Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Writing of Drafts and Revisions

I think I've mentioned before that these samples I'm posting are merely the rough-draft work for my novel in progress. As such, they don't have the polish you might expect to find in a finished novel. As I write the rough draft, I'm writing the straightforward events of the story as they unfold, following the plot synopsis that I wrote a couple of years ago. That synopsis itself is fairly detailed, though it's only a plot summary, merely the skeleton of the story. This rough draft represents me adding the muscles, blood and guts to the skeleton that will help to bring the story to life. But to continue the metaphor, we're still a long way from having a complete human being. It's the additional drafting process, re-writing and editing scenes, changing things around, cutting out whole sections and potentially adding new ones, that will result in skin, hair, and some degree of beauty being given to the final form of this person called a novel.

Now setting aside the metaphor, let's look at the drafting process. The rough draft represents a fairly large piece of work, spread over many months or years. For me as a writer, it is probably the hardest part of the entire process. Writing the plot synopsis takes a bit of work, but it's at a high enough level that I can usually map out a working plot in a matter of a few months. Thinking back, I believe it took me about two months, maybe three, to write the synopsis for my current work in progress.

Turning that same plot outline into a complete first draft has taken me two years, and it's still not done. I'm not a full-time writer, of course, and my general goal is to write 2,000 words per week. If I were writing full-time, I would really expect to write those same 2,000 words every day, or even more. But since I have a greater-than full time job, I only get to write as a hobby, in my spare time on weekends and evenings, and sometimes early in the morning. And as I've said before, I expect this draft to take several more months, probably about eight, which will put us into mid-September.

But the next step can be almost as difficult, though it generally takes less time. I will first read the entire novel, printed on ordinary paper, writing copious notes in red pen wherever I have a question, or idea, or suggestion for improvement. I will also ask two or three other people, maybe more, to do the same thing for me. It always helps to have an outsider's point of view, and by "outsider" I simply mean someone not me, someone who isn't in my head who knows exactly how I write and what I mean when I say a certain thing, or have a character say a certain thing.

So that part of the process, the first revision, will likely take a few months as I read, and take notes, and others do the same with me, and then I collate everyone's notes and go back to the drawing board, as it were, to actually write those revisions. I usually do this chapter by chapter, though I will also tend to jump around a bit as later ideas come that might impact earlier parts of the story, and I need to edit or re-write certain scenes or sections in order to ensure that the story keeps its continuity. But in the end, I will have a revised story.

And then we go back and do it again, reading it and looking for the revisions, making more notes, asking more questions, pointing out weaknesses and sometimes strengths (it pays to acknowledge those, too, so I don't accidentally delete something that's really good). And again I go back and revise again, though hopefully on the second round there will be fewer changes to make.

Depending on how things are going, it may take a few more revisions before I and my "beta testers" are all happy with the story. And this is the part where I am heading into unknown territory, as I'm not actually a published writer. Where to go from there, with a complete and revised novel in my hands? I have read a few books on getting published, and I've also considered self-publishing the book. I don't have any specific plans right now, and to be honest I'll be quite happy just to get to that point. Not that I intend to stop there - I do intend to publish this book in some way, I'm just not sure which way I'll go, and probably won't really know until I'm a lot closer to that point.

But that's all a topic for another essay. For now, I'll just stay focused on the drafting and revision process.