1. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    First Draft vs the Final Version

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Charisma, Aug 16, 2014.

    So in my short time that I've been back here, I've read a lot of pointers from many of you about how important the re-writing process is, as dreaded as it may be. I would agree with that, though I've never redone a first draft myself so I don't really know what opinion I have on this. I thought I'd ask some of you about your own thoughts and personal experience on this.

    In general, I wonder how much disparity exists between the first draft and final version. Does it have to be a complete rewrite? Or could it be that you move around a few things, add/delete chapters, and rewrite a few? Along those lines, would it just be about improving the literary value, or could it entail revamping plot details, or both? How much time would a rewrite take?

    I didn't post this in the publishing forum because my concern is not only making the first draft of publishable quality, but a general appraisal of how this process of writing, which I'm not acquainted with, works. Looking forward to your views :)
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I edit/revise as I go, so other than polishing, first draft = final draft.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Let's see...

    I kept the core of my story, all my characters, many of the scenes and some of the dialogue and actual wording. But I sure changed a lot else.

    I managed to cut more than a third of my original word count.

    I learned how unconsciously using passive voice could deaden a scene.

    I learned to cut away wads of melodrama, leaving dryer but more convincing character interactions.

    I learned to throw away entire chapters if they didn't move the story forward. When I wrote them they seemed necessary, but afterward I realised I didn't need them. I liked them ...but removed them. I also changed the order of chapters, for a smoother presentation of points of view.

    I learned to recognise words and phrases that I over-used, and to replace these words with other words or find a different way to say what I meant.

    I had a problem with restating things. I would say something, then say it again a different way—sometimes more than once. Things like: Sue felt really silly about leaving her handbag on the bus. She couldn't imagine why she'd done it, but it made her feel particularly stupid. Just forgetting a bag didn't mean she was actually stupid, of course, but it did make her feel like hiding her face. What an incredibly silly thing to do, she said to herself. (You can cut at least two of these sentences and still be left with the gist of what you wanted to say.)

    I think the most important thing I did during my various edits was to focus my story. I learned to put emphasis on certain passages, make a character say something direct that would either send the reader in a certain direction, OR be something the reader would remember when they needed to, later on.

    There were little hints and foreshadowings that I built into the narrative as I went along, but some of these pointers got missed by my beta readers. Any time a beta reader said "oh, who is this guy?" or "I didn't know all three of them watched that happen" or any other questions that meant they'd missed or forgotten something important, I went back, found the passages where the forshadowing or explanation was, and strengthened it.

    For example, one of my characters wears a special knife. Many chapters pass between the time he first appears with the knife, and when he appears again, very physically changed. Our main character identifies him because of the knife, but many of my readers were baffled because I only MENTIONED the knife in earlier scenes. I had to go back and make the character's possession of that particular knife more memorable, so the reader would recognise him when the main character does—when he reappears near the end of the story with the special knife at his hip.

    If a minor character whom you introduce early on will reappear later in an important role, you must make this character memorable in some way when you first introduce him. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but a big enough deal that when they pop up again, the reader isn't going ...who's that?

    There is another side to that coin, though. When you edit—especially if it's a complicated story that takes place over a long period of time—try NOT to hit the reader with too many character names. The man behind a counter doesn't need a name unless he plays a large role in your story. If his only role is to sell your main character a postage stamp, he doesn't need a name. Ditto the waitress in the diner (unless the story is set in the diner and she's one of the main characters) the pilot of the jumbo jet the MC takes to Paris, the names of every player on the football team the MC is watching on TV, etc etc. If the MC's daughter walks home from school with four girlfriends, unless the friends are specifically important to the story, we don't need to know their names.

    This is an amazingly simple little trick that can lift your writing. Too many characters or too much information that isn't really interesting or pertinent will bog a story down. This is another thing you look out for during an edit. Simplify and focus.

    This might sound daunting, but it's not. It's almost as much fun as writing the first time. Writing the first time is when your ideas and genius pop out of you. Editing is when you make these ideas and genius accessible to others.
     
  4. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    I'm with this. It's what Dostoevsky or Tolstoy would have done if they'd had a computer with MS Word. It would drive me mad writing the same thing over and over again. They didn't have a choice, because constantly scribbling things out and writing over ink on paper would have made it impossible to follow.

