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.

DRAFT ONE

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.

DRAFT TWO

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?

DRAFT THREE

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 at 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!

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If 2020 were a book…

…it would definitely be Charles Dicken’s 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities, particularly the opening line (re very long sentence) as it creates awareness and explores the societal conditions that lead to collapse, havoc and people fighting against forces bigger than themselves. He writes:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities (1859)

In no attempt to recap the past year’s events, it was evidently a turbulent time that forced us to adapt to the sudden changes leaving us with no chance to step back and take it all in. Dickens was aware that we all tend to claim that our current epoch is riddled with duality, the most difficult, the most uncertain, the most unprecedented. However, his novel points out that the Victorians nor we are the first to think that way.

The phrase “the period was so far like the present period” maintains this mindset very well in that every new generation thinks their struggles are uniquely tricky. 2020 is a good example. It is an unprecedented time, and we even acknowledge the fact that there have long been pandemics and political turmoil and there will still be after us, however, to read about them is very different as to living through them, it is unsettling and overwhelming leading us to proclaim “it was the worst of times”.

Let us know in the comments below which book you’d choose!

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FIVE LONG BOOKS WE’VE READ (AND LOVED)

There’s no greater feeling than finally putting down a really thick book and thinking “Yep, I read all that!”

Bearing in mind that the average word count for a novel is 250 – 300 words, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite long books:

ACID ALEX – AL LOVEJOY (400 pages)

Stuck at his first 9-5 and seeking a more exciting experience before his next music festival holiday, Try picked this raw and deeply moving autobiography set in 1970’s South Africa and two weeks later we found him in a corner weeping. A must-read.

À LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU (IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME) – MARCEL PROUT (4 215 pages)

Back when Coin was working in a bookshop, getting through her French studies and reading up on existentialism. She discovered Proust and set out to read his chef d’oevure, which focuses on the nature of art and memory and how a work of art can attempt to recapture the past and save it from destruction, at least in our minds. Needless to say, she loved it and we’ll never hear the end of it.

MIDDLESEX – JEFFREY EUGENIDES (544 pages)

Try enjoys reading authors chronologically. So, just as he was done with The Virgin Suicides, we gifted him Eugenides’s second offering, a sublime novel about a Greek-American family, identity and mutated genes.

THE DIARIES OF EVELYN WAUGH – EVELYN WAUGH (818 PAGES)

Thanks to Sofia Coppola’s “Lost In Translation’, Ava would not have known who Evelyn Waugh was and when she finally discovered his works, she was gifted a copy of his diaries – which he kept from age seven until his death. This honest, sharp and menacing view of life is a must-read for devout fans looking for insight into the process behind his greatest works.

THE DIARIES OF JANE SOMERS – DORIS LESSING (512 pages)

Teeny-bopper Coin stumbled Doris Lessing in the community library when she’d read almost all the books in the teen section. She was looking for another famous diary (Anne Frank) but she was distracted by a whole shelf dedicated to Ms Lessing. She admired her courage to publish a novel under a pseudonym at the height f her career but the relationship between Jane and Maudie, especially Maudie’s life. kept her reading way past bedtime.

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ABOUT: Nic

Nic is a retired photographer who leads a relatilively private life. Nic has has worked mainly in Asia and returned to South Africa in 2010 to live his truth.

The excerpt submitted is from his unpublished book,  Becoming Nic, which documents the many changes in his life and is loosely based on the journals he kept from when his parents died in a fatal accident until his coming out as transgender.

Nic is undergoing a gender re-assignment surgery and will be publishing the full novel with COINAGE on digital download and limited number of signed copies.

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2020 READING CHALLENGE TIPS

It’s a new year and you’ve made some resolutions, one of them being “read more” and you’ve joined a reading challenge but now what? It’s easy to say “just pick up a book and read” but that only works if you’re a seasoned reader.

Reading is a fun and numinous habit with many benefits and like any habit, it’s a process. Whether you like ebooks, audiobooks or the good ol’ paperback, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • BE REALISTIC

So you’ve read that billionaires and many other successful people read x books a day or year and in order to “be successful” you need to read that many as well? Well, you wouldn’t start with a marathon just to get into running right?

Reading requires setting realistic goals that you can achieve slowly, start with a book a month or every two months until you get used to this new reading habit.

