How Many Drafts Did You Do Of Your Book?

“How many drafts did you do of your book?”

In between getting a book deal and being able to tell people I got a book deal, I went to an event at Dun Laoghaire’s Mountains to Sea festival where an audience member asked Paula Hawkins, superstar author of The Girl on the Train, this very question. On hearing it, I rolled my eyes and groaned about it to my company for the evening (who rolled her eyes at my groaning), even though it wasn’t that long ago that I sat in the audience at writerly events and asked the very same thing of published authors myself.

Why the eye-rolling? Because I don’t believe the guy who asked wanted to know how many drafts Hawkins had done of her book. What he really wanted to know was how many drafts of his book he’d have to do – minimum – before his publication dreams came true, before his debut hit 2 million copies sold in the space of a few months (selling at a rate of one every 18 seconds, apparently), became the “recommended” book in the Audible sponsor message on Serial and started being tweeted and Instagrammed about by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Mindy Kahling.

What he really should’ve asked was “How many drafts did you have to do of your book?”

I know this because that’s what I wanted to know when I asked – or silently hoped someone else would ask – questions like  “How many drafts did you do of your book?” (See also: “Was your book finished when you submitted to an agent?” and “Do publishers make offers on partials?” and “How many words do you write a day?”) In his memoir We Can’t All Be Astronauts, Tim Clare despairs when a pair of friends emerge from a day spent at the London Book Fair with a deal for an idea they sketched out on a single sheet of A4 paper. We’ve all heard of ten-way auctions culminating in six-figure deals for three chapters and an outline, and I know of at least one publishing story that actually involves scribbles on a cocktail napkin. Sometimes the folklore of publishing edges very close to fabled Hollywood pitches, like the one where James Cameron says “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic” to studio execs and gets a green light on the spot.

As a writer whose ratio of writing a novel to daydreaming about having a novel published was about 1:10, these stories were music to my ears. I collected them. Fixated on them. Turned to them for encouragement. Because I wanted the spoils, but I wasn’t prepared to do the hard work first. Not if I didn’t absolutely have to.

But boy, is it hard work. Distress Signals is almost ready for copy-editing and it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point. Here is a very long blog post to tell you just how much.

Beginnings (Autumn 2012-Spring 2013)

So you have an idea for a novel…

I don’t actually know how many times I wrote the start of the book that at this stage was called Dark Waters. Four or five times, at least. When I say “the start” I mean the opening chapters; I think the furthest I ever got was 10,000 words. I was trying to figure out how to write the book. Who would be the narrator? At what point would the story start? I have a folder on my computer full of these fragments, and very little of them – almost none of them, I’d say – made it into the final version. But I wouldn’t have got to the final version if I didn’t mess around with these aborted beginnings so much first.

securedownload-8

Vomit Draft (Summer 2013)

The next major step in the process was a discovery draft. At least, that’s the professional-sounding name for it. In reality, it’s a vomit draft. You sit down and upchuck everything you know about the novel, filling in ideas for the bits you don’t know in between. By the time I sat down to do this, I’d spent the best part of two years kicking the idea around inside my head.

This was not a draft for anyone else’s eyes but mine, because it wasn’t a readable book. If I knew what was going to happen in a chapter, I simply wrote a summary of a sentence or two and then moved onto the next. The idea was to figure out what I didn’t know, so I skipped over the scenes I already had set in my mind. At the end of this I had about 50,000 words – but what I really had was the skeleton of the novel, the framework on which I’d build the book itself.

plan

First Draft 1.0 (AUTUMN 2013 – SPRING 2014)

By spring of last year I was up to about 30,000 words of my first, proper, readable-by-other-people draft and, egged on by writing friends (Sheena and Hazel, I’m looking at you), I submitted the first three chapters and a synopsis to an agent. Now in my heart I knew that neither I nor the book was ready to be doing this, but at the same time I needed to do it, because I needed to take the plunge. I was trying to scale a mountain of fear and for months – years – I’d been standing at the base of it, looking up, paralyzed. I wasn’t ready to leave the world where I might possibly get everything I wanted and move to the land of reality checks just yet.

