How many drafts for my fiction writing?

It’s probably one of the most common email queries we receive, and it’s really like asking anyone how long a piece of string is. Some writers say three, four, eight and even ten! In all honesty, there is no magic number.

As you develop your process, the best thing is to consider your chosen genre, writing experience, and why you want to write. For example, a sci-fi/fantasy writer will go through more drafts than one writing a memoir as they would use more of their imagination.

Regardless of the genre, new writers tend to get stuck when writing. They rewrite ad nauseam and ultimately never finish the story and give up, which is sad. Imagine all the plots and stories sitting on millions of shelves and hard drives.

Which brings us to the first part, what is your motivation for writing: to launch a career or pass the time? Regardless of your intent, there’s no wrong reason to write fiction. However, different intentions require different drafting processes… one may not need the assistance of an editor, while another may require a manuscript assessment.

As a result, we came up with a foolproof three draft step to writing fiction – each step may require one to go through two separate drafts.


The most exciting part. It gets you giddy, and you can’t stop telling everyone around you that you’re writing. There are no rules, just write… spill away and don’t look back. No changes are allowed. Let your plot and characters take shape… word salad? That’s ok.

The point here is to get whatever is in your head onto paper (or the blank word processor screen). Let it all unfold. Whatever you do, do not step away from the manuscript – except maybe for coffee. No research allowed; just make a note for later. It’s not going to be perfect or ready to publish, but all you need to do here is write.

This part can take a day (if you’re that fast) to a year, depending on how much time you set aside to write, how long your piece of fiction is and how quickly you write. Remember always to check the word count required for your chosen work of fiction… is it a short story? A poem? A novella? A novel? Whichever one, it’s always best to set attainable writing goals to ensure that you succeed.


This is the part where your piece takes shape, but before you get here, ensure you’ve given yourself a good break from the first draft – no, really. Stretch, step away from the desk, have a good meal, reconnect with those around you, pick up a new hobby, go to the gym, go on holiday… you get the idea. It’s like letting baked goods cool down after taking them out the over. It’s essential. You and your piece need to rest.

The first draft will obviously need a lot of work, do not despair. It’s absolutely normal, and here’s how to approach this step:

  • Summarise each part/act/scene in one sentence – this helps spot any plot holes and highlight parts that don’t drive the plot. The golden rule of fiction is that everything happens for a reason; what a character says or does needs to drive the story.
  • Print a hard copy and read – it’s an excellent way to spot grammar and spelling errors, tense mix-ups, repetition etc. You do not have to fix every issue. Just ensure it’s easier to read.
  • Read as a reader – focus on each character and their development. Are they boring? Dynamic? Stereotypical?


The scariest stage… you’re handing your work over to somebody else to scrutinise. It may be a friend, family member (just not your mum) or even a professional editor… anyone who can give constructive feedback.

You may need to write another draft based on your feedback after this step.

While there is no strict rule on how many drafts to write for fiction; however, the above three draft process is a great place to start.

Remember that you may need to write two or three drafts in-between each step. The whole process takes time, but you will notice the results in the quality of your manuscript if you put in the effort.

Happy writing!

Check out our shop for some writing tools to get you started on the next great South African story!

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Finish Your Collapse & Stay for Breakfast

Friend: Just talk to her, I mean you slept together.

Him:  Not like that.

Friend:  OK, so you shared a bed together, talking to her shouldn’t be such a big deal. I’m still surprised that nothing happened!

Him:  There’s a time and place.

Friend:  Oh shit! She coming towards you, I’m out.

Him:  Erm, I’d like to see you again.

Her:  That would be great.

Him:  Cool, then we should swap numbers or something.

Her:  Okay.

Him:  So, are you staying for breakfast? My man here’s cooked up a storm.

Her:  Uhm, no… No, I would love to but I have to go.

Him:  Go do what?

Her:  Excuse me?

Him:  Stay.

Her:  I don’t know.

Him:  Just stay, at least there’s something to do here. If not, we’ll think of something?

