Continuing my series on my process of bringing a book from my imagination to publication, I look this week at the fourth draft. To some of you, I may seem insane at this point. “Are you serious, Phythyon?” you might be asking. “After all this, you’re going to write another draft?”
Yes, I am. I’m a very methodical writer, and my editor has a deliberate process. We’ve both worked in newspapers, so we can churn out good material in only a draft or two on deadline.
But I’m trying to write something more enduring than a theater review or a performer profile for the features section. And I find the more I shape and craft a manuscript, the better it becomes.
This is the second time my editor has read the manuscript. The first time, she was getting the story down, making grammatical corrections and a few major observations. Now that she knows what happens, she really digs into it.
Last week, I discussed how she asks probing questions about the way things work. In this edit, she is really looking for things that don’t make sense. She continues to correct my grammar and tighten my prose, but at this stage, she is trying to blow it up. She looks for the hole you could drive a semi through — or even a Volkswagen Beetle.
I get a lot more questions in the margins when the third draft comes back to me. I am asked to justify what I am doing a lot more frequently.
Just as I do with the other drafts, I read the whole book again, reading the notes and corrections in context. This is the most careful reading I give an edited draft. Only the first draft gets examined more closely. Just as my editor is searching for problems in the structure, so am I.
There are two reasons for this. First, I know that she is looking to break things apart, so I want to be in that hyper-critical mode too. I want to be thinking like her, so I can understand what she thinks needs adjusting, and so that I can catch anything she might not have.
Second, this is the last chance I’m going to get to make substantive changes to the novel. By the time we get to the next phase, we’re not looking to rewrite the book. We’re just trying to catch mistakes and tighten the prose. The final drafts are all about polish.
So this is the last time to make alterations that will change the story or the pacing or characters. I need to make sure I don’t miss any opportunities to make it a better novel.
One Last Rewrite
With all my notes and those of my editor, I sit down at the computer again. It’s time for that final rewrite.
I treat this draft of the novel the same way I have the others. I read the book again, going through it line by line and making changes according to the notes. Whole paragraphs can be cut or added at this stage. I don’t recall ever adding a new chapter at this stage, but I have tacked on significant sections. It’s rare, but I have also moved scenes and chapters around at this stage, deciding that the pacing will be better if the events happen in a different sequence.
By the time I’m done with the fourth draft, I really know the story. In some ways, I’m growing sick of it. For me at least, writing a novel means living with it for several months. It is an intense and intimate process, and it requires me to have the book at the forefront of my mind for a long time.
The good news is, once I have the fourth draft written, I am getting very close to publication. There is one more draft to be penned, but it is created in an entirely different way than the others.
I’ll talk about the fifth draft and its unique process next week.