How Many Drafts Does It Take to Get to The Center of A Manuscript?

My novel launches in July of this year. It has been a long process full of rewrites, edits, revisions, additions, subtractions, frustrations, and inspirations. Looking back on this beast’s earliest iterations, I wonder how many versions did it go through to get to here.

How Many Licks Does it REALLY Take to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop?
The Age Old Question . . .

I wonder how many “licks” does it take to get to the end.

1. The False Start

I was first inspired during my final year of graduate school—three chapters before I went into a tailspin. I crashed into a fiery ball of failure.

2. The True First Draft

Written in a mad dash to finish. It took two months and a whole lot of “I’ll make that better later,” but I finally wrote those magical two words, The End, on a cold December afternoon.

3. What Was I Thinking?

Reading over what I had created, I couldn’t believe I had ever thought this was a good idea. I opened a fresh Word Doc and began retyping everything. Let the massive overhaul begin!

4 . . . Nope! Still Sucks

I made it through. Now, ready to read it from the beginning and bask in the glory of my own genius, I turned to page one. Hmmm… The first thing I notice is a real lack of genius to bask in. No worries. Now I’ve had lots of practice. I’m a much better writer than the last time I did this. This time, let’s go again with the benefit of James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, among other helpful books.

5 . . . . Spit Polish

A quick foray into copy editing only assures me I don’t know how to copy edit. But it looks more presentable than it did. I will show it off at my first writer’s conference!

6 . . . . . . Enter the Writing Group

“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”

― Raymond Chandler

Well, I didn’t land an agent. But I did stumble into the most influential writing group of all time! With lots of character advice and insights from fresh creative eyes, this was the best version yet.

7 and 8 and 9 and 10 . . .

At the second conference, and I had interest from a literary agent! This begins an email tennis match in which I am given recommendations to change something and then re-submit. I was hesitant to implement the changes, but most of them really did make it better.

Most of them . . .

11. Line Edit, then 12 Copy Edit

Preparing for another conference. Let’s dress up nice.

13. Last Ditch Effort for Perfection

A publisher is interested. I must strive to be flawless. Submitted. Accepted! And…

14. Once More into the Breach

“I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.”

― Don Roff

Back to the drawing board as my publisher sells its imprint overseas. Well, drats! On the other hand, this is a prime opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes. We have an elapsed time of five years at this point. You might think there was no work to be done at this point. But you start reading it and realize, “I can make this better. I will make this better!”

15. The Final Stretch

A new publisher has accepted my novel! I receive a report with suggested line edits. At this point, it’s the fine-toothed comb treatment. I implement the improvements and technical needs and send them back.

It is read . . .

Okay, so that’s a lot. Not every book should go through quite so many versions or take so long. Eventually, you get to a place where you know what you’re doing. But this was my learning experience. This book took me from being a local hometown playwright into being an actually published novelist.

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