I got a rejection, which was devastating, but it was a very detailed and generous one that pointed out what I now realized was a glaring flaw in my main character’s story, a development that just didn’t ring true. I scrapped most of what I’d written and went back to the start again.

You may wonder about the logic of taking one person’s subjective opinion and changing your entire book because of it. Well, I knew she was right. I simply knew it. It caught in my gut. I knew the best thing to do was to change that element of the book.

First Draft 2.0 (Summer 2014)

So I re-started my first proper draft and this time got up to around about 50,000 words. Then I stalled. Not because I didn’t know what was to come next, but because life got in the way. I’d applied to go back to university as a mature student and in May, I found out I’d got in. This meant packing up my apartment in Cork, moving back in with my parents for a couple of months while I house-hunted in Dublin (a full-time job in itself) and then, hopefully, moving myself to Dublin once I found a place. Writing fell by the wayside.

In an effort to kick myself up the arse, I submitted to another agent. My thinking was once I pressed “SEND” I’d be gripped by a fear that she’d come back and request the full manuscript I didn’t yet have, and would therefore get it finished immediately. But of course that’s not what happened – life was still in the way, fear or no fear – and when she did request the full manuscript  nearly three months later, I still didn’t have it.

Imagine getting that e-mail.

I decided to pull the old “Sorry, I Was on Hols” trick, which was plausible considering that we were now into August. I cancelled everything and spent three weeks in a caffeine-fuelled haze, finishing the last 30,000 or so words of the book. Thankfully I was working from a detailed outline so I knew exactly what to write, but still, it was tough going. After a few days of re-reading, re-jigging and revising, I sent it off to the agent…

… who swiftly rejected it. But this time I didn’t listen to the criticisms that came with the (very nice) e-mail. Why? Because they didn’t catch in my gut. They didn’t stick. I didn’t think she was right. I thought that this was simply a case of this novel not being for her.

When I read over the novel again – this was a month after I’d finished it by now – I remember thinking, “Hmm. This is actually okay!” So now I still didn’t have an agent, but I did have a finished book I was happy with.

This being the first time in the process I had a full manuscript I felt confident about, I decided to go all in on the agent thing and do a simultaneous submission to my ultimate agent wish list. Two of them offered representation and at the very end of October I signed with Jane Gregory – who I almost hadn’t bothered submitting to, because I thought the odds were so fantastical.

photo 2-7

Second Draft (Winter 2015)

Gregory and Company can spend up to two years working with a debut author before their novel goes out to publishers, so I knew that now the real work would start. It was time to do a re-write of the Novel Formerly Known as Dark Waters Now Known as Adrift with Stephanie, Jane’s in-house editor extraordinaire.

I think this was the most enjoyable part of the writing experience for me, because enough time had passed – we were into the New Year now – for me to be able to look at the novel afresh and, with Stephanie’s input, make it much better. There were no structural changes to do (plotting is my strong point, I think) but there was plenty to be done about my characterization (my weakest link). This was also an opportunity to layer in more complexity and to tighten all the nuts and bolts. I spent about 6-8 weeks on it, and then there was another week where I worked on the changes Stephanie suggested after I sent her back the draft, and then another couple of days for typos and addressing my favourite hobby, missing words. The manuscript grew to about 105,000 words in the process (up from 85,000).

Some writers don’t like being edited and although this will sound harsh, I’m not sure if those writers really know what writing is about. Being edited is absolutely wonderful. It’s like one-on-one tutoring in how to make your book better – and not just this book, but every future book you’ll ever write. A good editor doesn’t tell you what to do – they’ll just point you in the direction of where the potential problems lie. It’s up to you to figure out how to fix them. But amazing things happen along the way. New ideas. Better ideas. A better book, by far.

It was difficult time-wise because I was in university by now and re-writing when I should’ve been writing my last two essay assignments and starting to study for my exams, and the moment I finished it I spontaneously developed the world’s worst flu. You can read more about what happened next here.

Third Draft (Summer 2015)

Now for the scary bit: the first edit with Sara, my editor at Corvus (Atlantic). The novel was now called Distress Signals. When I first met her in London we talked about some of the things she thought needed reworking, and again, I agreed with them all. I knew she was right. But when the marked-up manuscript arrived in the door with lines through some of my favourite sections, my palms started to sweat.

