Charles Willeford died 19 years ago yesterday (March 27), so I found myself reading bits of Don Herron's excellent Willeford bio. A piece of writing advice jumped out at me:

"[The secret to writing is:] Rewriting. First, one word at a time. After you get enough pages done, you have something to read. If you can read it you can revise it. If you revise it enough times, you can come up with something pretty good. All writing is like that; it couldn't be any other way." (From Willeford's THE WOMAN CHASER.)

I know writers who do one draft, and never revise. I also know writers who'll put the same page through its paces 30 or 40 times.

What is it for you? Does the magic happen during that first draft, or does it happen with rewriting?

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Great question, Duane. I used to niggle over every comma, and go back in the middle of drafts and just tinker away. Boy, is that a terrific way to lose any momentum you've got building up.

I like what Ray says about three full drafts, although I do take comments after the first one as well. On top of that, when you write historicals (like I do), multiple drafts give you the opportunity to fact check, expand upon and add your period stuff in order to make sure that you get it as right as you can/are willing to.

As for when the magic happens, I usually feel most inspired while writing the first draft, but I suspect the best stuff really happens during the re-drafting, sort of like the grinding that turns coal into a diamond.
For me, and I am just a short story writer so far which probably changes the dynamic, wordsmithing is everything. I rewrite every page many times, trying to add more texture or to find the right word. Nobody would ever read my first draft. It's appalling.
Take the JUST out of that first sentence!

And who is this baby in the pic and the slide show?
I'll second that. "Just" a short story writer. Please.
Let me "third" that statement.
I love rewriting. I do. I'm going to guess I start to feel OK about a piece after five or six times through the grinder.

Anne Tyler called it "combing the hair of her children."

For me it's more like rearranging limbs.
My ambition is to write only one draft. Always, I want to get it perfect first time. I will never achieve this, but it makes me write a lot better in the first draft. Mind you, I allow myself to go back and change stuff while I'm still on the first draft. I know a lot of writers can't do that.

So no, I'm not a fan of redrafting.
However, I am a very big fan of Willeford.
William Goldman and Charles Willeford parked their sedans in the same garage. Goldman said "Write something so that you have something to change." I do much better with going over what's already on paper. The trick for me is to not worry about how badly the words roll out initially onto the page.

I write on my computer in either Word docs or into Final Draft directly. I'm more objective when it already exists as something to study. Reading uses different muscles, even when I'm trying to be objective or critical of my own work. Cutting and pasting and moving things around (like typesetting on a Gutenberg printer) "feels" easier to handle than, you know, the "making stuff up from total scratch" part.

Also, when working on screenplays, spatial relationship has plenty to do with everything. You can tell if someone has a clue as to how to even write a script based solely on how it looks on the page. When people say they can tell if it's total crap or quite good from the first few pages, usually that's based on looks alone.

Dramas have less dialogue and more action/description; comedies have more dialogue and less blocktext. Too much or not enough white space is a red flag. Having Written is the best way for this litmus test to work.
I know writers who do one draft, and never revise. I also know writers who'll put the same page through its paces 30 or 40 times.

The terms need to be defined. "Rewrite" and "draft" mean different things to different people.

Before writing new material, I read the pages from the previous day's work and fix things such as grammar, word usage, plot holes, story inconsistencies (that I can see), etc. That's before my critique group gets a hold of it and really goes to work. So as I am writing a project, I might reread and work on each page of the project a half dozen or more times BEFORE a first draft is complete.

When I'm finished, there might be a few revisions required, and of course as a writer I can always find words to tweak, but the MS is usually in pretty good shape.

So how many drafts have I done? One or six?
Great point, Harry. My method is very similar to yours. I think I've worked over a book 30 or 40 times before I finish the "first draft."

(Somehow, though, it still needs work...)
I rewrite the previous day's work too. Someone told me that's called backstitching, a term I'd never heard before but love.


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