How Long Before It Doesn’t Suck?

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 Last week a tweet from @AdviceToWriters caught my attention:

Jon WinokurThe first 8 drafts are terrible. MALCOLM GLADWELL #writetip #writing 3:02 PM Jan 14th from Tweetie

I’ve been thinking about that a lot since then. I’m currently in my third draft. It’s pretty universally acknowledged that first drafts suck, but thinking about Gladwell’s quote was both frustrating and comforting at the same time. While it’s daunting to suppose I’ll have to write five more drafts before it’s any good, I’ve found I like being able to say, “Yeah, it’s only a third draft. It still sucks. But it’ll get better.”

However, if I’ve learned anything about writers from reading their blogs and hearing from them at conferences, it’s that every writer works a little differently. There are actually some writers out there who outline so carefully that they can pretty much write a novel in one draft. These people might make us sick to our stomachs in theory, but they do actually exist. And so, I figure, there must be a whole spectrum, from one drafters to twenty drafters. And wouldn’t that be a fun way to identify yourself?

I know one of the past presidents of my alma mater, BYU, advocated for eight drafts. Malcolm Gladwell obviously suggests at least that many. Here’s your chance to vote on what you think.

And feel free to vote even if you’re not a fiction writer. As a reader, do you prefer writers who seem like they’ve gone over the manuscript twenty times, perfecting every detail and layering in the subtleties, or do you just want an awesome story that might come together in just a few drafts?

Leave a comment!

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6 responses »

  1. I usually am fine with the plot and scene sequence around the 2nd draft. But I also wait to start a piece for several months after the initial idea, tossing it around in my mind for a long time. So I would say I have 100 mental drafts, then a couple on paper.

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    • I like that idea of mental drafts. I definitely toss mine around in my head a lot before the drafts, too. And that’s a good distinction you make about being “fine with the plot and scene sequence.” For me that usually happens around the 3rd draft. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. I remember sitting through a meeting where we discussed drafts of screenplays, and the producer pointed out that to make a professional one, it took 4-7 different drafts. I find that in my own writing that is about right. The book I’m on now is nearly done with draft 5—I still feel it needs another go-round to get it publishable. (Some parts, though, went through many more drafts than that.)

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    • That seems like a good range. My third draft definitely isn’t ready, but I could see a fourth draft being good enough to send out to agents. But yeah, there are parts of mine that’ve had many more than three drafts, too. 🙂

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  3. There just aren’t words for how many drafts I write. Well, I guess there might be. Double digits, at least. With every good addition, I find myself with 10 new problems.

    I like the puzzle though. That’s where the fun is … eventually.

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    • “With every good addition, I find myself with 10 new problems.”

      So true! And every time I cut a scene, I have to rework all the scenes around it not just to make sense but to cover the purposes that scene originally served. It’s maddening, but fun, too — you’re right.

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