How Many Drafts?

Major Silva asks: How many drafts do you normally go through until completion?

My current editing process has evolved over more than ten years. It’s a personal thing. Everyone writes differently. Everyone edits differently.

Here’s how it goes for me:

1) After reviewing my outline I type out a rough draft. My spelling and typing are atrocious.

2) I used to spend two or three revision cycles making my rough draft legible. Recently I’ve started using speech-to-text software and reading back what I have written. This saves me a huge amount of time (and probably carpal tunnel syndrome, too!).

3) I read through and polish this draft once or twice.

4) I then print it all out and read the hard copy. It has a different feel than reading on a computer screen so it’s fresh in my mind. Much of my larger scale editing gets done here.

5) I input these changes and reprint the file in a different, more final looking format. This gives me another fresh read which I edit.

6) Ideally I let this sit for a few weeks while I work on the next chapter–after which it gets another edit.

7) Then it’s ready for my readers who give me their opinions, which I incorporate as I see fit.

8) Finally, I reread the entire novel and make sure everything fits the continuity and has the right pacing.

9) I send it off to the publisher’s editor who gives me their notes, which I also (usually) incorporate.

10) After that, I get a version from the publisher’s copyeditor, and I incorporate or reject their notes.

11) At long last, I am sent proof pages which are in their final book-ready-to-be-printed format. One more pass on this.

So that’s about seven serious drafts and about five lesser revision cycles.

This is just a general guideline. It’s dependant on many things like what my deadline is. When I wrote A Game of Universe (one of my earlier novels), that was a big stretch for me and I learned a lot while writing it. I probably did twenty or more drafts on that one!

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Style and Voice

Jason writes: How has working on the Halo books changed your writing style? I read Signal to Noise, which struck with me as hard sci-fi while Halo is more space opera. I know that, to an extent, writing is writing–and I suppose I’ll find out for myself how your style has evolved when Mortal Coils comes out–but I just wondered what your perspective was.

On the rare occasion I read my older stuff it strikes me how much my writing style has changed–but at the same time they also read like classic Nylund stories (what many people call “voice”).

Unless it’s an ongoing series, style should change from piece to piece. I can’t imagine writing a Halo book the same way I would a contemporary fantasy like Dry Water or even a hard science fiction novel like Signal to Noise. Likewise, if I were to write a detective novel, it better not sound like Fall of Reach. It just wouldn’t fit.

Writers must change their diction, pacing, and characterization techniques to suit the project they are working on.

Voice however is different. It’s what’s hardwired into my brain–things that will never change in my writing…such as my flagrant overuse of dashes and ellipses.

When you pick up a Heinlein book no matter what decade he wrote it or what it’s about, you know it was written by Robert A. Heinlein. Or if you read a graphic novel by Alan Moore or Warren Ellis–regardless of the genre—you can likewise tell who’s voice is telling the story.

And to a large extent–that’s why you dig a particular author’s work.

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