    I honestly think that 1st Draft - 2nd Draft - Final Draft is an outdated method of working.
     
  5. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    How long it takes you to edit the draft and how much is taken out is entirely based on what kind of "first draft" writer you are. I long to be a fast rough draft writer but I'm not. I'm very slow because I usually don't move on to the next paragraph until I'm completely happy with the first. By the time I'm done with the rough draft it's basically a final draft 1.0. I then go over it looking for any inconsistencies I may have missed and read it out loud to make sure the sentences flow nicely. I also give copies to my wife and oldest son and ask them to look for errors or things they may not like about it. I usually give it at least one more run through and it's done.

    I know there are a lot of people who type their first draft very fast and just let things flow out, not stopping to change things. This works for some people and for some it doesn't. We're all unique individuals and so what may not work for someone else may work for you. There are no rules. If you can write a good story regardless of your editing and writing methods then you're doing it right.
     
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  6. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I revise and edit as I go but then, my first draft is always written in parts and out of sequence. In other words, as parts come to mind, I write them down and give them individual filenames which includes the date in the timeline when they happen. This keeps them in order for me.

    When my mind won't work on the new stuff, that's when I revise and edit.

    Then I piece each section together with the glue scenes, the stuff that happens in-between the major scenes. This is when most of the major story changes take place and also when I concentrate on continuity of characters, places, times of the year.

    Then comes chapterization (yes, I know that's not a real word) that's when I do a complete read through and divide up my book into chapters. At this point I also check formatting and make sure that all the fonts and point sizes are correct. (it always surprises me how things can change on their own, like damn commas, punctuation marks, apostrophes ...)

    As I chapterize, I double check continuity and anything I've had to do in-depth research for (like medical, legal or technical) and I do another read through.

    It then gets sent to my editor and various test readers while I concentrate on covers.

    Readers email me periodically about various parts and my editor sends a copy back in sections with her revisions. We discuss revisions and I have the final say as to what needs changing from the story side of things.

    I make necessary changes and do another read through and then I leave it a few days to sink in. Then I sort out half title pages, blank pages, facing pages, acknowledgements, dedications and page numbers and then I upload.

    Were I looking for an agent/publisher, this is where I would start submitting. With self publishing I upload to kindle and then spend a few weeks doing the necessary reformatting to PDF to upload to createspace for the paperback copy.

    Phew! *wipes brow*
     
  7. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Okay, so I take it you don't change plot details after you're done with your first draft, and just spruce it up a little bit?

    I used to have a problem with extremely complex storylines, added on with a vast array of characters, many of whom had little bearing on the plot. Even the passerby needed to have a personality, some back story and some kick-butt intro (while that's not always bad, given I chose to work with 20 characters or more at a time, it could be). At that time, I thought being complex and inundating my story with all sorts of details somehow made me ingenious. But one thing I've learned over the years, perhaps unwillingly, is that simplicity is the true art; a plot which may be effortless to follow and yet, thought-provoking, is one I strive for.

    Also, if I may ask, how long did the actual writing, and its subsequent editing, take?

    What do you propose should be the new line of thinking? I ask because I see what you mean--I've sometimes written scenes on paper, which is cumbersome because as I type I tend to edit and rewrite every other sentence. I don't really move on from one paragraph to the next unless it is to my liking. Sometimes I scrap a whole paragraph and restart. So I can see if someone who had to work with a paper and pen might choose to have a less-than-good first draft and take it up later in a second draft, but maybe with the modern era it's one handicap we don't have anymore.

    I usually write a first draft as if its my last. That doesn't stop me from not being happy with it when I finish the novel (I am a bit of a perfectionist), but at that moment in time, I seek absolute satisfaction from it. I can't move on if I don't like it, and sometimes I sit for hours at my computer screen because I can't come up with the perfect phrase. I guess it can be counterproductive, but it's just how I work--if I decided to go on, it would keep nagging me and I couldn't give it my best anyhow.

