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29 January 2010 @ 10:00 am
The fourth draft is where it all finally comes together  
I'm grateful that a couple years ago I sat down and articulated my writing process and the drafts it usually involves, because it serves as a reminder, every book that I write, that I'm not crazy and that I'm finding my story even as it seems there's no story there.

This is what I said then:
Draft 1: Write the wrong story. But sort of kind of get a feel for what the right story is about. (The exploratory draft.)
Draft 2: Write the right story. But with all the wrong words, muddled arcs, and not enough sensory vividness.
Draft 3: Get something approaching the right words. Only with lots of the wrong words still mixed in.
Draft 4: More right words. Not so many wrong words. Much tighter.
Draft 5: Polish until my teeth hurt.

Or something like that. This is pretty much a minimum, for me--that story went unusually smoothly. Any one of these draft stages can get repeated multiple times.
All of which is context for saying that very late last night, I finished the fourth draft of Faerie Winter, and finally have more-or-less the story I was trying to tell on the page. A few threads to add or tighten. An ending to pull tauter. As always, the whole book to go through for general polishing before I let it out of my hands. But it feels, at last, like a real book that Makes Me Happy.

(falls over)

Here's how the drafts went so far, this time around, at least as I'm remembering it now:

1st draft (55K): Even more the wrong story than usual, set in the wrong town, with all the wrong characters, and with a tragic death that moved me to tears, but was also wrong, wrong, wrong.

2nd draft (92K): At least hanging out in the same neighborhood as the right story. Many of the wrong characters from the 1st draft got new names, changed gender and species, changed personalities, and through some strange alchemy formed the foundation for right characters. (But, interestingly, retained more or less the same magic they had in the 1st draft.) Protagonist gets forced to confront all the things she was able to sneakily avoid before by fleeing to the wrong town. Lots of rambling which, among other things, separated the books two equally dramatic climaxes from one another by far too many words.

3rd draft (68K): Began with deleting a prologue that almost moved me to tears and gained focus from there. Two central characters got merged into one, a new character got added, I finally accepted that one of my favorite old characters simply will not be on stage most of the story. Took two characters who accompanied my protagonist and replaced them with two others, because I felt like I'd spent the whole 2nd draft leaving the most interesting characters at home. Ages change, motivations change. Separate climaxes get stacked together, only now there are sort of two denouements.

4th draft (65K): Tighten, tighten, tighten, arc, arc, arc, describe, describe, describe, show, show, show. One climax (in two stages), one denouement, something approaching the right final line. (I have a thing for final lines.) In the end, a draft that's not yet perfect, but is somehow right.

5th draft to come, more quickly, after I step away for a few days, and draft a short story that's due soon. But in the meantime I feel, finally, like I have a book.

It's magic, how this all happens. Is it okay to admit that, in a world where one sometimes seems to bump into "rules" for writing at every turn? A magic that's fueled by an incredible amount of hard work and requires an incredible amount of thinking and rethinking, but magic nonetheless. (Then again, magic is rarely an easy or comfortable thing, and it never comes without cost, and it certainly isn't an excuse for laziness. Fantasy readers know this.) I don't know why this process works for me, any more than I know why other processes work for other writers, or whether there's yet a book waiting for me that will demand another process entirely.

I only know that I need to remain open to it, and to keep making that leap of faith, at the start of every book, that there is a there there, even if it doesn't seem like it at the time.

So more revising soon. But today, a day without writing, unless it's the sort of writing that gets the email in my inbox answered. :-)
faerie_writer on January 29th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
This post Makes Me Happy. :D
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on January 29th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)
:-) :-) :-)
aeriedraconiaaeriedraconia on January 29th, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)
I always love to read about other people's writing processes. This post on what your drafts are like is really interesting and helpful as I'm still learning what my drafts process is. Do you do any outlining first or are you a pantser?
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 29th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
No outlining for me unless an outline is needed as a sales tool. :-)

In a sense, my first draft is my brainstorming draft ...

