My Revision Process: How Many Drafts and What Are They All For?

Posted on: 18th Oct 2012  /   Categorized: Cress

Guess what! I finished Draft #4 of Book 3: CRESS yesterday! It was an all-day extravaganza, but I’m very happy to have it done. That now leaves me with two weeks to complete one additional read-through and make some minor adjustments before I send it off to my agent and beta-readers. And then: NaNoWriMo!


Here’s some stats on the progression of Cress:


Note: The first draft of Cress was sort of written at the same time as Cinder and Scarlet. Because those first books changed so significantly, I ended up starting over anew with Draft #2 of Cress without even bothering to look at the first draft. Therefore I consider it a “non-draft” and won’t be including it here.


If anybody cared.


Total Word Count:

Draft #2: 69,328

Draft #3: 110,868

Draft #4: 129,108


(Holy cow, they grow up fast! I know there’s a lot of filler in the current draft and estimate that at least 10,000 words will be cut during polishing rounds.)


Number of Chapters:

Draft #2: unknown (wasn’t divided)

Draft #3: 51

Draft #4: 56


Time it Took to Write/Revise:

Draft #2: 4 weeks

Draft #3: 14 weeks

Draft #4: 10 weeks


Words saved from previous draft:

Draft #2: 0

Draft #3: appr. 15,000

Draft #4: appr. 80,000




So, this all creates a nice segue into my next craft topic. I’ve gotten lots of questions recently about my drafting and revision process:


Lo asks: Could you go through what you do in the second draft? … Could you talk a bit about the in between stages of 1 – 2 and then 2 -3 ?


Mime asks: How many drafts do you usually go through before you get a finished result? Do your books change a lot between drafts? Do you even DO a few different drafts?


KathrynPurdie asks: Do you have certain things you watch for/revise for with each draft?



I’m going to try answer all these drafting questions in one fell swoop by giving a semi-detailed breakdown of how I treat my drafts.


But first, an important caveat:


Every book is different. Every writer has a different process. I’m still learning the best techniques for me and fully expect them to continue to change over time, and I definitely suggest that writers be flexible with their process and always willing to try new things.


Ahem. Now then. Here’s how my drafting process typically goes:


Pre-Drafting: I’m big on outlines. You all probably know this by now, and I’ll be talking about outlines in more depth next week. I create mini character profiles and come up with interesting settings and generally let my imagination run wild.


Draft #1: I like to write this draft as fast as possible, NaNoWriMo-style. I like to get all my ideas down on paper while the excitement is running high. I’m a big fan of momentum and I also feel that most of the magic for me happens during revisions, so I’m always eager to get that first lump of a story in front of me so I can start chipping away and rearranging and exploring and ultimately crafting it into the book I want it to be. My first drafts suck and I’m used to that.


Breaks: I take a break of at least a week and sometimes up to a month in between every draft. I often get some of my best ideas for plot twists during these breaks and they always reinvigorate me for the next round. I strongly encourage all writers to work in some mental downtime!


Draft #2: Thus far, Draft #2 has consistently been an entire re-write or almost an entire re-write (although I have discovered that the more planning I do in the outlining and pre-draft stage, the less rewriting I have to do). Sure, most of the characters remain the same and if I’m lucky big portions of the plot will remain the same also, but I’ve found that there’s usually some big consistency or logic issues with the way things come about. In my 1st drafts I often find myself relying on “fate” or “coincidence,” so in the 2nd draft I really focus on making sure things happen because the characters are making dynamic decisions and every action creates a domino effect leading into the next plot point.


Drafts #3 and #4: At some point between these two drafts the plot is pretty solid and I have a much clearer idea of who my characters are. Now I’m filling in the blanks, such as any lingering plot holes or unconvincing character motivations. These are also my “deepening” drafts. I’m looking for ways to raise the stakes even higher, to amplify my characters’ quirks and personalities, to bring in new enlightening backstory, to add foreshadowing and bring any known themes to life through symbolism and dialogue, to insert good sensory details so the reader (hopefully) gets that transported-to-another-world feeling.


Beta Readers: At some point around Draft #3 and #4, I feel confident enough to send the manuscript to my critique partners, agent, and editor. Depending on their comments, I might continue to make big plot and character changes, or I might have to make only minor adjustments to fix any issues they’ve spotted. This is where the Draft Breakdown becomes murky and can vary widely from book to book.


Polishing Rounds: Once the book has been reviewed and I’m confident that the plot, characters, setting, stakes, suspense, climax, etc., are as strong as I can make them, I go through at least two or three polishing rounds. (Luckily, these usually go pretty fast!) Because it can be hard for me to keep in mind all the different editing techniques, I will sometimes focus on specific things during each round:


– one round for cutting extra words and phrases (i.e. “she nodded her head” becomes simply “she nodded”). I often cut anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 unnecessary words in this round, so it’s a really important one.