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Blackberryphilia (2010)… pt.3


Me: Hey
[beep]: (chewing) Hey.
Me: Eh, it’s Coin. I’m so effing stressed. Calisto’s dead, like remember in Jennifer’s Body where Chip said his mum was catatonic like a  zombie-mannequin-robot statue? Like that dead and what’s weird is that when he does come round, this really disturbing icon that’s not even in the manual shows.
[beep]: (chewing) uh…

Effing [beep]! Why’s he always chewing when he’s on the phone? And anyway, doesn’t “catatonic like a zombie mannequin robot statue” kinda sorta explain what’s happened? Argh! What an idiot!

Me: So, like, I was…

I took sip of the screw-driver and explained what happened – well, not exactly what happened, just the parts that [beep] needed to know – he’s the last person that needs to know that I have a mini-meltdown over a dumb-ass smartphone.
Me: What do you think it is? Do I like need a new battery or is it like totally kaput? Which would be like a real disaster because I have work and stuff and  I won’t have time to get a new phone or battery and I’m gonna miss all that stuff that I’m gonna miss.
[beep]: (laughs, almost chokes then continues chewing) FOMO much, Coinizzle? OK? Sounds like you just have to wipe the gold bits on the battery and your phone with one of those cotton buds and Bob’s your uncle.

Me: Are you serious? I hope you’re not like practical-joking me like on Modern Family.

[beep]: Nah, but it usually does the trick.

Me: OK, hold the line.

I hurried to the bathroom and looked in the mirror cabinet for cotton buds. There was one left. I took it out and dismantled Calisto and wiped the metal bits with
the cotton bud and tried switching the phone on.

Holy crap! If this works, I’m giving up alcohol for like two months, starting today.

Me: Well, I just did that and it’s rebooting, all right.

[beep]:(chewing) Sweet

Me: Anyway, while I wait, [beep], why are you always chewing? It’s kinda disturbing and creepy.

[beep]: To keep my blood sugar levels up.


Me: Oh…


Me: Anyway, looks like it’s working all right. Thanks.

[beep]: Aite, later.

Me: Co-

He hung up! That bum-rush! Can I still call him a bum-rush if he’s got low blood sugar? Anyway, LED light flashing red? I’m gonna need a drink.

– end –


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Blackberryphilia (2010)… pt. 2

catch up here

Manual, manual, manual! Where are you? Ooh, The Diaries of Jane Somers – been looking for you, must read ’em again. Doris Lessing was too advanced! Geez, it’s cold! It wouldn’t be if… yeah! Oh wow, thought I returned that, oh well! Okay, why am I here? Oh, the manual! Ouch! Stupid thumbtacks. The box, I see it! Manual, okay… Let’s see. Battery. Troubleshooting. Mother effer! For. Crying. Out. Loud. The damn icon thingamajig’s not in this stupid manual. Why create and icon and not put it in the book? Who does that? Wait, the people at RIM, that’s who! Or… maybe Calisto made it up, after all it is kinda haunted! It changes my alarm tone weekly, when it arrived it already somehow summoned *cough, cough*’s contact details, so it can be true! I think I’ll give *cough, cough* a ring when this is all over. Damn piece of crap! You’re pretty useless, you know! Yes, this phone is crap, people go on about how awesome it is to own one but they hardly tell you about all the glitches! ARGH!

I tried the whole routine again, anyway. Hope is a funny thing. Perhaps I was insane? Dismantle, shake, charge. Nothing. I stormed out of the study and banged the door. I stood in the middle of the lounge – someone had left the TV on mute. In the light it emitted, I found a glass of red wine on the coffee table and took a sip. It tasted bad. So I scratched my bum.

