And I thought writing was hard…
The first draft of The Magician’s Doll was a bunch of word vomit. Every day I strove to meet a word count, and there were days I was not sure what I had written. I wrote and wrote and wrote until one day I realized I had nothing left to write. The story was complete. I learned from this draft that sometimes just plowing through will get you to the end. In the race to finish, I think I was a little numb when I did. Then I was elated. Then petrified.
I was nervous to go back and read what I had written. I put it off for several months. I wrote Encounter Way and worked on editing and publishing that story.
When I got back to The Magician’s Doll, I found I liked it, and started writing the second draft. At this point I had about 100k words. I pieced the different sections I had written in order so that the story made sense. I learned that finishing a first draft got me a “rough something” as opposed to my wait-til-inspiration-hits-me work in progress. And that’s a pretty good starting point.
I made an inefficient choice with the third draft. I started polishing the writing. I looked at voice, took out the “she felt” “she seemed” phrases and reworded them with more active descriptions. I had a lot, well maybe closer to a ton, of those phrases, so it took a while. I kept reference books and a thesaurus close at hand. When I finished the draft, I was down to 96k words.
For the fourth draft, I took out much of the “she said” “he said”s and substituted actions. I learned here that even though readers can tune out the “said”, the pace improves if you can leave it out or use action. In some places, using the “said” worked better, but finding the balance made a difference. This brought me down to 93k words.
The fifth draft was where I started making the big cuts. I learned that this is a step best done in the third draft. All the hard work and pretty phrases and corrections from the earlier drafts? Snip snipped away. Ouch! As an exercise, I made it a goal to cut at least 25 words a page to see what would happen. When I knew I had to cut words, it was amazing to find what I actually could leave out. I did not always hit 25, but I found several areas that could be edited or streamlined for more concise content. This draft brought me down to 86k words.
By the sixth draft I was starting to feel like I’d had enough of my story. I looked harder at flow for this draft, as well missed opportunities for description or action or emotion. I looked at repetitive words. My thesaurus became my best friend. I learned how overusing adverbs could weigh down the prose. I kept tweaking here and there and started to wonder whether my perfectionist tendencies were starting to work against me in making me feel that the story would never feel complete. Once I made it through this draft, I’d had enough. I decided that I would get an editor to do the final proofread.
Then my mother read the sixth draft and mentioned off hand that the main character was a little annoying.
Thus started the seventh draft. The annoyance had actually been a concern of mine, but I figured that since the character grew by the end, it might be justified. At this point, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, but I did try to soften a few exchanges between the characters and shed some light on my character’s motivations that hopefully helped. In any case, it was important to me that the character grew, so I kept some of her annoyances. From this draft I learned that if I have a concern, the readers probably will too, so it’s important to explore the things that bother me. On the other hand, if the justification for my choices are clear, chances are, it will be good enough for most readers.
The seventh draft, which had less than 86k words, went to the editor, and I can’t wait to find out what more I can learn to make the final copy better.
What was the biggest lesson I learned from the drafts? There is always something to be learned in writing and editing each draft forced me to improve. I found many flaws, I agonized over every word, every piece of punctuation, I scrutinized my sentence structures and grammar, and even though I am far from perfect, I see the difference between the first and the seventh draft. Working through each draft fueled my desire to learn more.
I guess that’s why writing is a little like giving birth. There’s the pain of creation, but the work does not stop there. You have to follow up with the nurturing, the growing and the learning needed to make it the best child it can be. And that’s the reward.