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How Bad Can a First Draft Be? Check Out Mine…

Since I bashed not one but two published authors last week, I think it only right to criticize myself and my own writing today.

One of the current manuscripts I’m working on, Proving America – the third and final book in the Founding America series – is an absolute wreck so far in its first-draft state.

I finished up the first draft earlier this year, then set it aside to work on the second draft of Flights of Fancy, the fifth and final book in the Faerietales series. That experience was an absolute blast, though I will admit I gave it straight to a beta reader of mine instead of following my normal editorial procedures, which is to set it aside for a bit before moving on to another round of revisions.

Why the switch-up?

There are just these two scenes about two-thirds of the way through that I’m not entirely sure about. On the one hand, they might be melodramatic, which is something I typically try to avoid. On the other hand, I really don’t feel like cutting them out and starting those sections from scratch. So my beta reader’s job is to tell me if they work as-is or if I need to suck it up and let them go.

If it’s the latter, I won’t lie. It’s going to be painful. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of words here. But I’d rather do that than be like that first author I picked apart last week.

All that aside, I picked Proving America back up to start editing it last week. The whole 114,059-word manuscript, which I already knew would have to be whittled down. What I didn’t realize was that "whittling" wasn't the half of it. I was also going to have to chop or rewrite a ton of stuff, all while wondering…

What in the world was I talking about when I wrote this?

I’m only on page 30 of my manuscript, yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just gone, “Huh?” I very well remember feeling exceptionally clever writing these sections out, so I’m sure I had some exceptionally clever intentions. But whatever they were then, I couldn’t tell you now. Not even if you threatened me with a War of 1812-era bayonet to my throat.

As such, it’s been extremely slow editing.

If I wanted to flatter myself, I might show you this edited page with its track-changed additions and deletions:

Doesn’t look too bad, right? I mean, sure there’s some red in there. But this is a first draft I’m looking over. It’s the second-draft-making process. So of course there’s going to be aspects I edit in and out.

But that’s only telling part of the story. Because there are also pages like this one:

There are 35 words there that I left alone. Thirty-five out of about 270.

You can do the math if you want, but I’d rather not. It seems more than sufficient to simply acknowledge how that’s a lot of edits we’re looking at.

Though it’s still better than this page:

Now, in my defense on this one, I am planning on moving most of these details somewhere else. They’re overall necessary. It’s just that I put them in the completely wrong place, droning on about setting stuff when I should have been focused on establishing the plot a bit better instead.

Therefore, my editorial job going forward, along with figuring out what in the world I’m trying to say, will be to disperse that data more naturally throughout the narrative.

And really, that’s what editing is all about: making a manuscript look as polished and professional as possible before you publish it… all so that it doesn’t look like something Virginia Woolf wrote back in the 20th century, or something that unnamed author wrote in the 21st.

Now that’s an editorial fate worse than death.

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