Revising a manuscript: How do you know when a draft is finished?

How do you know when a draft of a story is done? For me, a first draft is finished when I’ve written it from beginning to end—it might be rough, but the story is on the page.

But subsequent drafts are harder to judge. In my view, the second draft is finished when all the major issues that you know of are resolved. Any research that needs to be done is completed. All plot holes (that you’re aware of ) are filled in. You’ve integrated your critique partners’ or beta readers’ comments into the story.

10969657603_bbbcbc3421_z notebook by Shan Jeniah Burton WANA Commons

photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, WANA Commons

Third drafts and beyond follow the same pattern. We share the story with our critique partners or beta readers and read through the manuscript again. Any problems or concerns that are noted are addressed. Language is polished. Typos are fixed. With every draft, the story is more polished, closer to being ready for the wide world to see. Eventually, the language shines. All aspects of story, from structure to character arc to description, have been addressed. It might take some of us three drafts. It might take others eight.

I’ve been working on second draft of a novella for the past couple months. Some of these criteria have been met. Most of my CPs’ comments have been addressed. But there are still some problems with the middle of the story that need to be dealt with. This past week, I felt like I was playing Jenga. I would change something in one chapter only to realize that that changed the course of events in several more chapters. These seemed like small changes, but they had a ripple effect.

I know the story will be stronger when all is said and done. This week I’ll pull or rework scenes from the middle of the story. Sooner or later, this story will shine.

Sunday ROW80 check-in:

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote 4,859 words, including a rough synopsis. Three chapters revised/rewritten. I’ve decided to make some changes to the middle of the story, so I’m not as close to finished as I thought—but the story is improving.
  • Write a first draft of a novella novelette. Finished!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Finished “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Target met.
  • Blog two times per week. Target met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Target met.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? How do you decide when you’ve finished a draft of a story?

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10 thoughts on “Revising a manuscript: How do you know when a draft is finished?

  1. It’s so tough to let a story go and call it “finished.” It’s easy for me to tell you that it’ll never be perfect, but I drive my editor crazy with, “Let’s go through it one more time.” On the flip side, I’m editing a NA contemporary romance right now, and I’m on the 4th edit and she’s still changing stuff. Her indecision, in my opinion, is not helping. I feel like we keep starting over. I hope you find peace in your completion. 😉

    • Thanks, Tia. You raise a good point. No manuscript will ever be perfect, and eventually we have to let go and release our story out into the wild. I’ve definitely been fighting with some perfectionist tendencies this year, but with every story, I think I learn to let go a little more.

  2. I took a workshop this weekend and we addressed this question. The answer we agreed on was the story is done when it begins to feel contrived. I had to this, when it ceases to look like the original vision you had in your first draft.

  3. I have a very specific process I follow, that isn’t too different from yours. First draft = written beginning to end. 2nd draft = fixes & big picture stuff. 3rd draft – address stuff the beta readers find. 4th – fix typos. 5th – fix what my editor finds. No more than that, or I end up second-guessing myself or worse, “polishing” the voice out of it. Good luck with yours!

  4. Denise, I saved this post in order to take my time and absorb every point that you made. This is interesting to me because I find that so many have their “own” take on this process. Especially on the role of a beta reader. I was told that you don’t involve a beta reader until you have the MS polished. But what you’re saying makes much more sense. Why go through all the work of polishing something that needs to be changed or fixed. You and Jennette have cleared this up for me. Thank you! 🙂

    • I think there are different types of readers. A lot of us have a first reader who reads an early draft and gives feedback. Some of us have critique partners with whom we exchange work on a regular basis. And beta readers often come in when the manuscript is more polished. But it’s different for everyone. (I’m sure there’s a blog post in there somewhere.)

      Glad you found my post helpful. I’ve definitely made great strides with my revision process this year. In fact, out of everything I’ve learned during my first year writing full time, discovering a revision process that works for me is at the top of the list.

      Thanks, Karen!

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