Stay safe and stay home. Read a book, or better still, learn how to write your own by reading my series of articles on How To Write The First Draft Of Your Novel, How To (Re)Write The Second Draft Of Your Novel, and How To (Re)Write The Third Draft Of Your Novel.
Then read the final installment, How To (Re)Write The Fourth Draft To The Final Draft Of Your Novel, Into Infinity And Beyond, here…
How can I help you (Re)Write the Fourth Draft To The Final Draft Of Your Novel? Well, I’m going to offer you some practical advice and explain the creative processes which have helped me over the years. I’ve been honing my craft writing short stories for the past ten years and although I may not yet be a published author, I have just completed my debut novel. So, to reiterate, this article isn’t about becoming the next Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway. Far from it. This article is simply about the craft and breaking down the mystique behind the novel writing process so that you, too, might find some encouragement and believe it is obtainable.
Proofing Your MANUSCRIPT Off SCreen
“There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”– Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Sing
If you followed last month’s article then you now have no excuse not to proof your document one final time, using your hard copy Wiro Bound document, which you can physically revise. Believe me, it’s a hell of a lot easier to read from the printed page than the screen. The author Margaret Attwood talks about this in her online Master Class series: www.masterclass.com. During her class Attwood revealed that she physically proofs her manuscripts with a ruler, checking each line by line, to ensure it is correct. This is the kind of attention to detail that separates an amateur from a professional.
So lock yourself away with a highlighter pen, a pencil and a huge bag of Haribos.
Then read through your manuscript one last time, checking meticulously for omitted words, typos and spelling mistakes. Yes, I know you’ve done this before during the Third Draft, but I promise this is the last time you will have to do this, and it will take nowhere near as long as you think. You could call this a Fourth draft if you like, or perhaps even a Fifth. It doesn’t matter, at this point, because no one’s counting except for you.
You may want to polish this work forever, but at some point you will have to let it go and send it out into the world. And if you’re lucky your manuscript may take on a life of your own and your readers will cherish it, every bit as much as you.
What Is The Purpose Of The Fourth Draft?
“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”— John Steinbeck
You’re probably thinking, like most people, that proofing doesn’t apply to you. You don’t make errors and you’ve revised your manuscript in the Second and Third Drafts, so it’s absolutely unnecessary.
Don’t be ridiculous.
It’s time for some tough love.
You’re only human and we all make mistakes, even famous authors. God knows it’s easy enough to spot typos in published novels, so you are no exception. Your manuscript, whether you realise it or not, will be littered with factual errors, typos, blank spaces, untabbed paragraphs and missing words. And believe me, there will be a lot of missing words buried in broken sentences that make no sense without them.
Hubris is dangerous.
Check everything line by line. Page by page.
Proof, proof, proof and correct our manuscript. Squash those micro errors which will prevent you from appearing professional and deterring agents and friends alike from reading your work. Or even getting past the first three chapters.
Now get busy and accept some self criticism. Proof your work again.
You’ll thank me for it.
Avoiding Repetition With William Gibson
“Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too.”— Blake Morrison
I went to see William Gibson speak at the Bristol Ideas Festival in February, 2020, before the world went into a pandemic quarantine. (Jesus, even typing those words sounds like a Hollywood B Movie and completely unreal). I was amazed as anyone else when he made a brief book tour of the UK to promote his new novel, The Agency, and leapt at the chance to hear him discuss his thoughts about creative writing, and of course, the future.
Little did anyone know what was coming.
Gibson prefaced his discussion by reading an excerpt from The Agency. Once he set the book down he explained that as an author he rarely experienced his books as a reader, and mentioned something that really stuck with me. He said that when he read his work aloud he could easily spot mistakes and repetitions, which as an author, he hadn’t paid all that much attention to. Obviously, he was being very humble and self critical because to my ears it sounded pretty damn perfect.
But this got me thinking.
So when I proofed my novel Consider Him Human during the Fourth Draft I spent a lot of time physically correcting the hard copy using a pink highlighter and a pencil to make annotations. During this process I started to notice repetitive words and repetitive phrases popping up in sentences and paragraphs. This included a lot of third person narratives pronouns such as ‘he’ did this or ‘she’ did that, which could be deleted.