Okay… Calisto, maybe you’re not stupid. Maybe I should cry and everything will be better – works that way in those chick-flicks! What? Cry over a cell-phone, all alone?! Hey, that rhymes, maybe I should be a rapper after all! Ugh, that so Bridget Jones. Where’s the vodka? This wine is off! Maybe I should have another cigarette? Stuff it! All I need is music, the music on my memory card then I’ll be able to sleep. Maybe –

I walked to the kitchen, located the vodka then measured out three shots and poured them in a high-ball glass and gulped down a bit from the bottle before adding some orange juice to the glass. I read the label on the bottle and put it down then headed to the lounge. I rummaged through the objects on the coffee table and found a Nokia 1200. It was on.

Ah! A nice screwed up screw driver will do. Too damn cold to go smoke outside. Let’s see what’s on TV. Was that a phone? Oh holy cow! A phone! Wait, whose phone? Does it matter, it’s a phone! Doesn’t look like it has a mem-card slot, though. Damnit! But it’s a phone and it’s on! Maybe I should call [beep], he always knows what to do.

Now, being one of those that insist on memorising people’s contact details before storing them on any device in case I found myself in in a situationas the one I was currently in, unfortunately for me [beep]’s number was never memorised and so, I stood there trying to come up with a formula to remember his number. The fact that I could just take my SIM card out the phone and put insert it in this other phone had escaped me, completely. I scrolled through the contact list of the curious1200 and lo! and behold, [beep]’s number.



… to be concluded.


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Blackberryphilia (2010)… pt. 1


It was only after thirty seconds that I realised I may have lost Calisto for good. I don’t know why this came to mind because the darn device took a good twenty-one and a half minutes for it to reboot; but in those thirty seconds as I held the power button down, I remembered the day it fell in a bodily fluid drenched toilet bowl and I felt very much like Mark Renton for fishing it out without retching – Calisto was a survivor! I got out of bed , lit a smoke and paced around thinking of how far I’d come with Calisto.

Fuck! I need to get this damn excuse of a smart-phone working again. Fast! I mean how can it just die when I was in the middle of four conversations on BBM, five on WhatsApp? Ok, I need to tweet, I need to check Facebook. I need to see what’s on tumblr, fluffy’s back. I need to be busy doing nothing on this phone! Or, maybe I could read? Oh. Hell. No. Why read when there’s the internet? If anyone finds out I thought, I’m dead. DAMN IT! I just need this thing to be on already!

I went back to bed and tried resuscitating the phone but it looked dead and sad like one of those model phones in the display at the shops: no flashing LED. I removed the back cover, pulled out the battery SIM card and memory card, put them back in and tried charging it. Nothing, just a battery icon with a red cross over it.

Fooking hell! What the hell does that mean? Do I even have voice-mail? I don’t think so. Of all the days for this thing to go all suicidal on me! Why? This. Is. The. End. Of. ME. That call is coming in, I can feel it.

I felt like throwing it against the wall and watch it shatter but I figured that doing so would put me in a bigger predicament than I already was – plus the phone had survived being driven over by a car, so thinking of smashing it was pointless. I threw it on the pillow, the pulled the covers over my head and started thinking about the one whose call was imminent. I reached for Calisto and tried it again. Reboot.

Reboot is a good sign! Phew! At least! I swear, Calisto, I won’t complain when you take long to reboot after I’ve upgraded or downlaoded an app. Oh, and I will upgrade the OS. Oh shit! The OS! Am I like supposed to upgrade it? What for? It slows everything down and isn’t it like a personal choice like when there’s Windows 7 and I still prefer XP? Oh for crying out loud! The damn thing went off mid-reboot! Don’t these things come with manuals? The manual… ha ha! Suck on that. Calisto, we’re gonna be all right, baby!

I jumped out of bed – or rather thought of jumping out of bed – instead I rolled to the other side and tumbled off the bed, collected Calisto, hysterically dismantled all the dismantle-able bits, re-assembled it, put it in the charger and hoped it switched on desperate that I wouldn’t have to leave my warm bed and the room in search of a manual I last saw the day I took my phone out the box. Nothing. Not even that stupid icon. I opened the door and trod to the study.


… to be continued.


