Matt Bell advocates three major drafts in novel writing in his craft book, Refuse to Be Done.
He says: The first draft is to discover the book I’m writing by writing the book.
- write a full outline of the novel, outlining what already exists.
- Once the outline is complete, I revise it, not the novel, until the outline becomes a plan for the better book I want to write.
- The aim here is to discover what you’ve already done and then think of how you might better take advantage of the inherent qualities in the structure
- The trick of the second draft is to recapture or re-create the magic that inspired the novel in the first place, but to do so with the fullness of the style you developed by the time you reached the end.
- On your first pass, highlight in one color every sentence in which you explain something [exposition: try to streamline or eliminate]
- With a different color, do a pass where you highlight every instance of backstory. [Try to streamline or delay/eliminate]
- For your next pass, highlight the weakest sentence [or weakest clause in each paragraph: try to eliminate]
- Next highlight the strongest sentence in each paragraph . . . lift the surrounding prose to the same level
- Highlight any passages where you feel yourself being genuinely moved…feel some kind of emotional, intellectual, moral, or esthetic jolt [also note where you feel nothing]
His overall message: revision and rewriting are most of what good writing entails…the sustained and often small-scale work of making a promising manuscript better hour by hour, day by day, slowly but steadily moving it closer to your imagined ideal. Read more from Matt Bell on the practice of writing.