don't have an answer because sometimes I write something a number of times before I get a first decent draft. Then I type it and I edit it so much that it cannot be the same. So my working method does not allow me to know how many drafts I go through.

Stephen Tremp said...

Stephen King says he only does three or four revisions and he's finished. Me, I do about ten. Hoping to get it down to six or seven the next time.

Shallee said...

I'm on five (or four?) drafts right now, and I've got at least two more. I think it depends on the writer, though. We all have different processes that help us get the results we want from our stories.

I have the first two or three drafts just to get the story in good shape. After that, I have specific drafts focused on specific things following full-novel critiques from my crit group. It usually takes me between six and nine drafts, but it's pretty calculated to be that way.

Rachna Chhabria said...

@ Rahul..my long manuscripts require more drafts. For the shorter ones, its just 2 to 3 drafts.

@ Jim...I too believe that writing each book is a different experience and there is no hard and fast rule about the number of drafts each manuscript should have undergone.

@ Stina...agree with you that we should do as many drafts as it requires to create a solid manuscript that agents will fall in love with.

@ Alka...one of my writing teachers told me that there is always a room for improvement in everything we do, whether writing or anything else.

@ Julia..I too tend to lose track of the number of drafts I do. Sometimes for some stories I keep making small changes every time I read that story on my computer.

@ Stephen...Like you I am trying hard to reduce the number of drafts by brainstorming for few days and plotting and outlining in detail before I start writing.

@ Shallee..I am with you where so many drafts are concerned. For my last WIP, I lost track of the number of drafts..I am sure it must be 6 to 7 drafts.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I agree that the type and length of the piece may determine how much revision it needs, but my novels and chapter books usually take about 7 or 8. Ditto for my picture books. And, yeah, a good poem can take even more. So I really envy those who have work ready to sub after only three revisions. Wow.

Childrens Writer said...

My challenge is that I can easily grow tired with too many revisions, and the story sometimes seems stale to me. My last children's book was revised more times than I could guess, but my current novel seems to be taking form in a more slow and careful pace. As I discussed in an article called "Beginning at the Middle," I work though this by waiting as long as I can to let ideas "simmer" before I put them down to paper or outline. I also generally revise as I go. That is, I return to re-read chapters again soon after finishing. That's an excellent opportunity to revise and re-work without the danger of losing flow or continuity. Sometimes, I also use the narrative as kind of placeholders until I can get back later and flesh things out. If I do this, though, I try not to wait too long. I want to love my story, and love wanes for me if the revisions are too frequent, making it more of a mechanical process than a creative one.

Dave King said...

Speaking of poems, some have many drafts and just occasionally the first is it. A first handwritten and then a second typed is fairly normal. Sometimes another.

Victoria Dixon said...

I'm with you as far as novels go. My first drafts are vomitous. They're awful drivel and would be a torture to give to anyone to read. I had to learn that the hard way. Now I worked hard on revising the second draft, figuring out what needed to be where logically and I DID give the second draft to a group. I remember how I thought they were helping me toward immediate publication. I'm such an idiot. I went through chapter drafts based on their comments and then after that, lost track of how many drafts I've done. What's the point in counting? Will I do it that way again? I don't know. It depends a lot on my belief in the ms, but I suspect I will. Some of my short stories come out remarkably intact on first drafts, but a novel is a different animal. Has this friend ever written one? I know some pros approach drafts like that, but they're PROs. LOL They've practiced production a LOT.

Rachit said...

making notes here :)

Weakest LINK

Madeleine said...

Goodness, I had never considered that question. It puts me in mind of a well known painter that I saw a TV programme for who would work over his paintings several times, but I can't remember his criteria for deciding when they were finished.

Lynda R Young said...

3 drafts? Really? Gak! I'm doing something wrong ;)
I think there is no set number. A manuscript is done when it's done.

Mohamed Mughal said...

For me it's not a numbers thing. The MS is ready when it feels right. Whether it got there via 3 drafts or 33 is secondary.

For the record, I do MANY more than 3 drafts before it's ready.

SBJones said...

I think the topic is a bit irrelevant. I think if a manuscript is on its twentieth draft, then more outlining and planning needs to be done next time and less writing by the seat of your pants. In my opinion that is a lot of wasted time. However if that is how many drafts it needs to go through to get it right, then so be it.

My first novel went through about 8 edits and drafts. There were no major revisions done, just edits and reads. My second novel, having learned from the first, is on its fifth and final draft before submitting.

There was the first unedited draft. A red line edit for grammar and punctuation. A second edit for consistency and plot mistakes. A third edit where the manuscript was read out-loud for readability and story. The final edit has been feedback from beta readers who brought up concerns or caught errors introduced by the editing process. Missing words, or words that should be swapped.

Jessie Humphries said...

How about 1,000??? My last ms. (that I finally shelved) seemed to take that many!!!

Terri Tiffany said...

I have never counted but I know it is more than three cause I have three CPs and they have lots of suggestions!