Manuscripts Need Breathing Room

At the end of November, I reached an end for my space fantasy — but the ending was a bit rushed. (Can I use the word “end” more times in one sentence?) And then? I left it alone.

I like to label my initial draft as my “rough draft” or my “zero draft”. No one sees my rough draft but me. I do the majority of my drafting as “fast drafting” during NaNoWriMo, where I keep moving the story forward, and only read the last paragraph from the previous day before adding words to my manuscript. While this approach keeps my forward momentum — something I’ve found very crucial for me creating a cohesive story — it doesn’t make for a clean draft for me.

What do I need to fix before I share it with my alpha reader?

  1. Making sure my sentences are coherent — it can be easy to change your mind on where the sentence is going, and not edit out the unused portions of the sentence
  2. Making sure my chapters are coherent — does every scene have a purpose that pushes the story forward with either external goal or character growth?
  3. Making sure there are no characters or plots that got dropped — or appeared out of nowhere
  4. Making sure the full story’s plot follows as a cohesive unit
  5. Making sure the ending fulfills the promise of the first chapter — by changing either or both

I find my favorite stories are the ones where I can find the seed to the ending planted in the first chapter — where it all only becomes obvious in retrospect, rather than a story that drops breadcrumbs and plants giant arrows for me to follow.

There is often a fuzzy line between editing and revision — for me, editing is more wording choice and coherency, revision is changing plot points and structure. Fortunately, my plantser habits keep my story coherent enough that I can usually get my rough draft into “first draft” shape with something closer to edits than a full-out revision. Especially with this story that took me two attempts to create the story I wanted to tell.

But, there’s a problem going from drafting directly into editing. The closer you are to the drafting of a story, the easier it is to read what you intended, instead of what is written. The easier it is to know the world and story so well, you can’t see what isn’t on the page. The closer you are to the drafting stage, the easier it is to miss stuff.

That’s why experienced writers usually suggest letting a manuscript breath for a bit — a week or two, a month or two, a year or two — whatever works best for you. Some writers work draft or edit something else. Others hit their to-read pile. Some writers just deal with all of the life stuff that can pile up when drafting takes over. I just had to take December off — I had too much going on.

Here we are, a month and a half later. I think it’s time for me to open up that manuscript and take a look.


Do you do a rough/zero draft?
How long do prefer to let your work rest between edits or revisions?

4 Comments

  1. Absolutely agree. I finish mine… then put it aside for a couple days, or a couple weeks, or more, until it tells me to sit down and go through the entire thing. Then, maybe, I’ll send it off to my #1 beta reader.

    Liked by 1 person

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