Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Drafting Process

If you ask a group of writers what they hate most about writing, the overwhelming majority, if not all, will say editing. It takes a long time, is much less enjoyable than writing the first draft and involves thinking about a lot of things at the same time: grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, logical progression of ideas, point of view, mood, theme, target audience, word choice, tense, headings, subheadings, font style and size, paragraphing and line spacing—to name just a few.

No wonder editing is associated with eyestrain, headaches and feelings of frustration and hopelessness.
To make the editing process less painful, many writers involve other people at various stages, from friends and family to fellow writers, literary agents and/or editors. As you gain more experience editing your own work and develop your support group, the process will become shorter and more tolerable. The goal is to go through each stage only once with as little help as possible.

If this is the first time you're reading this process, it might look quite daunting. The fact is, being a writer is tough, being a good writer is tougher, getting published is even tougher, and being a great, published writer is one of toughest challenges you'll face. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying, doesn't draft their work (usually because it's only a hobby, which is fine), or has a ghost writer.

But, seeing your work in print (physical or electronic) and knowing you’ve created something unique and original that people are going to read and enjoy is well worth the effort. Your writing may show a reader they aren’t alone, shed light on a taboo subject, or change someone’s life for the better.

Below you’ll find an explanation of the various editing stages all good writing (emphasis on good) goes through, in one way or another, before it's ready for publication. Some writers, like me, draft their work a number of times at each stage and swap back and forth between them whenever necessary. It just depends on how quickly the story comes together.

Whenever you feel you don't have what it takes to be a great writer, don't be too concerned—there are a lot of easier jobs out there: physicist, biochemical engineer, astronaut and brain surgeon spring to mind.

I hope to shed some light on this process and break it down into smaller, manageable chunks of information that shouldn't melt your brain. I'll focus on writing a novel, but the principles are much the same for shorter fiction and non-fiction of any length.

Please keep in mind that, as with anything creative, the actual workings are unique to each author. What works for some, won’t for others. The same goes for each story.

The First Draft
The author writes a chapter at a time, with minimal feedback from a fellow writer, writing group, or mentor. The key here is to get the story down as organically and seamlessly as possible with only the faintest amount of conscious thought and self-criticism. Some writers call this free writing, but I think it’s best to keep the end product and target audience in mind at all times, reducing the chances of going too far off track and having to throw out slabs of text that took hours to write.
The emancipation
I write most of my first drafts and rewrites by hand. I find it helps silence my inner critic and editor. But I also like to dip my McDonalds fries in a chocolate sunday...

When this first full draft is complete, you have the groundwork for a novel: a manuscript. Congratulations!

Some writers let family and friends read their manuscripts, but most of these people aren't regular readers, will say a lot of nice things and have very little to offer in the way of constructive criticism. This is great for a writer's motivation, but does little to improve the story.

If you’re serious about getting your novel published, and don’t have a team of credible people behind you, you could pay for a manuscript appraisal. The appraiser should identify, among other things, general problems with the voice, point of view, tense, amount and credibility of characters, chapter structure, themes and plot development. You’ll have a good sense of what woks and what doesn’t and, if your appraiser is good, you’ll know how to resolve most of it or know where to research how to.

The changes are usually applied by the author in this stage, or by an editor in the next.

Draft the Second
The second draft involves moving the text around to get the structure right: scenes, chapters, plot points, character relationships, themes, back-story, setup, main conflict, climax, resolution, plot holes and mix of setting, dialogue and narrative. Obvious punctuation, spelling and formatting errors can be corrected here, but the finer details are covered in later drafts.

This is usually where most writers need professional help (pardon the pun) and is where many give up. Little do they know, emerging authors usually have help from a mentor, agent or other person with authority in the field. Publishing houses usually assign contracted authors a specific editor, or various editors, who works very closely with them through this stage. The more prolific and popular the author, the more editors they’ll have behind them—not that they’ll ever tell you. Lucky aren't they?

Some editors call this structural or substantive editing and charge a lot for it. Others consider this an early stage of copy-editing.

While this stage can be quite daunting and leave your mind whirling in confusion, with the help of a good editor your manuscript will be a good read, something to be proud of. The story will flow in a logical and entertaining fashion. The plot points will be in the right place. The voice will be engaging and reasonably consistent. There'll be just the right amount of characters and they'll be believable and compelling and be doing what you want them to.

You've put a lot of hard work into your manuscript and should pat yourself on the back for hanging in there.

