How We Write Wednesdays: Draft Done? The REAL Work begins!

Rewwriting time! Jenni  and I have been taking planning for two months now on HoWW. How to craft characters . And let’s not forget plot, because Jenni gets cranky when we do, and you won’t like her when she’s cranky. Now, it’s time to rewrite, because as David Kaplan says in A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, “The purpose of writing a story is to rewrite it.”


Yep, that’s right. No book’s done with just a single draft in your pocket. Not even two drafts, if you aks me. You’re not done, just because you have your first thoughts down on paper (or in the computer). Once you’ve got that good stuff behind you, it’s time to make it even better!

Feeling a little cranky yourself yet?

Yeah, this motivational post is going to be a little heavier on the tough love than most.

Finishing  your first draft (and we’ll talk drafting in May), is just the beginning. It’s merely the end of your planning. For those of you who don’t outline your plot and character ahead of time (I’m shaking my head now. Can you hear the tense spots in my neck popping while I do it?), the draft is your only planning. But for even those of us who put serious thought into what we’re going to write before we actually do, we still don’t know for SURE what’s going to happen until that magical creative thing that is putting words onto paper happens, and the story itself takes over.

I’m a firm believer in the creative flow of drafting. The power of discovery. The synergy of planning and experience and momentum combining to create something magical. BUT… That something magical, that completed draft, is only the beginning. It’s not everything it could be. It’s not ready to leave your mind and your heart behind. It’s not all it can be. Which means, it’s time for the REAL work to begin…

Kaplan tells us that ”You need three things to be a good fiction writer…talent…a knowledge of craft…and just as necessary, a devotion to revision, to the merciless re-working of your writing until it is the best it can be.” And he (and Jenni and I) aren’t talking about looking for typos or grammar errors or tweaking your prose so it pops just so, though all that’s important eventually.

What I teach to craft students is re-writing, not copy editing or proof reading. Deconstructing what you’ve done. Figuring out why it works and why it doesn’t. Asking yourself questions like:

  • What did you do the way you planned to do it?
  • What took on a life of its own while you drafted, and how did things evolve from your planning.
  • Does the opening, the middle, and the end work?
  • Does your antagonist’s POV and conflict and motivation arc convincingly throughout the story?
  • How about your antagonist?
  • How about your external plot? Your subplots?
  • Secondary characters and themes and symbols and setting? How effectively do you use these?

And then once you’ve pulled all that and more out of your story and looked at each piece individually:

  • How do you decide what to do with what you have?
  • How you want to make it better?
  • How do you make this beginning you have the best they can be?
  • How do you get the pieces of your story to work with each other?
  • How do you put them back together again, into an even better story than you first drafted?

THAT’s rewriting a novel.  Not an easy process. Not a path for the faint of heart. In fact, it makes a mess of your story while you’re doing the work. It has to, so you can see exactly where what you’ve done needs the  most work.

rewriting mess

But rewiting is a process that, if you master it, can take your writing and storytelling to a level you never thought you’d achieve.

Just like with the planning phase of storytelling HoWW has focused on the last two months, some great writers will tell you they don’t revise.And they’ll be telling the truth. Except the vast majority of them ARE rewriting, they’re just doing it while they draft. By going back and reworking each scene they’ve already written, over and over, instead of pushing forward in the story they’ve yet to create. They’re rewriting WHILE they’re drafting. Which might be great for the reworking part of their process, but how does it limit the creation that happens when they draft, or prolong the time it takes to produce that final story?

When I teach draft writing (again, come back in May), I’ll encourage you to not break up that forward momentum and opportunity for discovery into shorter bouts. I’ll ask you NOT to go back and rewrite until you have your beginning, middle and end down on paper. I could go on and on, but I won’t tempt the crank-o-meter more than I already have for now…

Until May, let’s talk about the rewriting that is so closely tied to your planning. Let’s see how you can overcome your fear of it. And if you already embrace the power of reworking the great work you’ve already done, let’s spend April seeing how to get you even deeper into your process and your characters and plot.

So, to wrap up this introduction… You should make time in your writing process for the rewriting that must be done before you send a draft in. You should hone your rewriting skills just  as proactively as you develop your skill at writing great characters and point of view and dialogue and plot and setting. Because it’s the rewriting that makes all these things better. It’s how an author makes a completed story seem effortless to the reader, when the writer’s spent months or years creating that world. Rewriting is how you know you’re getting the most bang for your buck out of every sentence and scene and chapter and part of your story. It’s how you are, in my opinion, at your MOST creative–when you’re mining for the very best your draft can be.

There’s so much to cover:

  • Self-editing (I could do a month on this alone)
  • Editorial revisions (how do you work with someone else’s vision for your story)
  • Critiquing (which will be a month-long topic all it’s own, but we’ll touch on it in April)

We’ll try to fit it all in. Keep coming back each Wednesday and share your questions and comments.So many of you are stopping by each week now, and it’s great to hear from you. Thanks for letting us know in the comments and in emails how much HoWW is help.

Jenni’s taking the reins again next week, no doubt talking smack about recent reworking/critiquing we’ve done on my latest proposals. Aren’t I a generous girl, making sure she’s got fun new material to share? Then I’ll pick things back up, sharing my personal method for deconstructing a novel that you’re rewriting, and some of the self-editing tips I learned as a, believe it or not, technical writer. By then we’ll be well into the middle of the month and getting sassy, and who wants to miss that?

Don’t forget to check out these earlier HoWW posts if you need to catch up!

March’s HoWW plot speak:

February’s Character (and critique/brainstorming) posts:

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8 Responses to “How We Write Wednesdays: Draft Done? The REAL Work begins!”

  1. What is that scribble? Where is the spreadsheet? I want my spreadsheet!

  2. Your timing and advice couldn’t be better. I’m smack in the middle of a revision. It feels so much harder than writing the draft. Ugh.

    • Anna says:

      It IS harder, Melinda ;o) IMHO, that’s why most writers shortchange this step.

      The planning’s done. The rush of finishng that first draft is behind you. But the story’s not quite right. Now you have to rip back into things and work even harder, so your beautiful world and characters thrive not just on the page, but in readers’ minds.

      Not easy. But SO rewarding, once you get ‘er done!

  3. Hi Anna!
    Hope you’re doing great. I’m ur DFW shoe buddy. lol
    This is a wonderful, terrific, and SO helpful post. Thanks for writing it.
    I am going to save it forever! :)

    • Anna says:

      Thanks, Janet! LOVE my DFW shoe buddy ;o)

      Keep coming back. If the intro got you smiling, just wait until I REALLY start ranting about how much work can be done, once you sacrifice your first draft to the “How do make this better?” writing gods…

  4. This must be my theme for the morning. Just read “Can Editing Be Fun? Maybe.” Therese Walsh on Now, happily, I found your post. Yes, some writers say they don’t rewrite yet are actually making developmental edits on each chapter.

    Thanks for great examples on how to revise storytelling in fiction, and explaining the real time spent in world building. I’m polishing (7th draft – five years) of my first novel. Then I plan to wrestle my first draft of my 2nd. I’m signing up now to get your updates.

    • Anna says:

      Go, Deborah, go! Keep coming back, as we delve deeper into the process. HoWW is all about the hard work or our writing job, and the very real ways we can get better and better, as long as we stay heads-down working and not looking around too much for quick fixes.

      Sounds like you’re on your way ;o)

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