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This Perfect Day | pt. two

sleep coin2

I’m awoken by the static on a radio coupled with the bellowing of a car engine that sounds like it’s pulling something heavy. Outside, it’s dark, awkwardly so. The clouds are thick and eerily low that I hunch, slightly, just to feel safe. It’s raining softly and there are a couple of search lights peering from the clouds; one tracking the road ahead and the other tracing patterns to the left of the road. There are no other vehicles in sight, nor is there any sign of any civilisation .

I’m in the foetal position in the passenger seat that Sang’s driving. It’s not her usual car and it’s a manual – which explains the pulling sound. As I try stretch, the cars hits a bump and I jolt forward, which makes my head start spinning. My mouth feels like sandpaper – it’ s so dry that my tongue keeps sticking to the roof of my mouth. I swallow but it burns. The static gets worse but it seems that neither of us are bothered by it. 

“Oh, finally! You’re awake, bra!” Sang  turns down the radio as a faint “Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei led us to this perfect day” comes through the static. I quickly shake off the dizziness and look at the back seat.

“Huh?” I start coughing painfully.

“Okay… Like how do we get back to your grandmother’s house?”

“How far did you drive out?” My voice is strangely soft.

“Well, it’s been an hour and a half since I picked you at that place.”

“An hour and a half?!” I try to raise my voice but end up coughing even more.

“Yeah! Like dude, what’s up with their parking rates? No wonder the parking lot is empty! Gee!”

“I know.”

“So, are we going the right way?”

“I don’t know. Where are we?”

“What do you mean you don’t know? Haven’t you been to visit  your gran like your whole life?” At this point, I feel that one of our arguments are about to erupt but I cannot take part, my body won’t let me, so I vomit on my lap and it doesn’t seem like Sang notices.


“You said to go straight and I’ll get there.” 

“But Bloem isn’t that big, five minutes and you’re out of the city. Didn’t you see?”

“Whoops!” she laughs and turns the radio up. It sounds like what I’d imagine to be a thousand worms screeching in unison. ” You don’t look so good, Paddy.”

Ja, I don’t feel so good either.” I start looking for my cell-phone.

“What did you have?”

“A glass of Chenin Blanc.”

“That’s it?”


“Box or bottle?”

“I don’t know, doesn’t Chenin Blanc just come in a bottle?”

“It’s probably box, dude, that place has the décor that screams box wine” she laughed. I open a window, “and you know what they say about box wine… Now look at you!” She hands me half a bottle of Revive – except it’s blue. I hesitate but drink it anyway. It’s thick and syrupy.

In the distance I see a sign that reads: Virginia.

“Hey! Isn’t that near Bloem?”

“All I know is that it’s in the Free State, so just go straight.” She speeds up, I start getting comfortable with her driving.

“I’m getting used to the car.” She smiles. The screeching worms on the radio slowly start to die down and through the static children’s voices chanting “Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei led us to this perfect day” start getting stronger as the rain starts picking up.

The car soon approaches a downhill bend, I start looking in the cabby-hole for a CD. The chanting starts getting to me and the nausea gets worse as the car seems to gain speed. As I get up to look outside, the one searchlight has stopped on a huge gum tree in the distance, to our left.

Sang steps on the accelerator. I feel like telling her to slow down a bit but all I can manage is to throw up again, this time on the gear.

“Siff, like how am I supposed to drive, now?” She shakes the blue liquid off her hand then smells it.

“Smells like teen spirit.” I snigger.

The car hits another bump and one of the wheels lock. We tumble off the road. My body jolts left with the momentum of the car and my head starts spinning as it hits the passenger window, I go blind for a bit as the pain radiates through my head. I feel around my cheekbones, the skin is broken. I look at my hand, it’s bloody.

I look at Sang to tell her that I’m hurt but she just smiles at me.“You really don’t look to good, buddy.”

I grab my phone with the intention of calling for help but it’s rebooting. I lift my head and see we’re headed straight for the gum tree. I try the seatbelt but it’s stuck.

The worms on the radio and the kids chanting gets louder and louder as we crash into the tree.

