How many drafts do YOU go through?

Mr. Owl, how many drafts does it take to finish a manuscript?

Mr. Owl, how many drafts does it take to finish a manuscript?

Happy Friday! For today’s writing forum I want to talk DRAFTS, as in, how many drafts do you go through before your book is “finished”– or at least good enough to start submitting?

I’m not the first person to ask this question (though I may be the first to apply her crude Photoshop skills to it)– I found many insightful author responses on Karen Woodward’s blog, on Nanowrimo, and on countless other forums. It seems everyone has a different process; this is just another of the many items that makes novel writing so open-ended and thrilling.


22 thoughts on “How many drafts do YOU go through?

  1. Good post topic! I have that sinking question too as I am rewriting my novel. I just wonder how many drafts and changes before the story is unrecognizable! It’s disheartening, but as someone told me yesterday, “Maybe it’s just the process you have to go through to get to what your story is really about.” I hope she’s right. Have you hired an editor?

    • I think the draft process is different for everybody. Perhaps ideally we have the bones of our story in or even before the first draft (as in an outline), and more material (or changes that help connect parts or make the story more cohesive) emerge in subsequent drafts. But regardless of one’s approach or how many drafts one goes through, revision is definitely a non-negotiable part of the process!

      As to an editor– good question. I would have to do my research before I even think about that. I don’t know that I will use one; I think ultimately I would only want one for really picky grammar/punctuation details. Otherwise I plan to submit my manuscript (once it is polished to the best that I can make it) to agents. Don’t quote me on this, but as I understand it agents (and/or publishers?) sometimes suggest edits. If I got to that point and those sort of edits were the kind that required a grammar/punctuation expert, YES I would hire an editor.

      Haha, wow– sorry that was a long-winded answer!!

  2. I usually go through at least four. I write a rough draft, step away for a while, and then do a full rewrite which may or may not be the draft I send to my alpha readers. Once I get their feedback I’ll do another draft and then send it to my beta readers. Then after I get everyone’s feedback I’ll do a fourth draft, not including my final line edit for grammar/punctuation mistakes.

    • Impressive, Laekan– this seems like a very balanced (and from what I gather, tried and true!) method. Danielle (below) asked and got me thinking about beta readers: might I ask how many and who you send your alpha/beta drafts to?

      • Ideally, I wish I had a core critique group of at least three other writers. I’d love to find some betas to work with long term. But unfortunately, I’m not having the best luck with finding any I really click with or that write cross-genre fiction like I do. I’ve tried to find beta readers online on goodreads and But I recently posed the same question as Danielle on another blog and they said to try twitter and connecting with other writers through contests. Or to try absolute write or I haven’t tried these websites yet but I’ll be needing some beta readers in June so I’ll probably look there. For this WIP I practically begged an old classmate from college to read my MS and I found someone else online. But one is a poet and the other prefers light reads that are mostly plot driven so their feedback has been almost the polar opposite. Other than that it’s definitely hard finding other writers who are just willing to spend the time giving an in-depth critique when we’re all so pressed for time with day jobs and our own writing and just life in general. I may also put out a call for beta readers on my blog when the time comes that I’m looking for feedback. They could check out some of my writing before hand to see if it’s something that would interest them so that might also be a good place to start.

        • Wow, sounds like you’ve really got the beta-finding mapped out (or at least, far more so than I do)! I might have guessed that Goodreads would be a good place to look, and it makes sense that a writer might put out the word (in search of betas) on their blog, but I hadn’t heard of ladieswhocritique and cpseek. Thanks for mentioning those!

          I think your idea to put out the call for betas on your blog is a good one when it comes to getting outside (that is– outside your normal circle) perspective. I might be doing the same, soon enough 😉

  3. In Australia, most publishers/agents will say not to send before your 5th draft. The manuscript I just finished and submitted was my 7th draft. You don’t want to send too early, even though you only need to send a few chapters, you need to be prepared because if they ask to see your full manuscript they will want you to send it ASAP.
    I would suggest not submitting until you’ve made your manuscript the best that you can.

    • Five drafts seems like a good rule of thumb (as a standard minimum, anyways). Maybe some people don’t need five drafts (I think Stephen King said he only went through three?) but for first time novelists, especially, I’d say it’s better to err on the side of too many.

      Good advice– both on waiting until the full manuscript is ready and until it is the very best it can be.