Edited at 2010-01-29 06:28 pm (UTC)
Stephanie Burgisstephanieburgis on January 29th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Yay! Congratulations on a draft that feels right. :)
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on January 29th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
lunalilalunalila on January 29th, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC)
Ah great feeling having a last draft that feels OK!
Enjoy the weekend and revel yourself with some nice treat :) You deserve it!
Janni Lee Simner: anime mejanni on January 29th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
I look forward to a few days of not-writing before writing again! :-)
akamarykateakamarykate on January 29th, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
I got chills reading this. It really IS magic, and a big part of the magic is your willingness to make huge changes from draft to draft. That may be the most difficult thing of all to teach.
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 29th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
And it's not the right thing for every writer, but ... I think there is a lot of fear around revising deeply, when so much good can come of it. (And the old words are still there, if you save them--and if the revision doesn't work one can always back up a draft, after all.)
akamarykateakamarykate on January 29th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
Definitely there is fear, and I think--and this is partly based on observing kids work through the writing process and partly based on observing *myself* as I go through it--part of it is this sense of, "I wrote down some words, now I'm done, can I have my cookie?" When the truth of it, at least for me, is that it can be so *freeing* to realize I can let go of my first attempts.

I should add, too, that reading your entries have helped me get to the point where I'm much more accepting of my own fairly laborious process. Instead of hating myself for not getting it down right the first time, I'm starting to realize it's okay to make dreck at the beginning--because there will be a draft that makes it...better dreck!
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 29th, 2010 10:55 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad these posts are helpful!

The truly mysterious thing to me is how that first messy horrible draft actually does inform the final draft, in indirect yet deep ways. I keep seeing connections between the two, even though they're truly not the same story at all.
R.J. Anderson: Book Book Bookrj_anderson on January 29th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
Your process amazes me. It is magic. I can't imagine being able to write like that any more than I can imagine being one of those writers who plans the whole story out in detail before sitting down to write any of it -- they're both equally foreign to my mind. And yet your method is clearly tailor-made for the way your imagination works, just as outlining fits the needs of some other authors' imaginations, and there are all kinds of weird and wonderful processes in between, no two exactly alike. And they can all result in great books! It's very cool.
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 29th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
It is cool, how there are all these different paths by which different writers get to different books!

Edited at 2010-01-29 07:15 pm (UTC)
longlegs21longlegs21 on January 29th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
Your descriptions of your writing process are kind of breathtaking. :-) (And what a treat to watch as a book I'm looking forward to comes ever closer to completion!) Do your first drafts feel wrong as you're writing them? 'Cause if so, I'm even more impressed by your leaps of faith!
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 29th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
It varies book to book, but it often does feel wrong even as I write -- or not so much wrong as ... like there's just not a there there, is the feeling I think I struggle with.

(I even have been known to go over to lnhammer and say things like, "Just remind me, did I feel this way on the last book, too?" And he'll always assure me that yes, indeed it did. :-))

I think it took me until the 3rd draft to feel like I'd really found the "there," and the 4th to actually mostly reach it.
some guy named Larrylnhammer on January 30th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
Janni frequently comments, during the first couple drafts, "There's no story here." It's how I can tell she's working on the right book.

Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 30th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
Okay, so how is it that, until now, I didn't realize that's how it works? :-)
(Deleted comment)
Janni Lee Simner: wildfire aftermathjanni on January 29th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
Karenquiller77 on January 30th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
That's so fascinating. And something I wish I could do. I'm too rigid with my stories, I think. I can change lots of smaller things but nothing in the fundamental ways you seem to be able to. I am impressed.
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 30th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
I couldn't write at all until I accepted that my first draft was just a starting place, getting the clay on the wheel so that I could shape it later.

Word processing has been a huge help to me. I just save the early versions, know they're there if I need them, but rarely look at them. (cynleitichsmith is braver. She deletes her first draft entirely!) (But I'm never confident I won't need something from it.)
(Deleted comment)
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 30th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
The tricky thing is that process can sometimes change story to story.

But it took me years (and some blogging) to realize I was mostly doing the same thing every story. Useful knowledge, once I had it, if only because it leaves me less terrified halfway through a book. :-)
Anica Lewis: I Heart Howlanicalewis on January 30th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
Wow! I find the word count, especially, fascinating. What a jump from Draft One to Draft Two!
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on January 30th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
That one surprised me, too ... there's often something of an increase, but that one was huge!

A lot of it turned out to be rambling bits in the beginning, while I circled round and round (and round) trying to figure out where the story really was ...