I was thinking the other day about how many drafts I have written per novel. It seems there is no set number, but I have worked myself into a routine. The first draft is all about determining if I actually have a story. This draft is only ever read by me and the scenes it contains are not necessarily in the correct or final order. If I have a story, the second draft is about rearranging what I have into an order that works. I also use the second draft to finish up the parts where I’ve either run out of steam, couldn’t be bothered writing them up or working up the comments where I’ve outlined what I expect to happen next, but never got around to writing it out. The first draft was simply about getting to the end and seeing what I have. If that means skipping parts because I have more of an idea about the next chapter, then that’s what I do. I don’t stress over it. If the words are not happening, then I move on to where they are. The second draft is then piecing it all together and making effort to fill in the blanks. I’m also looking for plot holes and errors that inevitably creep in. Again no one but me reads this. During this draft I correct any spelling errors and grammatical mistakes I spot and do a general tidy up.
The third draft is where the writing really begins. I tend to work on each chapter in order and bring each one to a readable standard before moving on to the next. I also resolve further plot holes if required. This draft can be picked up by a few close beta readers (if any are available) and could be passed over to an editor. However, I prefer to do another pass through for draft four before passing over to edit. I have a list of common words and phrases I use when drafting and these are just to get me to the next line. I search and rewrite these and delete if necessary. These include nods and smiles and sighs and stomach churns. A couple of each is okay, dozens are not.
Once the fourth draft is complete, then I would pass to an editor to work through. Hopefully by that point they are not dealing with sloppy writing and can concentrate on dealing with the things only editors can spot. Hopefully from here on in, the drafts are minor revision ones. This means draft five goes through various iterations, but changes are minor. I don’t count these as drafts.
By and large this has been the process across a dozen novels. There is an exception though. Book One of The Clockmaker Conspiracy (which has yet to be published) has had eight major drafts. This is because it developed into a series and at the time of writing, I’m planning book five. Each new book in the series had a knock-on effect, influencing the direction of earlier drafts. For example, when writing book four I ended up having to include some of the new scenes into book one as they made more sense there and helped lift book one into something a bit more special.
The Kill Chain had an extra draft between draft one and two. After writing the first draft, I realised it needed to be in the first person, so I had to write it out again, changing the point of view away from third person. It happens, and it’s tough when it does, and there is nothing else to do than sit back down and get on with the job of writing.