      Congrats on finishing (seven drafts! Formidable!) and submitting your manuscript!!! Best of luck from here 🙂

  4. I’m on what I would consider the fourth draft of my book, though there were plenty of little changes in between drafts. What I’m trying to figure out now is how to avoid the fatigue that goes along with revising again and again. I’m itching to work on something else, but I need to focus!

  5. Being self-published I just write the thing once, get it edited, proof-read and published. Fair play to the two previous commenters – I just haven’t got their dedication & patience.

    • Very understandable. I find myself alternatively very, very excited and very, very impatient with this process– I can definitely see the sense and appeal in the approach you outline. Congrats on your successful, straightforward process 🙂

  6. It depends. I edit a lot as I write. Once the story is complete, I have a few people read it and edit it. Then I just go from there. Am I happy with it, based on their comments. Are their changes needed. I may go through another round of editing and readers. It’s just hard to say. With short stories, I typically write the complete story and I’m done with it. Novels, there is definitely more editing done.

  7. Have you sent it out to beta readers? Or thought about it? I don’t know how to find beta readers outside of friends and family and I don’t know how it all works, but if you do decide to do that it would make a great blog post. And would help those of us who will be needing that information in the coming months:) Someone else’s perspective could be just what a manuscript needs and may help it from needing too many drafts.

    • Hi Danielle! I agree, that’s a great idea for a blog post– it’s something I need to start thinking about myself, as by the time I finish a third draft I may be looking for more outside perspective, too!

      I exchanged first drafts with fellow writer friend who is like what Stephen King calls my “ideal reader” and took several of her suggestions into account on this second draft (though my own additions/revisions were primary). When I finish my third draft I am planning to send a copy to another ideal reader (another fellow fiction writer, as it were, and one with far more experience than myself!). Beta readers, beta readers…you’ve given me some food for thought.

      Cheers and good luck with your revisions, too!

  8. I’ve kept all the different versions of my MS. The current one is version seven. That being said, only two or three of those edits have been seriously major. The rest were more tinkering. I personally think this MS is about as done as I can get it. There have been beta readers (about four or five now), whose feedback has been invaluable and is the reason for so many edits. Different people spot different things.

  9. I really had no idea what I was doing when I started writing my 1200 page novel ten years ago and if someone would have said I’d still be editing it after all this time I would have put the pen down!! I had a friend at Scholastic Books who referred me to a traditionally published author right after I first wrote The House on Tenafly Road and aside from a few minor suggestions he said that he loved the story–I think I read his review of the book about a thousand times with my heart racing. He also showed the book to an agent and I was over the moon! But alas she hated historical fiction and turned it down. A few other agents and even a Knopf editor gave me compliments and encouragement but couldn’t support a book so long by a new writer. So . . . I went to work on the second, third, fourth and fifth novels and revised the first every so often. It amazed me every time I did because I saw new things and cut it in places that at first I would have found too painful. I learned also to trust my own storytelling but to give it some time. A few months give you new eyes–especially for anything terribly cringe-worthy. In the last few months since deciding to go the independent route, I’ve re-read the book at least five times (now only 600 pages) and it is so much better today. I thought, years ago that I was in a hurry, but I realize now looking back that I’ve had the great pleasure of spending time in the world of characters I love and improving their story, getting them just right and exactly how I wished (on some weird subconscious level) everything to be to the point that I almost don’t feel like I actually struggled over it. It’s as if I can just read and enjoy, so I would say not to rush any of it. Spend as long as you like with your writing–it’s where the real joy is! In the past year I’ve finally had people I really respect enjoy the novel and it’s just the most delicious icing on the cake.

  10. I’m just working on the sixth draft of my first novel. I expect that this will be the last edit before I send it out to agents.

    First draft – getting the story down. NO editing allowed. (Though I did change the name of a couple of characters part-way through)
    Second draft – rewriting (from scratch) with reference to the first to write the story in more flowing, correct language.
    Third – big changes. Removing passages that didn’t work, adding extra sections that were necessary to make sense of stuff.
    Four – small changes – spelling, grammar and flow
    Then the fourth draft is sent to my beta readers.
    Fifth – big changes – acting on the feedback from my readers
    Sixth – reading through a hard copy ALOUD to see how the sentences and paragraphs flow, scribbling on changes, as well as fixing any further grammar and spelling issues.

    • Well done, Neil. It is admirable to me that each draft was done with such specific intentions, therefore making incremental progress (and kudos for including beta readers early on, but not before you had the manuscript in good shape)!

      Thanks for sharing your process! It’s always interesting to see how other writers approach this.

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