    I remember getting advice (I think on this forum) that it's better not to write a novel chronologically, but put down scenes whenever you get the right inspiration for them, and then weave those snapshots into a story. I simply cannot imagine doing that, I guess I'm a bit OCD but I could never write out of order. Especially since my story and its characters evolve so much as I go from one chapter to the next, if I were to write all the pertinent scenes beforehand, they would not truly represent my characters at all--it would be as if they were stagnant, unchanged. Writing the story as it happens helps me and my characters live through the hypothetical scenario which is their story, so when we come to the turning points, I know who they are and what drives them; their reactions are authentic. More than once I've changed the entire ending because by the time I got there, my characters were different people from what I thought they would be. I'm not saying your method is wrong in any way, because it has worked for you after all, just that it gives me goosebumps. :)
     
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  8. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Each writer will find their own way that works for them.

    I write out of order because that's the way my mind works. If I were to put the thoughts of scene 50 to one side until I've finished scene 32, then by the time I get to scene 50, I would have forgotten what I was going to write, regardless of the amount of notes I'd taken.

    The evolution of characters is thoroughly followed through. If I'm writing the ending then I already know the basics of what my characters have gone through. Then when I go back and do a middle section, if the plot changes or something extra happens than I jump back to the ending to make sure earlier changes are accounted for.

    I'm not saying it's the right way to do it, but it's what works for me.

    And yes, there are times when I've had to change something completely because I went back to a section near the beginning and made one change that rippled through the rest of the book.
     
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  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Scribner, Ernest Hemingway's publisher, is doing something fascinating these days. They've published "The Hemingway Library Edition" versions of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms, and these editions include Hemingway's first drafts and revisions. Hemingway always seemed to me to be a supremely confident writer - his prose looked like it had to be that way; there was no other choice. But these editions show that Hemingway was as uncertain and tentative as the rest of us. He wrote several chapters of TSAR to open the book that were eventually deleted (they're included in the Hemingway Library Edition). He experimented with writing TSAR in third person before reverting to first, and that's included too. Lots of other early drafts of parts of these books are included, too.

    Check these editions out! It's kind of comforting to know that a Nobel Prize winner - one of the most famous and influential writers of the twentieth century - struggled with his work just the same way the rest of us do. :)
     
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  10. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    It is. (comforting to know that) but I doubt any writer or author would say they sat down to write and their first offering was what was published with no revision or editing whatsoever.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Charisma
    Well I started writing my first draft in late 1996 and finished in mid 2002. This was writing all the time in my spare time, and I had no creative writing instruction whatsoever. I just started writing scenes as they popped into my head. I was amazed at how much fun it was, and how powerful I felt. I wrote every day except for when I was physically prevented. I was working at the time, so I developed the schedule of getting up around 4am to work until around 7, when I had to go to work. Some days I had more time, if I had a later shift. I absolutely HATED the days when, for some reason, I was prevented from writing. Writer's block was not a problem for me. Being prevented from writing by other people's demands and the demands of a job was. But I got around it by getting up really early.

    Once I finished the first draft, I had two beta readers (both volunteered) to read it. One of the two is a writer himself, and the other was his girlfriend who had a lot of unofficial experience with editing ...helping him to edit his novels and also producing a fanzine. They both got me on the right track about many of the mistakes I was making. My over-writing, my use of passive voice when I didn't intend to, etc. They also gave me some fantastic pointers with a few of my story elements. He had spent a lot of time living near where my story was set, and she was a qualified doctor, so was able to give me lots of medical advice regarding one of my characters. I regard these two as the most thorough and most helpful of all my betas.

    As a result of a debate I had with them, I also ended up making the most significant change to my manuscript. Both my readers grumbled that I needed to 'cut to the chase.' They said they were getting fed up wondering why my main character was behaving so oddly. I kept telling them to have patience, that 'all would be revealed' but he said "look, a reader is just going to get fed up." And I argued back at him. "So you're telling me you want to know all about him at the beginning—oh, wait ...wait ...I can kinda do that!" So I wrote a Prologue chapter, giving the reader the traumatic event that formed the basis for the rest of the story. This revelation turned the emphasis of the story on its head. Instead of wondering why the main character behaves the way he does, my readers now know his background and the whole story has an entirely different focus. Instead of being a mystery, this is now a story about how he copes with his past, and where his coping strategies lead him.

