Tuesday, 8 January 2013

When is a draft ready for the world?

Last year, convinced The Secrets of Life and Death would not sell, I wrote another book. I called it A Baby's Bones, and I knew straight away that it was a better first draft, and I had learned quite a lot from polishing and editing earlier books. I was pleased with it, although I could see straight away that it had a lot of potential to be radically improved and my 16th century narrator, Edward Kelley, could have a place in it. It was written as a prequel to Secrets, and I sent it off to my agent just to see if it was on the right track. She liked it, and when talking to the publisher who was considering a three book deal, sent it on to the editor there. He hasn't read it yet and I've asked him not to. I don't think it's ready for all that! When do we let go of drafts? How comfortable are you at having early, flawed, scruffy possibly, drafts seen by people outside of your writing buddies? Do you even show early drafts to them?  

I have a tight schedule for book 2, but at the mere suggestion of him reading Baby's Bones I'm desperate to look at it, make the improvements I think it needs, rewriting at high speed. This isn't about the editor at all - in fact, I think he would help direct the changes very usefully - but I'm embarrassed that it's so unfinished. I've asked for a couple of weeks to work on it! Is this me being daft?

Meanwhile, I'm working on the list of suggestions he gave me, especially about character development. The advice he's given me is priceless, this is a fantastic learning opportunity, why don't writing courses do this? Basically, he's nudging me to consider the reader more.

If you have a spare hour and have ever thought you could 'knock out' a Mills and Boon, this brilliant programme from the BBC might be informative. Stella Duffy, the novelist, took on the challenge to write a submission for M&B. Through the whole process, she was reminded to consider the readers, to meet their expectations and she found it DIFFICULT. I think she looked at her own writing from another perspective, too, and we get an insight into the writing process in her other work, too. Great programme, a nice reward for me after a day of pruning and editing (but only on iplayer for another 5 days). I don't think I'll be writing M&B any time soon! It did give me a sense of respect for people that do write romance, though, and reminds me of the old writing adage, write what you read.  



  1. There's no shame in a draft... Any draft. Beta-readers and editors are a fabulous resource, and worth their weight in gold, so, I say use them! Get that draft out there, show it around, and get all the help you can to make the second draft as good as it can possibly be.

    I'm always showing you half-cocked bits of nonsense!

    BTW, I seem to remember loving Bones!

  2. You are too kind! But your early drafts are so together, I write a load of old tosh and then have to winnow (a lot) for get rid of chaff. My drafts are so different from each other, the story literally changes! I'm glad you liked Bones but it's in the early stages, whereas your 'bits of nonsense' always feel very close to polished. But 'Yay!' for beta readers - priceless!

    I don't think I really believe the book deal yet, I'm expecting the editor to say 'we've changed our minds'.

  3. I edit quite a bit as I go along, but even so I'd hate an editor to read a first draft. Having said that, even after a substantial polish they might find things that need changing, so maybe it's as well not to refine TOO much before sending out.

    I was once told I'd edited the life out of a particular story, so there is such a thing as going too far!

    Loved the Mills and Boon programme - very interesting. I remember thinking it would be a doddle to write one about 20 years ago, and was quickly proved wrong!

    1. Thank you, Kate. I'm trying to be more confident about early drafts but I think I'm still trying to sell my stories! I'm starting to think I should edit as I go, but usually dive right in. Something to try.

  4. God bless Stella Duffy, and thank heavens it never crossed my mind that writing genre meant I wasn't writing whatever the hell I pleased, especially when you consider that I do like to pay the bills.

  5. I'm the same. I couldn't show ANYONE a rough first draft, not without giving it at least a swift edit first.

  6. I would want to have it as polished as possible too.