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First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 13th, 2011, 10:13 am
by Sanderling
A couple of weeks ago, an author on a group blog I read made a post about coveting thy neighbour's novels. That is, we read a book that we fall in love with and then look at our own works-in-progress and think: gosh, this is crap. There's no way it'll ever be as good as that novel. I wish I wrote like him/her.

The blog author went on to point out that we need to bear in mind that what we're reading has been through the polishing process many times over - it's been revised and edited and passed through many different hands and before many different eyes. Meanwhile, what we're writing is in the rawest of forms. It's not really fair to compare our first draft to the finished product of a published book.

And so I'm curious: just how different is a published book from its original first draft? Are there any published authors on these forums who would be willing to share a comparison of a page/scene from their published work and the same excerpt in first draft?

(Interestingly, I'm just now reading Nathan's blog post for today, which happens to be on the subject of coveting books.)

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 13th, 2011, 11:18 am
by polymath
What of my editorial works' progressions I have knowledge of I'm not permitted to publish. They are other persons' intellectual properties, which it is not in my discretion to share. Mine, pending publication are still confidential by agreement and custom and practice.

However, I can safely say there's a major progression from raw draft to publication and many, many screenings in between. I've read before and between and after manuscripts of several popularly and critically acclaimed authors, some in their early careers, some in their later careers, some in between. The notable differences besides rawness progressing toward polish are later emphasis on big picture concerns: central conflict, which relates to central theme, craft, voice, coherence, cogency, relevance, timeliness, and unity.

An editor, whether a struggling writer or another party, makes three general pass screenings toward successful publication submission, one a light copyedit for adjusting nondiscretionary mechanical style concerns, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and light fact checking and craft consistency. Medium copyediting intermediately screens style, discretionary and nondiscretionary, facts, and craft. Heavy copyediting heavily screens nondiscretionary and discretionary style, facts, craft, and voice. Sadly, it's been my experience most struggling writers stop at light copyediting, when they ought best start with heavy and progress toward light.

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 13th, 2011, 3:35 pm
by Leila
I think Mira said, somewhere in one of these topics, that on J.K Rowlings website, she has posted the first draft of her first chapter, which is considerably different from what it looked like at publication. She's right! I also found, on Rowlings site her explanation of some of the plot changes she made which, again, were significantly different from what she ended up publishing. Significantly.

I offer this as an example. Hope it's helpful. But otherwise, what Polymath said. He's our resident font of all knowledge in these here forums. Don't correct me, Polymath, (lol) I know the correct term is probably fountain of all knowledge and it's just been abbreviated over time or something like that.

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 13th, 2011, 6:06 pm
by polymath
Leila wrote:I offer this as an example. Hope it's helpful. But otherwise, what Polymath said. He's our resident font of all knowledge in these here forums. Don't correct me, Polymath, (lol) I know the correct term is probably fountain of all knowledge and it's just been abbreviated over time or something like that.
Font, fount, fountain, synonymous with source in that context.

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 14th, 2011, 9:45 am
by Sanderling
That'd be neat, Leila. I had a look around JK Rowling's site, but while I found the explanation of the plot changes, which you mentioned, I didn't see the first chapter. I find the interface of her website fun to explore but hard to search, so maybe I just wasn't looking in the right spot.

It's interesting that you make the distinction between heavy and light copyediting, polymath. Revision/edits has been a lot harder for me than the writing of the novel, which is somewhat interesting given how much emphasis is placed on just finishing the novel. Finishing the novel was never any trouble for me. But now that I'm here, it's harder to figure out what the next step is. Writing blogs, etc, sometimes give you a run-down of the steps that you need to go through during revisions/editing, but I think it's a little like learning to ride a bike: you can explain the theory till you're blue in the face, but the person won't /really/ know how to do it until they've tried (and failed) and figured it out themselves.