    After doing the initial edit, I backed off and took a break, because I realised I was making changes one day, then going back the next day and changing everything back. Tinkering. The break lasted far longer than it needed to, due to other factors. I should have taken about a year. Just long enough to return to the MS with fresh eyes. I took a lot longer.

    During that interim period I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the craft of writing, so when I did get back to editing again, a couple of years ago, I was able to make sweeping changes without turning a hair. I also have had many other beta readers tackle the book at several stages during this process. All of them have read the entire novel, and three of them have read it twice. Each time I get feedback I make more changes. I dump some things, sharpen some things, rearrange some things, and tweak the wording. I'm very VERY close to the end now, and am hoping to at least start formatting for publication by the end of this year.

    So all in all I'd say, in total, around 6 years to write (and research) the first draft, and about 4 years in total to edit. (It's a long book.) I haven't been quite as disciplined about the editing time, so I think I could have cut that down a bit. But I can't emphasise enough how important it was for me to take a break from it after doing my first edit. I needed to see it with fresh eyes.

    I have started work on a second book, which, I hope will not take nearly as long to write. I have the research in place, and I won't make many of the mistakes I did writing the first time. Whether it will be as fun to write as the first one, I don't know. But I can honestly say, writing a novel is the most fun I've ever had sitting down. Where do I go from here? Time will tell...
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2014
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In my current project, a historical novel, I've kept "drafts" at various stages of review. The first draft was exactly that, the product of my setting the complete story down for the first time. I then read through several times, focusing on SPaG errors, naming inconsistencies or duplicates, sequence issues and any obvious problems that jumped out at me. The product was my second draft. Then I went back and started doing a more substantive review, looking to consolidate, add some foreshadowing, generally tighten the story. That resulted in my third draft, which was turned over to some beta-readers.

    At this point, I discovered the great benefit of having someone else with a knowledge of good writing take a look at one's work: as thorough as a writer might be, (s)he always reviews the ms knowing not only the full story, but everything that lies behind it. As such, it's easy to forget what the reader doesn't know and therefore what has to be explained. The shortcomings in this regard were pointed out by two friends from this forum, one of whom was good enough to go chapter by chapter. The good news is that recognizing this tendency is a bit like riding a bicycle - once you learn how, you never forget. The end result of this round of editing, which is nearly finished, will be the fourth draft. This draft will be presented to other beta-readers, whose input, along with any other changes I decide to make, will result in a fifth draft. At that point, I will begin thinking about the publication process.

    Keep in mind that each of these five drafts involve multiple read-throughs and edits, all of which must be done before one can even consider submitting for publication.
     
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  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically. I have beta readers who get each chapter as it's finished, so on a chapter by chapter basis things may change, but when I get to the last page, all that's left is clean-up. The "secret" to that is paying attention to what's already been written, and making sure the new stuff fits.


    It might be better for the person giving that advice, but I could no more do that than walk to the moon.
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Regarding writing chronologically ...I wrote my first novel completely out of order, getting scenes down and connecting them later. This was time-consuming and a bit trial-and-error ...but it worked. However, I'm doing the exact opposite for my second. I'm writing in strict chronological order this time.

    I didn't set out specifically to do it this way, but maybe my thinking is now less chaotic than my pantsing was for my first novel. This novel feels much different to write. I was able to start at the beginning and just move forward. Actually it's less exciting (for me) to write this way, but probably a lot more sensible! Mind you, I have a much clearer idea of how to organise a story this time, than I ever did when I wrote my first one.

    I think I'd recommend people who say they are 'stuck' or can't think of a beginning, to write out of order. As you get things written, the story does start to evolve in both directions. I know. I've done it. If I had started that first novel at the 'beginning' and worked slowly forward, I don't think I would have ever got it finished. But not everybody works the same way. Me? I'm trying both...

    I'd say whatever works, do it. BUT if what you're doing doesn't work, or you get stuck ...try a different approach.
     
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  15. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    This is a very good point @jannert as there are times when you know an outcome but are not completely sure how your character gets there. That's when I will write the end of a specific section and then deconstruct it backwards, continually asking who and why and where and how my characters get there.