It was soon obvious that the entire third quarter of the book needed to be rewritten. I’d given my readers a breather half-way through, much like the moment in a horror movie when the sun comes up after a horrific night of terror. But what I’d actually done is bring the narrative drive to a halt, to slow the pace to a crawl after spending 50,000 words working to crank it up. Elsewhere I needed to dump a few research dumps, and there was more work to be done on characterization.

But, again, I really enjoyed the process. Who wouldn’t enjoy making their book better? It’s like the first draft is the cupcakes and editing is the icing and decorating bit. It’s the fun bit. The hardest part is done. Now you get to make things look pretty. (This analogy doesn’t go the distance, does it? But you know what I mean.) By the end of it I was really, really proud of my book – and still in love with it, crucially.

If I can give you one piece of advice it’s to write a book you are madly in love with, because that love is going to need to last a long, loooooong time. It’s going to have to be stronger than your desire to start a bonfire when you’re reading it for the 53rd time.

Last week I heard that my editor loves the changes and the rewriting is over. We just have some line editing to do on the new sections and then Distress Signals will be off to the copyeditor.

That’s how many drafts I had to do of my book.

What next? Oh, just the little matter of doing this all over again with Book 2.

More coffee, please.

 * * * * *

Introducing… 

book12graphic

Since I got a book deal, the most common question I’ve been asked is why the book isn’t coming out for a year. The next most common question is how in the name of the fudge I’m going to squeeze the writing of a whole book into the time between now and next April, when – as evidenced by this thesis of a blog post – it took me approximately five times that to write the one I’ve just finished. (Darling, let me tell you: we’re both dying to know the answer to that). So between now and next summer, I’m going to do a monthly series called Book One/Two, where I update you on the publishing process and my attempts at doing this all over again. Consider this the prologue. I’ll hope you’ll stick around for the rest! 

UPDATE 17th August: Oh my, Freshly Pressed! Thank you so much, Freshly Pressed Elves. This is, somehow, the third time I’ve been FP’d. (Whaa…?) If you’d like to read the other two, they were Why, For Me, Print Will Never Be Extinct and Self-Publishing? Read This First.

163 thoughts on “How Many Drafts Did You Do Of Your Book?

  1. Sophie Playle says:

    I love, love, love this post, Catherine! You rock, hard. As an editor, I love that you champion this part of the process. Can’t wait to read your updates on the writing of the next book 🙂

  2. Laini Giles says:

    Love it! 26 rewrites on mine, many simply for timetable issues. 3rd person into 1st person, molding and remolding entire scenes until I knew I’d gotten it just right.

  3. originaltitle says:

    I’ve also struggled with many beginnings of novels and have yet to tough it out and finish one. I like the idea of a vomit draft. I’d never heard of that before. I have so many ideas. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient and just wait until the ideas I want to write about come next in the sequence. I think I’m going to try this. What an amazing journey you’ve been on! Such hard work has been put into this book of yours! Congratulations on seeing it through! I’m really impressed by what you did and the fact that you laid out the process for other people to learn from. Thanks for sharing this fantastic post and I wish you the best with the rest of the publication process!

  4. kirizar says:

    A delight to peruse the inner workings of your mind. I especially loved the neatly printed notes and wall charts. Now tell me you totally made those up and that no one is that organized and precise!

  5. Susan Lee Kerr says:

    Good on you, Catherine, as ever, speaker of Truth & Experience. I specially love the ‘write the book you madly love’ point. Not only because that makes it a good book, but because when self-publishing (under CRH instructions) I read my book a zillion times more during formatting and proofreading. And then comes the post-publishing promoting. Madly love indeed.

  6. Jane Risdon says:

    I am so glad I am not alone in taking almost 3 years to write a book. The first opening chapters have been re-written more times than I care to recall. I have not completed it yet. I have every admiration for your tenacity. Good luck with your book and I hope book 2 gets to see the light of day a little faster. Thanks for sharing this. It helps. 🙂

  7. glassdoll411 says:

    It’s alwasy nice to hear the reality of writing and wanting to be published. A lot of people think that you write it once and throw it to a publisher and BOOM it’s published. It’s nice to have a reminder of the dedication that you have to have when writing a book.

  8. Melis says:

    Can I just say a big thank you for writing such an honest post about writing.This has just made me turn my laptop on and continue writing draft two of my novel. I really needed a post like this to make me log out of Netflix and start working hard on writing a book worth reading 🙂

  9. jimbillchuck says:

    The vomit draft might be one of the coolest ideas I’ve heard of in a long time. I’ve been a down-to-the-infinitesimal-detail outliner, but it just isn’t working anymore. I think I’ll try a vomit draft for something new. Great post. Thank you.

  10. thescribblebug says:

    This is one of the most comprehensive and interesting accounts of writing a book I’ve read in a very long time. I love it! Hope you don’t mind but I’m reblogging to my ‘Reblog Blog’ 🙂

  11. Lovewordsmusic says:

    Such an interesting post and so timely for me. My writing teacher and I decided yesterday to axe one of the two storylines (and therefore protagonists) in my book. Like you, it feels right. And as for the discarded part? Hello sequel!!

  12. Colin Bisset says:

    Great post and you’re absolutely right that it’s the best incentive to write what you love. It’s the most bizarre thing to go back so often to the same piece of the writing, after all, but no hardship, really. And yes, yes, yes, working with an editor is fantastic and such a gift. I was a little prickly after the first editing copy came back to me as it seemed hyper-critical and didn’t have any praise for the lovely bits (and my wobbly ego). But I knew she was right and once I’d gone through (most of but not all) the changes, my editor was totally relaxed and pointed out all the bits she loved. Phew. It’s just that weird thing of writing on your own for so long and then These People come in and tell you it’s not good enough…We have to be slightly odd to do it.

  13. carolynswriting says:

    Fantastic post Catherine, felt your pain and all the gains! Especially the “loving your book” part – it’s a long time to live with characters, even if it’s fun to turn their world upside down every now and again 🙂

  14. alison345 says:

    Totally agree, Catherine – getting edits back is AWFUL at first and then you see how valuable they are. It’s like being on your own personal writing course and you FEEL the book getting better. Well done you! Looking forward to seeing the book out there on the shelves – now there’s a post I’m looking forward to!!

  15. ellarconnolly says:

    Thanks for writing this and being so open about the writing process. I dream of having my own book deal one day and this is a post I really needed to make me realise the reality of that challenge but also be encouraged by the fact that it can be done! Thanks again 😊

  16. The Sandwich Years by Alana Kirk says:

    Catherine, you couldn’t have written this post at a better time for me…. love your description of the vomit draft (which is exactly how i have described getting out all the stuff in my head) and having put it in a drawer for a couple of weeks am going to start cleaning up the mess. This is a great post – I’m keeping it handy when I’m lost in stickies!

  17. Marianne Knowles says:

    Catherine, thanks so much for a great post, with all the pain and celebration! I’m just finishing the first draft of my first long work, and it’s toooooo looooooonnnnngggg. But I can look forward to the editing part! Next book I’ll try the “vomit draft” approach. It sounds like it will save time in the long run.

  18. danielleleneedavis says:

    I enjoyed reading about your process. My first book was in my head for two years before I wrote a word. Once I started writing, I kept going back to edit what I’d previously written. That was a bad idea! For the second book, I wrote until I got the story down before editing anything. I found that to be a better way to do it…for me. It’s with an editor now and I’m about to start the third book in the series.

    I am looking forward to reading your book. I enjoy mysteries! Is the second book a standalone or is it a sequel? Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  19. beccitamaklo says:

    I love this post! Thank you for sharing your story, by the end I felt so delighted for you! I hope your book is a huge success. I hope to embark on a journey like this one day 🙂

  20. Lady Jewels Diva says:

    “Because I wanted the spoils, but I wasn’t prepared to do the hard work first. Not if I didn’t absolutely have to.”

    You don’t necessarily need to do ALL the hard work.

    Many years ago I either read a bigwig business person’s book, or heard a big wig business person on tv. They said something along the lines of “find mentors in your niche/area and study them, learn from everything they’ve done because they’ve made the mistakes along the way and done the wrong things and then turned them into the right choices and right ways of doing it. Learn from their mistakes and DON’T make them yourself, just follow their right choices and moves and you’ll skip the crappy bad parts.”

    So asking all the questions you did helped you. We need to study and learn from our peers to see what mistakes they make and the outcomes from them, and then not doing them ourselves. That’s what I’ve been doing by following you, and every other author I follow, I learn from your mistakes/choices and then make my own based on other’s experiences.

  21. Cassandra says:

    It’s a relief to hear that you wrote and rewrote the first chapters to get to the good stuff. My mind always tells me, “If it’s not good the first time around, don’t bother.” But that’s just not how stuff works! Thank you for sharing your process and I definitely look forward to hearing more about your publishing journey.

    • JulieAnn says:

      I use to think the same thing ie “if it’s not good the first time around, don’t bother” now it’s a case of walking away, enjoy a cuppa or glass of bubbly then go back and work on it 🙂

  22. DJ Kirkby says:

    I love reading your blog posts and tweets because I usually chuckle. This time your phrase ‘vomit draft’ has made me giggle all day. Partly because it is a hilarious way of thinking about *that* draft but also because it’s a way of avoiding writing a VD of my own!

  23. curiouscreator says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post! I found myself both amused and informed. It was very reassuring for me to see that you went through a great deal of re-writing in the beginning, as I am doing the exact same thing myself! Hopefully now that I know it happens to other people, I will be able to get through it and move on to my “Vomit Draft.” Thanks for the great post! 🙂

  24. velociraptor256 says:

    Thank you for posting this. For somebody who’s only at the first editing stage, and will almost certainly need to go backward from there, this gives an honest idea of the energy and effort needed to bring a novel to fruition. It may take me some time, but I hope I’ll get there eventually – I’ll need to take your advice and make this story something I love a bit more.

    Meanwhile, I have a fair collection of vomit drafts, all of them originating from NaNoWriMo.

  25. izzybone23 says:

    I wrote star wars in one sitting! I had three red bulls and two billy beers and thought of the whole plot and wrote it in crayons. Im the best writer ever. Im currently writing a book about a dinosaur them park that dinos break out and go crazy. Im gonna call it ” dinosaur theme park accident guest staring newman from seinfeld”.

  26. TAG says:

    I have almost 50 versions of my children’s picture book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. Between you and me, I love each one of them. I don’t feel like I settled on the final version – it’s the only version I wanted to see in print. That’s how I knew I was finished. Congrats on the book deal!

  27. saniasidiki says:

    As a creative writer who wants to publish her short stories in a country where agents and publishers are very hard to find, this was an inspiration. I reckon, as writers or poets, we are never really happy or satisfied with all our work but there comes a time, when one original piece makes all the difference. I hope you may see my blog and give me honest criticism because it would mean a lot coming from someone who just got a book deal. I am overjoyed at your good fortune and hope that your book, would be on my bookshelf as soon as it is published. Amen.

  28. Anvita says:

    Oh wow! Thank you so much for that wonderfully detailed and meticulous post! Having just finished my first non fiction book about the history of pageants, I am now concentrating on writing my first fiction novel, and this is extremely helpful in that, that it provides such a realistic breakdown of the process.

    A very big thank you to you!

  29. housewifeish says:

    This is amazing. I’m always in awe of people who sludge their way through such a massive undertaking. I just started my blog (you know, an entire 5 weeks ago), and I’d like to see where that takes me for awhile, but I’d love to go through the agonizing process of extracting the book I know I’ll need to write. I can’t wait to follow along and see your progress!

  30. kim881 says:

    Thank you for an honest, enjoyable post. I sent my novel for children to over twenty agents and publishers and have so far received five rejections. I don’t feel so disappointed after reading your post.

  31. meganchapple says:

    I’ve perhaps got up to 10000 words with about 3 stories but I’ve always gotten stuck after that and given up. I think I was hoping after that the whole story would be clear to me and if wasn’t then it wasn’t very good. Thanks for the vomit draft idea.

  32. OnceUponAMommysTime says:

    Thank you for this post. I have decided to start a book of my own and am really excited about it although my hectic life does not give me as much time as I would love to have to write as much as I want. I appreciate the motivation and a little look into the process so I can know what to expect 🙂

  33. Revynn says:

    Thank you for this. I continue to get stuck on stories because, at about 25-30% through, I run out of steam, start to wander away from any semblance of plot or second guess the whole concept. I end up getting discouraged and abandoning the project. As you said, amateurs like me tend to get the idea that the “pros” can knock out a workable draft ready for submission in a few weeks, which is just not realistic.

    I actually kind of want to resurrect my space opera now. =)

  34. miriam h says:

    Congratulations on your book! This was exactly the sort of post I needed to read right now. Very informative. I will definitely be keeping up with your postings as you write the second book.

  35. loguga says:

    The diagrams and the planning look great! What a monumental work, but I guess the biggest mind map is in your mind. Like the one you review when you go to bed, that was my experience when I was doing my dissertation.

  36. Vanessa Ann Fuller says:

    This post was insightful. It’s amazing where writing takes you – sometimes it’s smooth sailing, but other times it’s very stop and go.

  37. sonworshiper says:

    Thanks for the enlightening explanation of your journey. I’m sitting on a first draft (maybe slightly better than a vomit draft?) of a fantasy novel, and struggling with what seems like the mountain of work needed between now and a finished product I can be proud of. Good reminder that I’m not alone.

  38. JulieAnn says:

    What a fabulous article. There is so much love, sweat and tears absorbed in the pages of a much loved novel, but worth it in the end.

    I am sure all readers of this post would agree with me when I say, it’s better to have given it a go than not to have tried at all. With your wise words you have inspired many to keep working at their dreams 🙂

  39. Eric Klingenberg says:

    Thanks for the post it’s very encouraging. I stopped my book after 40K words and now have started again by editing everything I’ve written I was amazed at how much bad writing I had done! I was also interested to read you didn’t get an editor before sending it to an agent, most advice blogs I have read say you must do this first, there always seams to be exceptions to the rules.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I do know authors who either worked with an editor or got an editor’s report/manuscript assessment before submitting to agents – including one who went from rejections to a six-figure deal – but I felt like this wasn’t my first rodeo! 😀 I’ve worked in publishing for the last 3 years, almost, and self-published, and I’d gone through a round of submission/rejection with a novel I’d written around 2009/2010 that was in a completely different genre. Therefore I feel like I knew what was expected of me, and I’m not sure a freelance editor could’ve helped me anymore than I could help myself at that stage. But that’s just me…

      • Eric Klingenberg says:

        Thanks for your reply, bearing in mine I ‘m a total novice and not as brave as you I’m going to get an editor when I’m ready. However your story is very inspiring thanks for sharing it.

  40. victoriadionne says:

    Wow Catherine! Loved reading your blog. Made me feel not so alone in redoing my stories. I have currently have this issue where I come up with so many ideas that only some of them would work with my current story that I am writing. I loved the wall of post it notes with ideas to change them around. I am so using that! I to love coffee and books! I think it’s the greatest combo for a born writer 🙂

  41. bzgreen says:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom & insight with us all. Wishing you the best of luck! I look forward to peeking through your journey as I start my own.

  42. ruthlakes says:

    Fantastic post, and so inspirational. Just started writing my first novel – or the first one that’s felt like the novel I want to write. I’ll be using the post its and scene boards myself, great idea.

  43. Hamilton Augustus Marshall says:

    Totally agree on the absolute exhaustion you get to when you have to open and revise yet another time. Countless is the term I would use to describe it or exhaustive or repulsive or even required. It has to be done right whether or not we want to and that is ultimately the answer. I love writing and hate rewriting but it is still worth it.

  44. The Whisper Corner says:

    YES, this is exactly the kind of blog I’ve been looking everywhere for! Love it, may as well get comfy Im gonna be here a while haha great posts!

  45. ejshoko says:

    Great post. I always get the impression that the ability to write and write well/beautifully is a bell shaped curve. The ones that find it easy either suck at it or are really really good. Rest of us are in the middle. I am editing right now..lots of effort. I’m Motivated by your post though!

  46. byefeliciafuego says:

    I wanna learn to write a book…..I think it would be great! Reality t.v can never take the place of a great book!!! I’d rather have those around who take time to read then to look blankless I’m my life!

  47. judethomasnz says:

    My very first historical novel has come back from the editor suggesting i change the entire format. I’ve used a 2-voice narrative: one in present tense 1858-72, and one in past tense l923 by the protagonist looking back and filling in the blanks. My editor suggests rewriting it in a simple chronological. What to do?

    • Susan Lee Kerr says:

      Hi Jude, In my just self-published historical (1850-1900), after trying for years to find the voice for it in various creative ways, I finally bit the bullet. Decided to stop being clever and just Tell the Story, chronologically. Writing flowed more easily and naturally; readers say they find it gripping, compelling. So do not be afraid to try.

  48. Mark Newman says:

    “So now I still didn’t have an agent, but I did have a finished book I was happy with.” Current mood. Overhauled my MS and going to new agents and a few who politely said no a few years back. I agree with what you said about being madly in love with your book. If not you then who?

    PS, I hated The Girl On The Train and gave up after Megan’s second chapter…it was a horrific reading experience for me. Picked up The Yard and am on page 305 and worried that the book will be over soon. (That’s how I want to feel about my book!)

  49. K says:

    I’m really glad this was on the freshly pressed page and I was able to come across it! This definitely helped bring me back to earth (I daydream soooo much about writing a book and making a million dollars just like that). Thank you for reminding me that I need to focus on working hard first before I spend too much time thinking I’m going to end up on Oprah or something. Haha. This was really nice to read! Thanks for sharing it!

  50. DustySpider says:

    What a great post! Love your photos that document the evolution of your books as well. Congrats! “Vomit draft” Love it. When my first book was published, I thought, “Cool! I’ll write another one now.” Little did I know there would be EIGHT drafts before book #1 was fit to print. Such a learning experience. But worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

  51. Karl Drobnic says:

    I agree with what you said about rewriting when something doesn’t feel right, and sticking to your guns when it does feel right. Tennessee Williams reportedly rewrote his plays again and again, long after they had been published and performed. Hemingway was a dedicated re-writer, honing and honing his sentences. It’s part of any type of good writing, not just of novel writing.

  52. emilyandsarai says:

    I appreciate you sharing your knowledge about writing a book over your blog. I have gone through and read a couple of your post and now I have a lot more knowledge on how to write a book. I am a 14 year old girl who has always been interested in sharing my story through a book, but I’ve been struggling on where to start. I know I’m a little young to write a book but I have been working on one. I can’t tell you how many drafts I’ve done just on the first page! This post was very reassuring. Thanks again! -Sarai

  53. glasgowdragonfly says:

    Firstly congratulations! Secondly, thank you for your candor in sharing the highs and lows of your journey. It is easy to get overwhelmed to the point of giving up and your story has inspired me to keep going. I look forward to following your story.

  54. lanifeibor says:

    Thank you for the great post, and a bit of insight into the process. I really think “Vomit Draft” is aptly titled. Sometimes you just have to force the ideas out onto paper, no matter how messy they are. From there you can clean them up and turn them into something presentable.

  55. jholder9 says:

    I’m extremely happy I found this post! I’ve always wonder about all the work that goes into making and publishing a book! Being a writer ( beginner level), this is really helpful and encouraging! I look forward to hearing more about your books and to future posts! ^.^

  56. Camp Fire Writers' Network says:

    Reblogged this on campfirewriters and commented:
    I’ve been working on my first novel for two and a half years now, and i still don’t think it’s good enough to shop for a deal yet. Maybe after this draft. (if only that wasn’t exactly what i said after the previous draft). How many drafts before your fascinating story grows stale on you? Hopefully i won’t find out.

  57. Camp Fire Writers' Network says:

    I didn’t know what to expect with the intro, but i’m glad i stopped by to read. I thought was just another shallow read about how many drafts a writer gotta ink out. I actually learned a thing or two, thanks for the awesome read.