  • MAKE A LIST

What kind of books do you want to read? Classics? Contemporary fiction? YA or a mix with South African writers or some bestsellers or even books by women? Making a list of books creates order and creates a sense of accountability.

  • SET ASIDE A SUITABLE TIME

Look at your daily and weekly schedule and set some time aside dedicated to reading, this can be early in the morning, in the afternoon or just after you’ve tucked the kids into bed. This allows you to look forward to diving right into your book.

  • READING TARGET

It’s important that you set a target of how much reading you want to get done during your “reading time”. It can be anything from a page to a chapter or even more, but again, be realistic about how much you want to get done to allow the information to sink in and for you to truly enjoy the book.

  • NO DISTRACTIONS

Probably the most important part of reading is to ensure that your mind doesn’t wander. Find a space where you are calm and comfortable and won’t end up doing something else (or sleeping). Complete all nagging tasks beforehand and ditch the technology.

  • RESEARCH

If you’re still unsure on what to read:

  • BONUS… DON’T BREAK THE BANK

In the current economic climate, it’s almost impossible to buy books, so if you “just want to read” rather than own the book, here are some ideas:

  • visit your community library
  • legal sites where you can download books to your device
  • second-hand book shops (they have so many gems and some even buy back books that you brought from them for a third of the next purchase)
  • join book-swap sites

Happy reading!

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ABOUT: Yacoob Manjoo


Yacoob Manjoo is a writer, blogger, husband, and father of two. Writing is his passion, and sharing beneficial knowledge and insights has been a pillar of his life for more than a decade. An anthology of his poetry and prose is due for publication in late 2019. He writes at dreamlife.wordpress.com.

Two of his poems are featured in The Coinage Book Two. “Summer Daze” was written on the last day of the year, after his first-born has completed her first year of pre-school. The poem is a reflection on his own childhood summer holidays, along with the anxieties of the coming school year – all of which was evoked when considering that my child was now in the same cycle we all went through – enjoying a well-earned rest, yet part of the system that would take her from childhood to adulthood, training her for life.

Contrary, “Rooftops” is an escapist poem where the poet reflects on rooftops as places to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life; a quiet space to reflect and get some perspective – reminding oneself of the bigger picture, and allowing one’s eyes – both the physical and spiritual – to envision what lies beyond the invisible walls of one’s regular existence.

Order a copy of The Coinage Book Two here.

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ABOUT: TWD Mohapi

TWD Mohapi has written many books of varying genres including poetry, short stories, folklore and novels. Although he started writing poetry in English, he has only ever been published in his mother-tongue, Sesotho, resulting in an illustrious literary career spanning 30 years. His many accolades include the Thomas Mokopu Mofolo Award for the poetry anthology, Bophelo ba Ka (1992) and the M-NET Literary award (African languages category – Sesotho) for the novel Lehlaba la Lephako (2002). In 2002, he received a Certificate of Honour for his contribution in promoting and developing Sesotho Literature in the Free State province.

He has travelled widely and led a South African literary delegation on an expedition to China visiting the Chinese Writers Association. In 1996 he founded the Sesotho Writer’s Association (MoabaSesotho) and served as its chariman until 2006. When he is not writing, he edits and translates literary manuscripts for various publishing houses.

 

Read more about him here.

Order The Coinage Book Two here 

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ABOUT: Thibedi Mokgokong

Thibedi Mokgokong is a poet who discovered writing through the strain of living in a house where “a child is seen but not heard.” Poetry was a way to express complex and suppressed emotions in a verbose but quiet manner. The weight in his poetry comes from words and expressions long kept but never spoke.

Thibedi found himself picking a degree to study post-matric haphazardly, merely going by what was then called an M-score. He was accepted into the University of Johannesburg to study a BA degree in Psychology in 2006 and went in to work in insurance.
His poem, “Lobola”, was published in The Coinage Book One.
Two of Thibedi’s works are featured in The Coinage Book Two. In his poem, “Made of Clay”, he explores a person’s ability to adapt to a changing society regardless of the conditions they face. While the short story, “Lighthouse” is rebellion against a corrupt government by non-political individuals and ramifications thereof.  It also highlights the dire indirect effects that the rebellion has on the relatives of such individuals, namely the children and spouse.
Most of Thibedi’s flash fiction and poetry is available to peruse here.
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