Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Respecting the Process: First Draft vs. Final Draft

Even when you're self-publishing, there are a lot of steps between "Finish Manuscript" and "Publish Novel" - namely copyediting, typo-sleuthing, formatting, more typo-sleuthing, and finally publishing. This is part of producing a professional level product. At the same time, it's important (to me at least) to keep writing through the release of a new novel (and pretty much all the time). It keeps me focused on what's important: moving forward, writing more. But this results in a strange juxtaposition that every writer eventually faces: the raw comparison of your first draft work and your final draft work. I'm experiencing this now as I draft Free Souls and typo-sleuth Closed Hearts.

In writing Closed Hearts, I had a similar experience, along with a mini-crisis when I couldn't get the novel to be perfect in the first draft. The ridiculousness of that statement is obvious on its face, but that didn't stop me from wanting the first draft of Closed Hearts to have everything that the final draft of Open Minds had: cool tech details, slang, reveals and drama! Oh, and finely crafted sentences that flowed and made emotion float off the page. That's not too much to ask from a first draft, is it?

Um, yeah. It is.

Respecting the Process
Everyone has a process. If you're me, you have about five different processes, all of which are simultaneously evolving. But the constant is the discovery of story. Whether your discovery process is pantsing or hyper-outlining, at some point you start the creative process that brings the story into being. Then it is shaped and molded and warped until you bring forth from the chaos a story that makes sense. That shines. That people might actually want to read.

You can't skip ahead on this process, because the story is discovered as part of the process. Just as your character has to go through the full gamut of their trials and tribulations in order to force them through their character arc, your story has to go through every step of the process to reach its full potential.

My Process...
...looks something like this:

Pre-Draft: Outline. This can be anything from one opening paragraph and a concept (Open Minds) to 16,000 words of chapter-by-chapter outline (Free Souls).
1st Draft: Write like crazy until I reach THE END. Have really short descriptions, or possibly none. The emotions, the dialogue, the plot rule the day. Get it all down in a heady rush of storytelling.
2nd Draft: Look in despair upon the wreckage of the 1st Draft. Try to shape it into something coherent.
3rd Draft: Go deeper into scene setting, character development, themes and image systems. Add rich detail, backstory, and plants/payoffs.
4th Draft: Make it beautiful, in word craft and grammar. Make it fresh, in turns of phrase and more details. Fix everything that needs fixing. Publishing=DONE. Make sure the story is ready for that.

This is just an outline of my process (if I wrote a second draft, it would probably make more sense!), and in reality there may be multiple additional drafts, with crit partner feedback in between and episodes of hair-pulling and scene-stalling. There's no reason why I can't put plants/payoffs in the 1st Draft (and do) or make it fresh in Draft Two. But (for me at least), it takes several iterations for me to work everything I want into the story, to make sure the character motivations are clear, the themes are strong, the layering is deep. That's the only way (for me) to create a story that is something I'm proud to share with the world.

And, as I start over (again!) with Free Souls, I'm finally beginning to accept that fact.

What's your process?

On Monday, I'll be posting a sneak peek of the first chapter of Closed Hearts, and Wednesday is the Launch Party! Plus the Indelibles are throwing a Beach Bash Giveaway you'll want to check out (with a chance to win an ereader!). Next week will be a flurry of excitement and I can't wait - but I also plan to keep plugging away at that (imperfect) first draft.

p.s. Raf gets interviewed on Doodle's blog and spills the beans on when he first fell in love with Kira!

20 comments:

  1. Wow! What an informative post! I'm still learning the outlining method and keeps spending time rewriting the outline. I probably should start simply and follow the process you have outlined here. This is my first time doing outlining for a story. I've been a panster all along for my fan fictions and is finding it difficult to adapt but I'll manage it somehow. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. For me, learning to outline represented a leap forward in storytelling. But everyone has their own way of discovering the story. You just have to try it and see what works for you. Fan fiction writing is very different, since it's so episodic, it lends itself to pantsing more. But learning to think in terms of the WHOLE story, not just the next chapter, is important. Good luck! (And you might want to check my "for writers" tab for more info.)

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    2. Thank you! I will do that. :)

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  2. So far it's a different process with every book for me. Although admittedly, I'm not quite done drafting my second MS, so what do I know?

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    1. I think you know a lot! Go you, with the second MS! :)

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  3. My process is a mess and probably akin to your "making the first draft perfect" approach (which is not working btw). I cannot force myself to go forward without editing and reworking, I have tried! But I'm planning to approach my next project differently with an outline of plot points and a definite ending before I write. Well, excusing the 6k works I already drafted for it, but besides that!

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    1. Making it perfect before moving on is definitely a trap ... and a hard one to stay out of. The best way is knowing you're going to have to rewrite it anyway, once you get to the end. :)

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  4. Also, I just clicked on your link to promote Closed Hearts. I'm posting a book review of Open Minds next week and follow that later in the week with the Closed Hearts post. :)

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  5. Your process is similar to mine. However, I wind up combing through my ms at least ten times (by listening to it, rereading it different formats, etc) in order to find missed typos or problems.

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    1. I do that too, but I don't call those passes "drafts". I read it outloud, skim for punctuation, read quickly for voice. I even read it BACKWARDS when I'm doing the final, final, final pass. That one's no fun. :)

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  7. Loved this post! I feel like it takes me so much time to get the story the way I want it . . and yet without the process of revision writing, my characters would never fully become who they are meant to be . . .

    Thanks!

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    1. Revising makes the story! Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. This is very timely for me, because earlier this week I was facing my revised and polished manuscript that was almost ready for copy-editing -- except that I needed to write a new scene at my editor's request.

    And I was afraid to do it. How painful -- to write a horrible, lousy, clumsy first draft of a scene into a book that's been polished up to a high gloss. It physically hurt.

    It was kind of like jumping into a cold pool. I finally had to just do it, then pop up to the surface, gasping for air and shuddering. Then I had to climb out of the pool and walk away, knowing the real work would come later.

    Three days later, I've almost got the scene revised and edited to my satisfaction. Sometimes, you just have to make the leap and accept that it won't be pleasant!

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    1. So true - so much of writing is just jumping into that frigid water! At least a scene you know is short enough that you can whip through that revision process pretty quickly, once you force yourself to start. I felt like that with some flash fiction I'll be posting next week - delayed for WEEKS in getting started. Once I did, it was fine and since it was so short, revisions went pretty quickly.

      Thanks for stopping by! Happy Weekend!

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  9. My process is very similar and writing the first draft now of Spy 2 I've had to keep reminding myself that it's a first draft! :) Yay for Closed Hearts!

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    1. It’s so hard to start over! But I’m excited you’re writing Spy 2!! The best part of writing the sequel is getting feedback on the first while you’re writing the second. 

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  10. I've heard some say the real labor of love is in the rewrites, but way I see it it's ALL a labor of love. And I can revise 6 times as well and still find something more to add or change. I've even found that some stories need a year to sit before they get right. But I'm like you, I start with a skeleton, and gradually add in the heart and soul.

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  11. I do love posts on the process of writing. :)

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers