I am breathing down the neck of my first completed novel in twenty years. “Sciatháin” (which many of you may know as “Oberon”) has been through some serious twists and turns to get to this point.
I started the story that eventually led to this novel in the mid-nineties. It was the first “gay” story I ever wrote (or at least began), with a sexual opening sequence that was, in a way, my coming out as a writer.
I shelved it after a few scenes – well, I shelved pretty much my whole writing career – for a couple decades. And then a couple years back, I pulled it out again to work on it. Things didn’t really get going, though, until NaNoWriMo last November, when I decided to start on the story again from scratch.
So I thought it would be fun to walk y’all through my process – how a story goes from conception to completed manuscript in my writer’s cave.
1) The General Outline: I used to be a total pantser, and wrote a bunch of story starters that ultimately went nowhere. Now I start with a skeleton so I have an idea where the story will go. I write to that, though all elements are subject to change at any moment.
2) The First Draft: My first drafts tend to be a little light on details – the world is sketched in but not fully fleshed out. The story is all there, but it may have some inconsistencies because of changes later in the process that aren’t reflected in the earlier parts of the manuscript. Writing the first draft can take anywhere from a month (Nano) to several years.
3) The Second Draft: This is my first “clean-up” draft – where I do my best to fix any glaring inconsistencies or errors, smooth out the language a bit, and fill in some of the world-building details. In this draft, I usually pull some of the details I “discovered” later in the story into the earlier parts – these can be sensory information or plot points that I want to foreshadow.
4) The Beta Reads: At this point, it goes out to my beta readers. I have a few really good ones, but the process still often takes weeks. I put on my pajamas, crawl back into bed with a six pack of Wild Cherry Pepsi and a couple bags of double stuff Oreos, and pull the covers over my head for the duration.
5) The Third Draft: This is the trickiest one. I may have anywhere form one to four beta reads to incorporate into the manuscript. I usually start with the heaviest one as my current draft, and then fix all the standard errors first – typos, missing words, awkward phrasing – the low hanging fruit. It helps me to clear these out so I can focus on the big things. Then I go through from the beginning and hit those – the inconsistencies, the places where the story was confusing, where a character didn’t come across the way I wanted – you know, the fun stuff. When I am done, most if not all of the issues the beta readers pointed out have been fixed, but the manuscript is now a bit of a smoking ruin.
6) The Fourth Draft: This one is just like the second draft. Once again, I am smoothing over rough edges, cleaning up any lingering issues from the wholesale changes in the third draft, and layering in more world building detail. Typically, from draft one to four, my manuscripts grow about 10-15% in length. I’ve decided I am an additive author, not a subtractive one, though I am not above removing whole scenes if they don’t work or are no longer needed. I also try to read the story aloud for this draft to try to catch any duplicate words or awkward phrasing.
7) The Final Polish: I have been keeping a list through the last three or four rounds of publisher edits of the bad writer things I do that I should be working on. Most infamously, I am a serial user of sentences that begin with And and But, and I waaaaay overuse em dashes. So I use this list and comb through the manuscript, looking for and adjusting these issues as needed. And yeah, sometimes I really DO want that leading “And”. But (LOL) I don’t need four hundred of them. I also run through one last time and look for any spelling errors Word has flagged. I “ignore all” for names, etc, and fix the rest.
8) The Submission Guidelines: One final step. I double check the submission guidelines for the publisher, and make sure my manuscript is in compliance. Wouldn’t that suck to go through all this, only to get bounced because you didn’t read the guidelines?
On “Sciatháin”, I am about two thirds of the way through fourth draft, and hope to submit before mid-month, when my log and twisty toad for this one will finally reach its end.
So what’s your editing process like?
Now it’s time to put my editing hat on, so leave me the hell alone, would you? *grin* I’ve got a manuscript to finish.