– one round to fix word crutches.


– one round to focus on the overall feel and flow of the story and check for consistency issues.


I wrote more about hunting down crutch phrases and conducting polishing rounds here:


And that’s pretty much my multi-draft process! Feel free to talk about your own processes in the comments. And next week I’ll be talking more about outlining and Nano prep, so keep those questions coming! 🙂


  1. Flameysaur commented on:

    I do similar stuff when revising but without beta readers. Not because I don’t want them (I grow really insecure about my work after 2/3/4 drafts) but because I struggle with meeting people who I trust, are interested in editing it and who will actually do it. I don’t like to just get a random person on a writing website to do it but I have no writing friends so it’s hard. My school had a writing group but I’m graduating in May and my drafts won’t be really “done” by then.So yeah, that gets annoying.

    I do like completely dropping Draft 1 for Draft 2. I find Draft 1 to be a very detailed outline and draft 2 to be more likely the “actual” book.

    Though don’t you love that time when you have a plot hole (maybe not even realized) then suddenly character motivation clicks into place and it changes the entire story but it makes so much more sense now. I had one of those recently and it was great.

  2. Kathryn Purdie commented on:

    Thanks for writing this up! Wow, I’m so impressed with your process and all the hard work, thought, and detail that goes into your drafts. I think I put too much pressure on myself to have my early drafts be “perfect,” and I’m slowly learning to expect that they shouldn’t be, but to be satisfied with what they did produce.

  3. Marissa commented on:

    Oy, yes, aiming for perfection can be a horrible trap! I try not to even think about the P-word until I’m in the polishing stages. And I really enjoy how each new draft reveals more and more about the story and characters – it’s kind of like sifting for gold – and I know that my imagination can only be brilliant in bits and pieces at a time. If I tried to make the early drafts perfect and complex and beautiful, I would be a very frustrated writer. 🙂

  4. Leigh Smith commented on:

    This is an amazing post! I love how you’ve broken the whole thing down. I really needed to read this right now because I’m about to start Draft Two which will in (nearly) no way resemble Draft One and I love how you referred to Draft One as a “non-draft”.
    I’m torn about doing NaNo because I love the motivation and community but I didn’t want to feel like I was cheating since I’ve written a draft of this book already. I’ll be starting a new/blank word doc and plan on writing 50,000 new words and as I said it’s a complete rewrite and I won’t even be referring to the first draft. I feel like the first draft was just an exploration of my world and a way to figure out my characters and what the story was really about. What are your thoughts on this for NaNo. Is it cheating?

  5. Jessica Brody commented on:

    Marissa! Love this post. It’s always so interesting to see how other authors work. This process is so different from mine but still so inspiring! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  6. Photina commented on:

    This is such a great and helpful post. I also love how you call your first draft a “non-draft.” I have been writing short stories and have played around with the idea of NaNoWriMo but I don’t think I am ready this year. It is a goal of mine to participate in it though. I am so looking forward to Scarlet coming out next year. And this makes me excited for Cress even more now.

  7. Marissa commented on:

    Leigh, it is definitely not cheating to rewrite your novel during NaNo! I actually did that exact same thing for the 2nd draft of CRESS. The purpose of NaNo is to inspire and motivate – it’s okay to make it work for you. ^_^

    Thanks, everyone, and happy writing!

  8. Mime commented on:

    Oh, my question! 🙂 Thank you so much, it’s sooo encouraging to know how many drafts a published author does and that sort of stuff. Makes me feel better about my junky collection of words. 😉 I think my main problem is that I’m losing momentum. Maybe I’ll try NaNoWriMo next year…

  9. Lo commented on:

    Aww, love these craft posts !! And all before NaNoWriMo 🙂 I am soooo excited for it – I’m hoping to work on my outline today and sit down and sift through some of the scene ideas I have.
    Thanks for the great post!!
    Lo xo

  10. WriterAlina commented on:

    I really love these craft posts you’ve been working on! I admire the fact that you’ve been able to express your process in such a clear way. After reading this post and many of the comments, I find that I agree that my “first draft” also tends to be a detailed outline instead of a real first draft. Goals and motivations are so important for the characters and I find that I probably try perfect these way too early in the writing process, so that creating “draft #2” ends up taking much longer than it should.

    I agree that NaNoWriMo is very motivating and even if I don’t always reach the 50000 word goal, I always use the motivation and momentum of the community to my advantage.

    Thanks for posting!!!

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