Lather, Rinse, Repeat: The Process of Writing


It takes me 6 drafts to write one of my books. I thought I’d summarize the process for you…share some of my secrets…for what they’re worth.

draftingDraft # 1. Tina Brown of vanity Fair has called the first draft of her book the “vomit” draft…just spew it all out. And that’s what I do. I get it all onto my computer, and backed up, and forget about grammar, spelling, etc. I don’t worry that the plot doesn’t hold together. Don’t even worry that by the end of the third chapter I’ve noticed that my hero’s eyes have gone from brown to blue.

Draft # 2. I start fixing the plot. Make sure it “hangs together”, that my characters act in character, that the details of the ending are in place – even if they are still a rough read.

Draft # 3. I put in big chunks. I take out big chunks. By now the page count should be pretty well set. I add clever bits: sharper dialogue, classical references etc. I re-arrange chapters to get a better plot flow.

Draft # 4. I start to read the work like a novel instead of like a manuscript. (Does that make sense?) I make sure there’s a rhythm to the writing, a building of tension, a dramatic and suspenseful flow, surprising phrases, original metaphors.

Draft # 5. I trick myself into thinking that this is my last look at the work before it goes to press. I do searches on words like: very, just, really, too…and get rid of them. I take out (almost all) the adverbs. I read out loud, or “read out loud in my head” so that I can fine-tune the prose. I format. I clean up punctuation. I keep at it until I think it’s perfect. Then I go to Draft # 6.

Draft # 6. See Draft # 5.

  1. Avatar of Andrew Sacks
    Andrew Sacks says

    Great title and great advice. We may all go about the process slightly differently, but this sharing of a successful and sound technique is sure to assist fellow professionals. Kudos and a big “thank you.”

  2. Avatar of J.I. Kendall
    J.I. Kendall says

    Thanks for the feedback, Andrew. As you know, the process is so ephemeral it’s hard to put it into words. I’m about to start Draft 5 of my WIP – so that means what? ….3 or 4 drafts left to go? 🙂 Best of luck to you!

  3. Avatar of Jack Eason
    Jack Eason says

    Sound advice J.I. For the most part I tend to do the same thing. Except in my particular case I plan out the story scenario, characters, events etc, etc using my Excel spreadsheet system – different pages under different headings, i.e. Storyline, Character’s good, Characters bad, Countries, tools, vehicles – you know the sort of thing I’m talking about. That way If I get lost mid chapter, paragraph, sentence, I’m able to get my thought processes back on track. 🙂

  4. Avatar of Nancy Duci Denofio
    Nancy Duci Denofio says

    Great advice. I tend to write everything the old fashion way first, on paper with pen. I love writing so much I have far too many notebooks filled with every type of writing. I have made up my mind after reading your article that I need to follow some kind of outline, not in story but for my own sanity. Do you believe boxes of writing since I was so young, filled with possible stories and poetry, even three very poorly written novels, since my writing has grown since they were part of my daily life. But thanks, your movement from one point to another makes sense for my manuscripts I let lay around. Poetry is easy for me, and prose easier – I simply let words flow from what some may call stories. And yes, they are parts of stories, perhaps this is why memory plays such an important role when writing. Thanks again for your article. Sincerely, Nancy

  5. Avatar of J.I. Kendall
    J.I. Kendall says

    Thanks so much, Nancy. I hope you find the path that works for you. Sounds like you have a lot of raw material you can work from going forward.

    And thanks again Jack. I envy your ability to make a spreadsheet work – I find that the story has to unfold for me as it goes.

    All the best to both of you.

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