    This is how I realised just how much of an impact my evil character's dastardly deed (in book two) had on not one, but three linked characters because of what they individually and without the other character's knowledge, did to the evil character in book one.

    That was one of those OMG raised hairs on the back of the neck moments. (I love those moments)
     
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  16. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Wow, who'd thought that :) Struggle helps polish people. Without it, achievement is perhaps but meaningless. Perhaps that's what drives certain child prodigies or geniuses to homicide or suicide? (Granted there are many other reasons than just that, but I am attempting to fail at poetry.)

    Holy grail of writing! :eek: That is a lot of hard work. Granted you pushed on bit by bit, it's still commitment which definitely must've shone through. The novels I wrote were wrapped up in a few months during vacation, and now I think they need such work it may take years @_@

    Wow. Five drafts. I'm am officially startled. :eek:

    I see. Well, like I said I do edit and revise on the go, but since many of my earlier novels were written as a teenager, but tone and style has changed a lot and so, I look at them with no less than repulsion. Plus, some of the plot details are so unrealistic I want to cover my face when I read some of them, and I would definitely need to make huge alterations to the plot in my first novel (if go back to it at all), tweak around the details in my second and third novel, to say the least. But perhaps with my newer WIPs, I'm more comfortable because I've gained some stability in my style and realism, and might not need to scrap whole chapters (might not.)

    And I feel much the same about that as you XD
     
  17. peachalulu
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    I'm always writing the first draft to find out why I'm writing- searching for a deeper core hidden under the skin of fantasy or drama. What is my point, besides a story about a robot or suicide or abuse. The first draft is more about getting the tone and the initial skin down letting everything flow. The reread for the second draft is all about finding out where it evolved from my first thoughts, and what new theme has emerged. Not Pink started with only the theme of abuse but by the end of the first draft a new theme of redemption was there. The second draft is all about reshaping and sharpening scenes to reinforce the new theme. Sometimes it involves ditching scenes and writing new ones and even ditching and adding new characters. It's all about what works best to tighten your story so that it encompasses what you want - character arch, theme, goal.

    One book I ended up writing 3 drafts and still wasn't pleased with it. I'm still working on it. I've got a new plan of attack ( which I'm excited about )
    The first draft was third person but I felt it was a little dry so I made the 2nd & third draft into first person ( I hated the 2nd and 3rd drafts!) In between those drafts I had a main side character an artist Malcolm who disappeared in the third draft. I didn't like his scenes and felt that they were distracting and pulled away focus from the main characters. 3 chapters had to be completely rewritten. In the new version I'm working on I've added an entire new character and goal to the story. The first draft I think took about four months - a little less for the rewrites. But they have years separating them. It's a very frustrating project.
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It's all a matter of how you approach it. Some writers edit continuously, so that there is only a first draft and a final draft.
     
  19. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Interesting that you bring up themes. I think that while in the first draft, you may go on exploring anything from sexual slavery to spiritual cleansing (or maybe that's just me), causing the focus to shift without caution at times, later revisions might actually help you narrow it down to a few main themes, from which splinter off a few subsidiary themes. Later drafts may give more cohesion and meaning to the overall sequence of events.

    And I would hope so @EdFromNY, I dread rewriting as it is!
     
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  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think you missed my point, which is that the amount of work involved is the same, regardless of the number of intervening drafts you designate. ;)
     
  21. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    True, but at least it seems to be less. Plus what I really dread is monotony. Going over something as you work on it is not as monotonous as going over it a number of times in entirety.
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, I don't ever think of reviewing my work as monotonous. And going over a completed manuscript allows me to review the entirety of the story - do the various elements of the story fit together correctly? Is there comic relief where it's needed? Are there any issues of balance? I'm not arguing against editing as you go, I'm just not sure how one addresses such issues without several reviews of the complete manuscript.

    But in the end, we all have to do what we find works best.
     
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  23. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suppose the same way people wrote serial novels years back - by keeping track of the story already written as they wrote the new stuff. It's just like anything, really - the ones that do it don't find it difficult, and the ones who don't, do. :)
     
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