Final Drafts Require Deliberateness

After so many years of writing, I've gained a lot of experience, but one thing still eludes me. The finer details of prose. What goes into choosing the best words for a scene, a paragraph, a sentence? What makes a piece of dialogue sound brilliant?

In the past I would have said brevity, and left the rest to intuition, but brevity isn't the whole story. Brevity brings me to the door, but it doesn't always give me the key. There's something more.

And relying only on intuition, I don't think I'm choosing the right words deliberately.

Obviously it's pointless to be deliberate in the rough draft, as it would slow me (and most other writers) down. Deliberation is for the final draft, yet this is the point in the process I've had the least experience with.

The English language offers a vast variety of possible combinations. There are numerous ways to write a single line, let alone an entire page or chapter.

So to just write the story doesn't seem to be enough. The story must be good. It must be on par with the best writing I'm capable of—at least for the moment. I owe that to readers. Attention to detail and conscious deliberateness seem vital.

I know the most efficient method is to break the story down into its parts, taking a little bit at a time. If I were to cut down a forest, I would not do it randomly. I would do it methodically. So too must I edit my stories. This doesn't “explain” what to do, though it tells me how.

What I very well may need is practice. In the past I've always stopped short of the final process. I've given up before then, moving on to another story, something fresher, something that needed broad strokes to complete.

Well, if practice is what I need, practice is what I'll get!

And in my experience, working through the process usually lent me the answers I've sought after.

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20 Responses to Final Drafts Require Deliberateness

  1. Well sir as ever I have no idea lol, I never finish a first draft before starting something new :)

  2. You must, you must! Editing is an interesting (thought sometimes forgettable) experience :D

  3. I used to just throw it all out there as it came when I wrote my articles. I did what I felt was my best but very little did I edit. I also used to post articles every day. I've realized, to increase the quality of what I write I have to not stop past the point of it merely flowing out on paper and just publish it then. I have to go back and really meticulously examine every sentence..its grammar, its structure and its content. When I started to do that more I realized I had much more need of editing than I previously thought! It takes time, dedication and a bit of humility, but it's essential in producing the best quality that we can at the time.

  4. I'm with you, J.R. Editing for final doesn't come easy and is probably my most distasteful of tasks, so I usually move on before fully complete. For this reason I'm going through a publisher who does a very full and complete final edit even after I've gone through it once or twice myself. In some ways I believe its because I like the big picture of the story, not the minor details of grammar and flow.

  5. S. Scott, there's nothing like fresh writing. Editing really can be painful at times. I just hope I'm better at editing than I give myself credit for.

    Jessica, This is too true! Really sitting down and taking a good hard look at our writing can be a challenge, but it does have a big upside.

  6. The more I write, the less attached I'm becoming to what I've written in terms of being self-critical. I know I have to get it out, write it down, but find that letting it "sit" for awhile is the best medicine for fair and honest critique.
    Yes, it would be a blast to get it all right the first time through; sometimes, it happens, but mostly it doesn't. It's a learning process and a humbling one to go back and edit one's own work.

  7. The way I edit my letters, blog posts, even my shopping list. I think that I'd probably be to critical at editing my own "book" and would never be finished. The best thing for me would be write it, let it sit, then go back and re read with the mindset to only edit if absolutely necessary...

  8. These are wonderful pointers, JR. And practice, yes, is definitely important! :-)

  9. I'm a big believer in editing and find it essential to producing quality writing. There are always things I'm not happy with and no matter how many times a piece is reviewed something can be improved upon. Sometimes I believe I'm too critical of my work but if I'm not then who? Take care!!

  10. Practice practice practice. What I have found,since I am not a writer; is that I can not improve on what I've written, if I don't know how. I try to make sure spelling is correct and grammar, I write as I speak I don't edit a lot when I speak.I actually do edit my speech in certain circumstances.

  11. Martha...I kill my darlings a little too happily? I'd love to be less self critical XD

    Debbie, I know the let it sit philosophy has merit but I simply cannot! The longer it waits, the less chance I'll have to ever finish it. Got to work when the iron's hot.

    Irene, Thank you!

    David, I'm the same way. If I self publish this novel, in twenty years I'll probably still be making it better, lol. But at some point I need to learn to just let goooo.....

    Jan, that's too true. I think you summed up my post in "Practice practice practice. What I have found,since I am not a writer; is that I can not improve on what I've written, if I don't know how." Thanks :)

  12. Aaha ask me Nova, in comparision to u m fairly newbie...n i edit even i dunno hw many times n d prob s dat m neva satisfied....i feel there s still more...n sometimes i m soo baffled dat i post it coz more i edit, more i add, everytime its something diff...
    Sometimes people like it so much n m like no its ok..yes u r right if a writer has set standards he cannot go below tht...

    I lwys learn somethin wen i read ur posts....

  13. I write and then close it and wait for a fresher mind to edit and once done then click and post.......

  14. I embrace the "write it now, then walk away for a few hours" concept, also. A great deal of the time, when I'm in the midst of writing, I think what I'm working on is garbage. That's typical for me, but I've learned to not edit or interrupt myself and just keep writing. After I walk away for a while, sometimes an hour, sometimes a day or longer, then come back and review, I am often more than pleasantly surprised with the content.

    This doesn't mean that editing isn't necessary, of course! I think we all can benefit from refining and tweaking, streamlining, etc. Brevity...alas...this is my nemesis!

    Great thought process here, JR!

    - Dawn

  15. It is so easy to get distracted with perfecting the first sentence, paragraph, chapter, that we never finish the work. I subscribe to Anne Lamott's advice about writing the "shitty first draft" and save polishing and cleaning for later drafts. Since I'm a 20+ draft writer, I speak from experience. Every time I go through a manuscript, I find ways to make it better. So, I never give up. It's only done when an editor at a publisher says it's done. Or, when I hit the send button and publish electronically. Either one makes me stop revising.

  16. Thanks, Mani :D

    Dawn, I let things like blog posts set for a day or two before I edit them. That's really refreshing, but like always, wait too long...bad things happen.

    Betsy, "20+"?? I thought my four or five drafts were a lot, haha! I totally agree about first drafts and not worrying about what is written. I write like that. It's why they call them "rough". They were meant to be that way.

  17. The "Cult of Done" manifesto might be useful here:

    Basically, you can always edit things more, you can always "perfect" things more... Sometimes you just have to declare something done, release it, and move on.

    There's a lot of value in seeing something to completion and then starting the next project. That means that you not only have to DO the editing, but you also have to STOP editing at some point.

    This is basically the approach I'm taking with my Year of Stories ( this year. I'm putting out a new short story every Monday, whether I think it's been deliberated over enough or not. I'm getting things done, and there's a lot of value in that.

    Good luck on your journey to "master" the final draft process, JR!

  18. You must be working like an animal to do a short story a week! But then I have a lot to learn about "finishing" things as well. Great advice, Tim, I'm sticking it in my pocket for future reference :)

  19. Timing, is everything... I finished the final edits of my novel last night and as I logged out of my computer, I asked myself..."are you sure,, are you really sure you are finished?" Of course, the writer can go on and on, tweak endlessly, ever unsure. I'd like to swear I know I am done-done, but I suspect I could tweak more, but ...I will let it be done for now. A friend told me a while ago to be good at anything it requires and investment of 10,000 hours. I sure fell I have log the time.

  20. I like the 10,000 hours theory. To master anything requires at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

    I wonder at one point we must finally say "enough is enough" and take what we learned from one project and put it into another one?


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