Many new writers ask, “How many drafts does it take to write a good book that is ready for publication?”
The frustrating answer is, “As many drafts as it takes to write a good book ready for publication.”
Some writers can create beautiful, publication-ready prose right out of the gate that only requires minor tweaking in few subsequent drafts. I am not one of those writers.
For me, writing a book is like building a living person, with a draft of my book corresponding to each stage of creating a human body. In the first draft I create the skeleton of the story, which contains the main theme, or spine, as well as the conflicts connected to the theme that are resolved in the end. These conflicts are like the ribs, arm, leg, and other bones connected to the spine. For writers who outline their books, the outline is their skeleton. Everything must be in alignment here, although adjustments can be made along the way.
In my second draft I focus on the characters, which are the heart, brain, and circulatory system of the story that give it life. In other words, the organs. If something doesn’t work with one of the organs, it throws the whole system off. Similarly, if one of your characters isn’t quite right, the story just doesn’t work.
My third draft refines the dialogue and description, which give the story emotional impact. This is the connective tissue, the muscle that gives power to the story. This is the draft I’m currently working on, and the most challenging for me.
The fourth draft is where I plan to focus intently on grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. These are like the skin, hair, and nails that make the book presentable for the outside world.
Writers can get help from a qualified editor at any stage of this process, depending on whether they want a developmental edit or a copy-writing edit.
This is a simplified view of the book-writing process, because in reality, all of these stages can be happening simultaneously while writing. Some parts of the story might warrant ten drafts, while others need only two, but thinking of building my story this way helps me to focus on the different story components, all equally important to creating a beautiful, living story that is ready to go out into the world.