Neither of us scream.

– 2010


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This Perfect Day | pt. one

Sleepy CoinI find myself walking in the covered parking of a mall towards a popular department store. It is hot. I know this because my feet and fingers are swollen and throbbing. I deliberate which city I am in until I see the parking pay station and rates. I am in Bloemfontein.

As I meander  the shopping centre, I realise that everyone is holding a clear plastic cup with red sludge in it and a black straw through the lid. They’re sipping on this as though their lives depend on it, perhaps to survive the heat. I ask a few people where they get this drink from but they all give long incoherent answers so, I give up on finding this elixir and try to figure out why I am at the mall in the first place. Nothing comes to mind except that it’s out of habit. So, out of habit, I head over to Exclusive Books and look for a classic that I can read over a glass of wine and light meal. I take Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day and head over to a coffee shop whose décor is very late 90’s – early 2000’s futuristic jazz bar with dull  silver tables and blue – red neon lights, my stomach turns and I decide to sit in right in the middle of the semi-populated eatery.

The waitress brings the menu but I hardly look at it. I order a croissant with preserves and cheese and a glass of Chenin Blanc, “please make sure it’s cold,” I add. I realise I forget to order water but figure that she’s going to bring some ice with the wine, so that’ll make up for the lack of water. I open the book and start to read. After a two pages of reading, the waitress brings the wine accompanied by a bowl of ice. The glass had some condensation on it but when I took a sip it was warm and syrupy. I added more ice but it just melted yet the colour stayed the same. I took another sip and continued reading until I go to the part where the school children chant “Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei led us to this perfect day” then I took another sip.

My head starts slightly spinning and I can hear the children chanting in my head, faintly. I put the book down, rub my eyes, take off my spectacles then clean them. I look at the glass of wine and sigh before signalling the waitress for more ice. She acknowledges my gesture and I continue reading. I keep sipping on the wine – even though I told myself I wouldn’t until the food arrived. When she eventually comes, I’m halfway through the glass of wine and my head is heavy and my mouth is dry. I tell her that there’s something wrong with the wine and she takes a sip of it in front of me and says that she can’t find anything wrong with it. So, she takes another sip and exclaims “gosh, I need a holiday”, puts the glass back on the table and walks away. At this point, my head is as heavy and as flimsy as a sack of rice and every slight movement lowers my energy levels. I take an ice-cube to my mouth and hope it quenches my parched throat.


“Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei led us to this perfect day” starts ringing in my head as  it falls on the plate with the preserves, cheese and croissant.

To be concluded.



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Destitute Illusions

Him: Are you hungry?
Her: No, I had something to eat. So go ahead, I’ll just have a smoke.

Him: Should you be smoking after what happened?
Her: No, but I’ve been doing so anyway. This is funny.

Him: What is?
Her:  This whole situation, you know…

Him: No I don’t, tell me.
Her: This whole thing where you are my knight in shining armour, the whole hero thing.

Him: It’s not like you’re in any state to take care of yourself, you know.
Her: No… You’re right. It’s pathetically adorable and what’s worse is you still keep trying. I have one thing for you; you might as well direct your feelings to a brick wall.

Him:  OK, I’m gonna fix myself a drink.
Her: Sure, get me one too.

Him:  OK
Her:  Anyway, why do you keep coming here?

Him:  Because I worry about you.
Her:  That was rhetorical, by the way. You’re like a doormat.

Him:  A what?
Her:  A doormat. You’re always there, ready to take the dirt of my shoes and because all you do is just lie there, I think of more and more ways to get dirt on my feet so I can watch you take it all in.

Him:  I guess I came at the right ti –
Her:  – and what kills me is the fact that you never have anything to say when I tell you stuff like that, so you do this whole silent thing – which I can imagine is you feeling hurt and you don’t have the guts to tell me I’m being insensitive.

Him:  You certainly are in a good mood.
Her:  Then again I take it that when you’re in love or care for someone you’re ready to take their shit, am I right?

Him:  You really need to get out.

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