So, when I’d finished writing the first draft of Spaghetti Head it totalled 90,000 words. I closed the file for a month before again reading through it. ‘Really?’ I thought, ‘had I written that brilliant sentence? Followed by that page of total rubbish?’ I had, and it was clearly time for the red pen – or in my case, green pen. Red pens seem angry to me so I always use the more calming and encouraging colour of green.
But how much should I cut? And where do I put what I cut – and if I need to use it at a later date somewhere else in the manuscript how will I ever find it again?
I opened a ‘first draft deletions’ file and chapter by chapter I pasted in everything that I ruthlessly slashed from the draft. Some of it was well written, just not in the right place, so that went in a ‘first draft deleted but good’ file. Was this how best to do it? I had no idea – but it seemed a logical way to start.
Some characters excited me, others bored me. I cut the ones who bored me and listened to the ones I liked. If I found myself skipping over a passage I deleted it – it obviously wasn’t holding my interest. And so on and so forth. I was fleshing out and building up the areas that I liked at the same time, otherwise I’d have ended up with few words left!
The second draft was better. The third better still. I sent it to an advisory agency for feed-back and when the report came back with suggestions for changes I realised major surgery lay ahead. But how? How could I juggle 85,000 words into place? If I changed something on page 95 then it would have an effect on everything that went before it. As I sat wondering how I was ever going to get through this stage I realised one problem was that I didn’t know my story well enough.
I felt overwhelmed. I googled for help, but none came: I had to figure this out for myself. So what did I do? I sat in front of my computer, opened my manuscript and I read, re-read and re-read. I read it on-screen, I printed it out and read it, I read it in book format on my pc and I read it out loud until I was so sick of it I thought I’d never want to read it again. But I got to know it inside out.
The fourth draft was much better. I wrote cards with the chapter names on and what needed to change within that chapter and I shuffled the cards around on the floor. I developed time-line after time-line until I had everything happening in order.
The fifth draft was good. I read it into voice recorder on my iphone and listened back to it. BAM! That was a game-changer. If it didn’t sound right listening back then I figured it wasn’t anything that a character would normally say to anyone – so it was changed or cut. If it sounded good out loud then it was right. Any characters that seemed flat were beefed up. Any scene that I couldn’t see in my mind was changed. If I got to a section that I was struggling with, I circled around it until I realised what needed changing.
The sixth draft was definitely getting there. I sent it off to a professional editor and when it came back I went through the whole process again, incorporating all the changes. It was during the last re-write that I felt I knew my characters inside-out and that was when I made the most significant changes.. Even when I was bored to tears of the story I kept re-reading.
I made up my own rules for how to re-write from the first draft to the seventh and final: there is no magic formula – just sit down and get stuck in!