Third Time Lucky?
The third draft, which may be anywhere from the fifth read-through, is true copy-editing. It's time to work on the intricate details: paragraphing, sentence structure, progression of thought, depth of detail, tense, point of view, pace, tension, spelling, grammar, capitalization and word choice.

Reputable publishing houses have a team of editors who work through manuscripts a number of times at this stage. Most self published authors hire a freelance editor to do it for them. While many emerging writers spend very little time here and just print the damn thing.

Your work should be as polished as possible before being released to a wider audience or submitted to a publisher. Publishers won't be as willing to invest in your manuscript if it needs a lot of work. And, if a reader pays for your self-published book, you want to give them the most enjoyable experience possible.

Bad copy-editing lowers a book's readability and drags readers out of your story, deterring them from finishing your book and buying the next.

Anything with your name on it should be as error proof as possible. This will create a positive image of you as an author and create a standard of excellence. Establish yourself a skilled writer and you will gain credibility. A good reputation will lead to a wider readership and publishers will be more willing to invest in your work.

There’s a Fourth Draft Now?
The end is in sight! It's now time for line editing/proofreading. Most of the obvious errors will have been resolved. So, this stage is quite brief and may only take a few hours, depending on the author's ability to implement the previous drafts without introducing too many new errors. A few are inevitable; a lot can be quite time consuming.
Final version of the
emancipation proclamation

If you have gotten to this stage on your own, or with a single editor, you, or the editor, should get a second professional to proofread your manuscript—the fine details are very hard to see for someone who hasn’t seen them during previous drafts. This stage involves reading the manuscript line by line, word by word, a character at a time and teasing out the last of the spelling, punctuation, grammatical and formatting errors. 

Proofreaders are the Terminators of the writing business—almost nothing escapes them. From the opposite side of the room, they can spot extra spaces between words and lines, indented paragraphs that shouldn’t be, back to front apostrophes, missing full stops and commas, hyphens that should be n-dashes, and incorrect capitol letters.

Submitting or Self-publishing?
If you are selling your novel to a publisher, you're now ready to finalize your cover letter,chapter summaries, pitch and/or blurb and submit it to appropriate places. By now, you should know where and how. A literary agent can guide you through this process and get you the largest advance possible.

Literary agents research authors with similar writing styles and books with similar themes and target audiences to your own. They look at sales figures, demographics, projected sales, established markets, emerging trends and recent accusations. After creating a profile for you and your book, they approach the most appropriate publishers and try to get you the best deal possible.

If you have chosen to work on your novel alone until this point, you might find your manuscript gets rejected by agents and publishers without much explanation. Having an editor involved in the process does not guarantee your manuscript will be accepted by the first publisher you approach, especially if you submit it to the bigger ones, but it will definitely help. Any publisher willing to reject a well-structured manuscript with minimal errors is not worth your time.

Having an agent also helps you avoid the 'slush pile': the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts the major publishers receive every month. Getting off the slush pile is almost impossible, and even if you are offered a contract, it will likely include an entry level commission percentage and a very small advance. Your initial offer should include a cooling off period and the opportunity to have an agent represent you. An agent is your promoter, financial planner, legal aid and protected in all things publishing all rolled in one.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to post comments or questions below.


Updated 28/06/12 - resolved format issues
Updated 06/05/12 - more pictures


Jill Paterson said...

Great post Emanuel. Very impressive blog too with lots of info for writers.

Emanuel Cachia said...

Thank you kindly, Jill.


Julia said...

Great article and amusing pictures. Update soon. You can do it! :D

Emanuel Cachia said...

Thanks for stopping by, Julia!

I'm trying really hard to post more frequently. Not enough hours in a day...


A. J. Bradley said...

Great post!

Emanuel Cachia said...

Thanks A. J.

Hoping to post something new in the next few days.


Dixiane Hallaj said...

I'm currently in what I call the euphoric stage of my third novel. It has been edited and proofread to death, first by me, then my husband (an awesome proofreader), and then by a professional editor. It is a long hard process, but at the end comes the euphoria--the part that makes it all worth the effort--seeing it in print and hearing my readers say they love it! Then the really hard part--MARKETING.

Dixiane Hallaj said...

Sorry, forgot what I came for. I wanted to say this is a great blog post and all aspiring writers should read it. Fame and fortune are not just around the corner. It's a long hard journey--be prepared.

Emanuel Cachia said...

Thank you, Dixiane. Glad it helped.

Good luck with your novel.


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