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 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.