On Drafts and Revisions


Yup, that’s me. In the Way Back of 1981, just a couple of months before I graduated from high school. Caught doing some writing, obviously, but I couldn’t tell you what it was I was writing. (Side note: that bookshelf behind me? It had three rows of paperbacks, stacked on top of each other. Yes, I was a voracious reader, and I still am. One of these days I’ll post pics of the spare room we converted to a library.)

I think I’ve mentioned before how I wanted to write since I could remember (it’s even in my bio). My earliest poem that received teacher recognition was when I was 10 years old, called “Silent Creek.” I can still write it from memory here:

The creek is silent
when it runs,
It runs over rocks and then
Down past the willow.

Little children scamper 'bout
picking delicate flowers,
Inside the creek are trout
with their strong swimming powers.

Men and boys go to fish
in the little creek,
The fishies give a swish
and look a little meek.

The creek is silent
when it runs,
It runs over rocks and then
Down past the willow.

So yeah. Not the greatest poem in the history of poetry, but I still love the first stanza.

Over the years, I tried writing novels, off and on. I still have some of that unfinished work. Why did I abandon those projects? Simple, really. I didn’t know how to write.

Back then, I sat at my typewriter (later, the computer) and typed my heart out. And then read over the pages and started again, editing as I wrote. If I didn’t like how a paragraph read, I started the page over again. Yeah, I wasted a lot of paper… until I stumbled on some newfangled erasable paper. (Yes, that was really a thing. The paper had a special coating on it that made the typewriter ink erasable.) That was a game-changer for me, and I wasted a lot less paper. All because I edited while I wrote.

So I’d get about twenty pages or so into a story, go back and re-read it, and try to pick up the story again. But because I’d lost any momentum I’d had, I’d end up dropping it and starting something else.

I probably have about thirty of those abandoned projects packed away.

Then, I got busy with my career in accounting and data analysis, and stopped writing altogether.  I even stopped writing in my journal, which I’d kept continuously since I was a teen.

In 2013, I had to stop working due to multiple chronic illnesses and constant pain, and I struggled to somehow keep my mind busy and feel relevant in a world that doesn’t recognize non-workers as necessary or worthy. After a few months, I started thinking, why not try writing again? After all, it wasn’t like I had anything better to do, right? (A bit of sarcasm there, as I was still trying to figure out how to deal with the constant pain and fatigue.)

Before I started, though, I read a lot of articles about writing. By published authors, in particular. And they all said the same thing: write your first draft like you’re just vomiting words onto the page. Don’t edit as you write. That’s what revisions are for. Just get the ideas down while they’re fresh in your mind and worry about the rest later.

I’m not going to lie, that was a lightbulb moment for me.

By mid-2014, while floating in my pool and letting my mind drift, I had the basic plot of what would become Legacy, Book One of the Keeper of the Sphere series. By July, I’d started the first draft. It was completed around November. And I’ll be honest: that first draft is nothing like the finished book. It was a whopping 125K words, and had a lot of unnecessary details. (In hindsight, no one really needed to know the intricate details of flying Business Class to Ireland, despite the hours of research I did in order to write that scene.)

But that’s the point of a first draft, I think.

Over the next three years, the manuscript went through four revisions, during which most of those unnecessary details were cut. Then I finally swallowed my pride and sent it to an editor who’d been highly recommended by my author friends. Even more revision after that honed it into a much tighter story that ended up below 100K words.

As my first published novel, I’m proud of that work. And yes, I was terrified to actually put it into the world. (Based on reader feedback, though, I’m over the moon at how well it’s been received.)

When it came time to write Chrysalis, Book Two, I also started with what I now call word vomit, but a curious thing happened: the first draft was well under 100K words. So during the first revision, I fleshed out all the details that were missing. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes. Emotions. Reactions. That sort of thing. The type of stuff that really brings a story and its characters to life.

By the time Chrysalis had been revised twice, had two passes by my awesome editor, and a final revision, the word count had ballooned to just a hair shy of 135K words. And so far, reader reaction has been fantastic. (One who shall not be named simply said, “WOW.” How cool is that?)

This month, I started the first draft of Book Three. Once again, I’m not getting bogged down in the details yet. I’m just word-vomiting the story. My goal is to get as much on the page as I can while the scenes play themselves in my mind like a movie. I’ll circle back around and add in the details – the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and emotions – during the revision process.

By the way, I still read a lot of articles by published authors, but now I also read blog posts and tweets by newbie authors too. And I think the big thing is: everyone finds what works for them. And while there is a lot of overlap in methods, some things don’t work for some writers.

Some writers outline extensively and write to that outline. (They’re called plotters.)

Other writers have a general idea of the story arc and just sort of wing it. (They’re called pantsers.)

I’m a combination of both; as a quasi-plotter, I have extensive notes on what I want Book Three to be about, and I have those notes handy while I’m writing. But that’s where the plotting ends, because I basically let my characters fill in and write the story. (I guess that makes me a plantser. Or maybe a plotser. Whatever.)

Sometimes, this can cause a major hiccup to the story arc, as I recently discovered when my main character decided to throw a whole new plot into the mix during chapter one’s dialogue. To resolve this, I thought about it for a couple of days and then figured what the hell, let’s go with it for a couple of chapters and see what happens. Because it was actually pretty good.

Dee rarely steers me wrong when she does stuff like this. (Although there was that time in the draft of Chrysalis when she desperately wanted to have a threesome with Arddhu and Kevin, and that gave me fits for a while until I said, fine; here, have a ball and wrote the scene out in all its lurid details. Then, after Dee was well satisfied, I deleted it. So it was a win-win for both of us.)

I don’t know yet if that little change Dee made in chapter one of Book Three will stay all the way through to the end or to the finished book, but I’m okay either way. Because I’ve learned so much about writing – and I still have so much to learn, having started so late in life – I’m fine with the process.

And I guess because I’m a writer now.