My point is that even though I wasn’t consciously aware of repeating myself, the reader damn sure would be. Gibson, whether he knew it or not, had created a lot more work for me, and saved the day! It turns out you can learn a lot from the godfather of science fiction who has been writing for over thirty years. Obviously.
I owe him a debt for improving my manuscript two fold.
Thank you William Gibson.
Read Your Work Aloud
“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”– Annie Proulx
See what I did there? A nice seque into this topic…
One of the most insightful things you can do is to read your manuscript aloud. Reading your work aloud will put your mind in the place of the reader as your inner ear focuses on the rhythms, cadences and alliteration.
Now you have no excuse not to become like Richard Burton narrating Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds. Put on your deepest, most authoritative voice and speak those words aloud, listening for the rhythms and syllables. You’ll soon start to hear which words or sentences don’t scan, sound clunky, or have you running out of breath. Remove them or rewrite them along with any words or sentences that are too long, boring or repetitive.
Your words should flow effortlessly like a Miles Davis solo.
How Many Drafts Of Your Novel Should You (Re)Write Before GOing Insane?
“I’ve been writing since I was six. It is a compulsion, so I can’t really say where the desire came from; I’ve always had it. My breakthrough with the first book came through persistence, because a lot of publishers turned it down.”— J.K. Rowling
For the record, I completed Six Drafts of my debut novel, Consider Him Human. I would recommend you complete six drafts of your manuscript, too.
For the purpose of this series I have combined manuscript processes and so far detailed only Four Drafts, so let’s summarise by breaking down the various iterations and describing the purpose of each draft, into infinity and beyond :
- The First Draft = Developing The Plot
- The Second Draft = Refining Character Motivations
- The Third Draft = Making Grammatical Corrections and Finding Reliable Beta Readers
- The Fourth Draft = Making Beta Reader Corrections
- The Fifth Draft = Proofing and Correcting The Manuscript
- The Sixth Draft = Polishing and Moving On With Your Life
This process is purely subjective because you may want to combine two processes in one revision or keep polishing your manuscript for the rest of your life, or until you are happy with it.
Whichever comes first.
Polishing Your Manuscript
“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.”– Erica Jong
Once you’ve corrected the errors in the Fourth Draft, you can quickly move on to the Fifth, then Sixth Draft, and into infinity and beyond. Find the clunky sentences, the bad paragraphs, the laboured writing, the lacklustre action scenes or unconvincing emotional beats, and delete or rewrite them. Finally, check your pacing then send your work out into the world as good as it can be!
Be proud of your manuscript and let others read it, and remember that you have done your best, and no longer need to agonise over every word.
Because at some point you will simply be rewriting for the sake of it, labouring under the illusion that the more time you spend on it, the better it will be. There’s some truth in that, but you can also reach a point where you are just reordering the words in a sentence, (re)writing into infinity and beyond. Moving the words around without actually improving the actual story.
Remember your novel is the narrative, the characters, the conflict.
Not just your pretty words.
So if you feel the need to revise your manuscript further than a Sixth Draft, before you are happy with it, then be my guest. But remember, writing is all about learning and improving, not staying cocooned in the safety of never finishing anything, and (re)writing forever in your own perfect hell. I have heard of the marvelous author Donna Tartt taking over a decade to write and perfect each novel, but not everyone has that luxury. As Haruki Murakami mentioned earlier in this article, there is no such thing as perfect writing.
You must learn to let go and move on. Write something new.
Imperfection is perfection.
Thank You For REading
“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”— Neil Gaiman
Thank you for reading my series on How To Write The First, Second, Third, and Fourth Draft To The Final Draft Of Your Novel, Into Infinity And Beyond. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I hope this short series has helped to demystify some of the creative writing processes when writing your first novel, and inspired you to complete that all important first draft.
My final parting words of advice are simply to be kind to yourself, and never give up.
Your dreams are obtainable.
Until next time…