Writing Tip: It’s Getting Drafty

It’s been a while since I talked about writing, but I wanted to get back to my “roots” a little with this post. It’s a topic I feel like I wish I had really understood better when I was getting started writing, because it involves something that gets thrown around a lot: drafts.

If you did any essays in high school or college, you know basically what a rough draft is. It is the first down and dirty start to finish. It’s where, after you’ve mapped everything out, you write the story itself. You may feel in the middle that it’s really not going so hot, but you keep slogging through it anyway. Usually, the end kind of sucks because you’re like, “I’m so sick of this, and I just want it to be over.” Your story loses its virginity on the rough draft, and sometime it’s okay but more often than not it’s a hot mess.

So next, we have the first draft. This, for me, is when I go through the rough draft and figure out where things aren’t making sense, where dialogue is coming up short, and which parts really need to go. I like to get this draft done pretty much on the heels of getting the rough draft complete, because even though I know I was tired of writing the thing, I still have that clear picture of how I want this to go, and I’m going over the sketch in ink. Also, this is where I catch a lot of those crazy commas that seem to pop up everywhere.

Also, the first draft is what I give to people to look at. And you need to give your work to people to look at. I used to think I didn’t have to. I used to believe that I would catch everything. But I didn’t. And you won’t. And I love you and I support you but you have to find at least one person who you can trust with your (he)art. Be straight with them. Tell them you are scared. Tell them you don’t want to get hurt. If it’s a group, go to a few sessions beforehand and get a feel for how they roll. Some groups are big into the “we just want to get everyone writing,” Feel Good Inc. motivational song and dance. Others are gritty and believe that to get a diamond, you need to beat the crap out of some coal. Hint: your story is the barbecue bait, baby.

After you’ve gotten people to look at it, you can start to hammer out your second draft. “What?!” you shriek. “Another draft?! What the flatbread sandwich?! This should be the last!” See, the second draft is where you’ve dotted all the i’s, crossed all the p’s, cut the q’s. You know what suggestions to take and which ones to politely decline. Then…you stop.

Stop. Put it away. Take it off your desktop. Stick it in a drawer. Go outside. Have a beer. Hug a friend. Don’t touch that story again for at least a few days, a week, even a month if you have other things you can work on. You’ll know it’s been long enough after you do this a few times.

Then, BOOM. Final draft time. Go through it again. Is the story solid? Are there any characters that could get the ax without affecting things? Does your dialogue make you feel squirmy? Is this something you would yell at your friends to read, or would you announce its publication in a sort of mumbly way? Fold, stamp, send.

How many versions does your story go through? Is there a system that works for you? Tell me about it!

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