Ten steps in book writing after the first draft’s done

November is just about over, and all things being equal, NaNoWriMo participants should end up with something like a ‘bad first draft’ at the end of that writing month. Which is very cool, because a bad first draft is better than no first draft.

Charles_Darwin_by_G._Richmond
(1) After writing the first draft (public domain, via Wikipedia).

That sounds like an old aphorism, but it’s absolutely true, because writing the first draft forces the writer to turn their thoughts into concrete form – which is a vast step from the perfect image in the mind. It’s also the hardest step. Yet, on my experience, that is about half – sometimes less than half – of the actual work required to write something and bring it to the reading public.

That’s why word count doesn’t actually mean a lot as an indicator of ‘finishing’, incidentally. The ability to assemble words to any specified number is a basic writing skill. In the profession, it’s used by publishers as a commissioning tool, and by authors as a construction tool to make sure the structure is right and that the book reaches its contract length. I’ll go into detail about how the length-structure method works another time. But that’s it.

Charles Darwin after FINISHING. Charles_Darwin_by_Maull_and_Polyblank,_1855-1
(2) After actually finishing writing (public domain, via Wikipedia).

To me, everything that follows that first draft is, itself, part of the writing process. And there is a lot of it. Things to do usually include:

  1. A complete re-structure, based on feedback.
  2. Additions, subtractions and other amendments.
  3. Further re-writing to blend the new material in.
  4. Complete re-wording as part of the polishing process (this is sometimes what writers refer to as ‘editing’).

Just to put a number or two to that, a few weeks back I spent a couple of weeks planning a novella. Then I sat down, one weekend afternoon, and blasted out 5000 words of it – yup, the ‘word assembly’ rate was about 1660 an hour. But then after some re-work I’d slashed 800 of those 5000 words. So what was my actual writing rate, if you consider the story was being planned for a couple of weeks prior, and a quarter of what I wrote was then thrown out? See what I mean about ‘word count’ not actually being an end goal?

Anyhow, once you’ve gone through steps 1-4 above it’s possible to consider the manuscript pretty much ‘written’, and that’s basically where the ‘editing’ process begins. In commercial publishing this is done by a professional editorial team and includes:

  1. Proof-editing – somebody goes through the manuscript looking for consistencies, fact-checking, correcting any grammar, fixing gaffes and so forth.
  2. Line-editing – a very careful check for ‘literals’, as in literal typographic errors, fidelity of punctuation and so forth.
  3. Typesetting.
  4. More proof- and line- editing, this time to look for any errors that have crept in during typesetting.
  5. More line-editing – books are usually read at least twice for literals, after everything.
  6. Final checks, usually via printer proofs.

Usually the author is consulted at each step, and it’s quite an involved process.

Finally – FINALLY – the book is good to go. As far as I am concerned, the word ‘finished’ doesn’t enter the calculation until the book is actually printed or issued electronically for the market.

Click to buy
Click to buy

Even then, there might be a second edition – go back to (1)…

For a lot more tips and tricks about getting your story organised and out there, check out my short how-to guide How to Get Writing Fast – available on Kindle, and free to Kindle Prime users for 2016.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


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