Saturday, November 10, 2007

The 7th draft

A friend on sent me an email and said, "I'm fascinated. Tell me about the sixth draft of a novel. How does that process work? When can you decide that you've said what you wanted to say? Why didn't you say that the first time? What changes between drafts, when is it finished and, when it is, is it the same novel?"

Great questions. I'll see if I can answer them.

For me, the process of writing a novel is a matter of finding the story, chipping away. I'm not an outliner. The one time I actually tried outlining a novel, by the time the outline was done, I was so bored with the story. So now I write to discover what I'm trying to say. An instructor of mine, Judith Beth Cohen, once said this, that she didn't write because she had answers but because she had questions.

So the first draft is the discovery draft. I kept about 30 pages--the last 30!--of the very first draft of Starletta's Kitchen (working title). The next draft had all sorts of things going on in it that I later realized didn't belong, or were story lines, or characters, that bored me. If I'm bored, then my readers will be bored. Chris Bohjalian has said this, that he'll stop writing 100 pages into a book if he's bored.

A couple of my drafts were read-throughs. Another draft was comprised of carving. And now this draft....I'm cutting, streamlining. The story is coming into focus. I doubt that this is the final draft.

So many of the novelists I respect go through many, many drafts. First (and second and often third) novels are on the shelf, in storage. The novel I end up with will not be the same one I started. But...why should it be? A novel is written over a few years. You're not the same person you were when you started it. A novel will change as you change.

When is it done? Someone said a project is never finished, but abandoned. Or published. I could tweak my first published book, Pen on Fire, still. It can be painful, seeing things you'd like to change but it's published! So you know you're done when you feel you've done the best you can do or you have no energy left or an agent likes it and shops it and it sells.

A way to keep organized, by the way, is to type subsequent drafts on different colored paper. My 7th draft is on blue. I'm going to buy pink paper for the 8th draft. Maybe it will be a happy! But who can say?


Allison Johnson said...

Yes--for me writing a novel is like sculpting. You keep chipping away at this big mass of words and images and emotions. And then, after much sweat and labor, you start to see a shape emerge, and then you get the smaller tools and refine, refine,refine.

J in HB said...

Thanks for this topic. It came just when I needed it most.

Leslea M. Harmon said...

If This Brilliant Darkness doesn't survive the Amazon competition, I'll be doing draft #...? 7? But I'm mostly ready to move on from it, so it won't be a heavy edit.

It sounds tiresome to new novelists, I think, but having done as much work as I have on it, it feels great to be at this point.