How Many Drafts?

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How many drafts do you need before you can call your novel finished? It’s an excellent question, deserving of a solid answer, but the truth is, no one has an exact number. However, there are a few things you need to do before you can call your project done. Let’s get you going with a finish-line checklist.

The First of the Drafts

This is your biggest hurdle. Why? Because like any marathon, not everyone completes the race. After the initial gunshot, many start out, but a good chunk of the participants will drop out and never cross the finish line. Try to beat the odds and complete that writing project!

Start out by setting yourself up for success–create and use an outline. This valuable tool helps keep you on track while providing a much-needed roadmap. Do you have to stick to your outline? No. Change it as needed. Do you have to write chapter 1, then 2, then 3, until you reach the end? No. Don’t feel like writing that important plot-groundwork scene? Then don’t. Go write the fun action scene instead.

Here are a few other first draft tips:

  • While in a writing session, do NOT stop and go look something up on the internet. You’ll get sucked into some stupid rabbit hole or a social media time-suck and your writing time will dissolve into the ether. 
  • Avoid writing in a location that has the internet, or, shut your wifi off altogether while you’re writing.
  • Make time to do research and have separate research sessions. If you’re in a writing flow, keep a notebook nearby or place a comment into the draft that says something like, look up transdermal oxygen transmission. Then refer back to these notes during your research sessions.
  • Set reasonable goals for yourself. An average novel is around 80,000 words. If you decided to write every week for four months, you’d need to write 5,000 words a week. If that’s not feasible, adjust the numbers. Use a writing program like Scrivener that has built-in word count goals to keep yourself on track. 

The Second Draft

To me, this always felt like a victory lap. You’ve completed the project, huzzah! But it still needs fine-tuning. Give yourself a break between the first and second drafts. Then, when you’re feeling refreshed, dive in again with fresh eyes. You’ll be looking for the following:

  • Continuity. Are the events unfolding in a logical timeline? Do any of your characters unintentionally change their names, hair color, eye color, or aversion to coffee? If so, fix these continuity errors right away, and if you haven’t started one already, create a character Story Bible
  • Pacing. Are you staggering and changing the flow of the story? You should be. Check out this post for more information.
  • Glaring Grammatical Errors
  • Check your tense. Make sure you’re not moving back and forth between past and present tense.

And so on …

After the second draft, you might want to run through for a third pass, checking on the changes you’ve made. It’s also, at this point, where you might want to seek outside help. I strongly advise hiring an editor and a proofreader. An editor will help you sort out any character and story issues while a proofreader will help lock down the grammatical and continuity errors. Once each person makes their pass, guess what? You need to read through it again and check the changes.

So, as I said, there’s no magical number. However, there are a few steps you can follow to help give your book all the love and attention it needs. 

Just remember to take the time and celebrate your amazing achievement! Finishing a novel is a wonderful accomplishment, so pat yourself on the back and enjoy the moment. 

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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