  58. wendymc12 says:

    Fantastic post. It’s amazing to see the work that truly goes into writing a book. Thanks so much for sharing so much valuable information.

  59. Moira Noesgaard says:

    I am attending a writing group and attempting to write a first draft of my “book”. Haven’t even reached the levels of your writing but I am already finding it challenging. I have fleshed out a synopsis of the basic chapters and I roughly know where I am going. I have read Kate Grenville’s book on how she started and then rewrote her book heaps of times before she went through the editing process. So your descriptions are wonderful to my ears, having read alot of books I had no idea the actual writing process has to be this extended in order to make some sense of turning your ideas into credible written words. Thankyou.

  60. seedoconquer says:

    Loved this post! Very helpful and gives readers an accurate view of the process. On another note, you’re from Ireland huh? I backpacked with my girlfriends last summer and loved your country. I would move there tomorrow, no lie!

  61. PuercaLinda says:

    You have great insight. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the controlled chaos behind each of these drafts. It is encouraging to know that there are other writers out there that have written and rewritten those first 30,000 words. Great work!

  62. johnberk says:

    This was probably the most powerful case study I have read on writing a book draft. Being myself a social scientist, I have to struggle with writing quite a lot, but I found some similarities in your and my line of work. Starting over and over, becoming clear, helping to focus on the important stuff, learning about what I don’t know, these topics are ever present in my line of work as well. What I need the most is a good french coffee and sweets to stay alive during the late hours I keep working on my articles and dissertation project.

  63. S.E.May says:

    I couldn’t put my finger on the draft that I was doing, and you’ve fingered it for me. I’m doing a vomit draft. Thank you thank you thank 🙂 And congratulations, I’ll be reading.

  64. L. Palmer says:

    This is a great overview of how many drafts it takes to have something great. I think if writers think only of how many drafts it takes, then we’ll go crazy. I think it’s better to think “What do I think the book needs now?”
    While I’m still in the minor leagues, I just self-published my first book and have friends ask me how long it took to write it – a genuine question, yet far more complicated than they realize. I feel that’s the same pandora’s box of a question as, “How many drafts did it take?” (My answer: A lot.)

  65. sajidahkazmi says:

    One of my stumbling blocks is knowing if/when one’s book is REALLY good. Ok, a writer can follow all the writing books, courses, instructions, but you have spelled it out beautifully. It isn’t until the professionals who evaluate writing for a living get involved and it’s their livelihood on the line here, too, that the juices get flowing and the writing gets really polished. Personally, I’m on chapter 8 first draft and I found your blog to be incredibly encouraging – a plan for after the lonely job of writing. It sounds exciting and encouraging to me! Thanks!

  66. Mujahid Habib says:

    It inspires me to write, not actually inspires to write but inspire me to complete a story. That I want to write but don’t have any idea how to begin or how much time to give for deadline. Thanks nice post 👌😃

  67. adadsview says:

    I love this post. It gives a really down to earth insight into the process that I can get my head around.
    I still haven’t found out if I’m one of those people who “wants to write a book” or if I’m one of those people who will actually write a book someday. In the meantime though, this certainly gives me food for thought.

  68. catherineryanhoward says:

    Thank you everyone for your lovely comments! There’ll be no Book 2 if I respond to them all individually but I have read them all and I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! 😀

  69. gina amos says:

    Enjoyed your post. Writing is so daunting and such an involved process. Editing is the best bit when you can step back from what you’ve written and see it through a professional editor’s eyes. VOMIT DRAFT – love this 😉

  70. Barbara Barbex says:

    This was fascinating! Thank you for sharing your process, it really put things in perspective. I also love the pictures of your planning and outlines, I never thought of doing it that way and not digital and I will try that out.

  71. Café Birdy says:

    I loved this post. I’m a college student hopeful of becoming a published author. I’ve been nervous about this process and the craziness that’s been going on in order to help me get there. I’ve second guessed my decision of being a creative writing major more than a handful of times. My confidence in my writing has shifted often and I felt doubtful that is ever get to have my work read and taken seriously – but I’m definitely going to keep working hard in order to get there. Thanks for your informative post and a new blog for me to follow!

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