So far I've just been working on tightening up the plot and character development, and haven't really spent any time focused on the words themselves, but I've read through the manuscript a number of times now, twice after extended breaks from it, and I've never felt jarred by the writing, the style, voice, etc., haven't felt the need to change any of it except minor instances. I expect there's a whole spectrum among writers in terms of how close to finished the writing of the first draft is, but I don't know if perhaps I'm being willfully blind here, or if the writing is actually fine as it is. I do have a couple of people reading through it, and I hope that they might weigh in on this once they're done.

With all the writing blogs out there, something I've never come across is a comparison of how a page or passage has changed between first draft and published. The closest I've seen is Nathan's (former) client Natalie Whipple posted a series of excerpts showing her editing process. I think it'd be pretty fascinating for writers, and also enlightening to see how raw (or not!) the first-draft work of some of our favourite books was. Perhaps confidence-boosting, too.

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 14th, 2011, 10:27 am
by polymath
Bluntness and frankness aren't normal qualities for writers, at least they haven't been. Most of the writing anecdotes I've encountered have authors talking about how comparatively easy it was for them to write publishable or at least acquireable manuscripts, when it's anything but the case. With digital writing venues coming into their own of late, there's a lot more outside involvement in the process, potentially, than the solitary journeys writers had to travel in the not too distant past.

And a lot more truth in reporting a poet's journey because there's little possibility anymore of remembering only the easy parts when others are involved in every step along the way and ready to say, huh-uh, remember you started with so-and-so on such-and-such date and contradict disingenuous claims in the press.

I have to question any writer saying, Yeah, I wrote the novel over the weekend and it went right into print that week. Uh-huh. More like spent months or years mentally composing then dashed off a working draft in a couple months, then most of the rest of a year finessing it into publishable shape, and another year or so navigating edits with a publisher's editor, and another couple months reviewing the galley proofs for stet or strike.

And Bransforums is a good one as writing venues go. More courteous, less condemnation, more growth potential here than in other venues I've experienced, and I've been through dozens, online and face to face, about to do more, and more intensive face to face.

One amazing factor that will be my guiding factor in those face to faces is something I learned, practiced, and applied here at Bransforums. Build a strong foundation of rapport before weighing in with fault-finding, recognize everyone's entitled to a conscientious opinion, don't argue with opinions regardless, it's impossible, but be as persuasive and tolerant as circumtances permit, don't show intolerance as much as humanly possible, say what you mean, mean what you say, but don't start or escalate confrontations. Most of those are actually also applicable in comparison and/or contradiction application to craft and voice as well.

Focus on virtues, that was the biggy for me, that's a significant key to bluntly and frankly recognizing the shortcomings in one's own work. Counterintuitive, but one of if not the most effective ways to progress beyond mediocre intermediate struggling writer to breakout author.

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 18th, 2011, 9:16 pm
by Sanderling
I thought I'd responded to this, polymath, but either I didn't hit "post" or...

In any case, you make a really good point about how many people are involved in the creation of a publishable manuscript. Perhaps for a lot of people the first draft is a solitary endeavour, but the final product certainly isn't. I've got a non-fiction book being published next year, and I've been surprised at how much input there is behind-the-scenes, both in the publishing house and among one's friends and contacts. Also surprised at how looong the process is! As a complete newbie to publishing, I really had no idea.

And you're right - in these community ventures, places such as Bransforums and the like, the golden rule is paramount. You get as good as you give, and if you want to receive honest, friendly feedback, that's what you need to offer, too. And also, you need to give to receive. That latter part is hard, as an introvert and regular blog- and forum-lurker, but it's hard to build a rapport if you don't leave your shell!

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 19th, 2011, 8:56 am
by polymath
Yep, Sanderling, it's a long haul compared to the instant self-gratification humans, writers, favor.

One of the most infamous draft to publish anecdotes I'm familiar with; Jack Kerouac's On the Road. A novel draft written in twenty days on a cigarette, whiskey, and benzedrine fueled binge, on a taped-together scroll of tracing paper. Some Kerouac fans and family members disagree with the binge part. Kerouac's version of the event says the scroll was teletype paper. He later did type on contiguous scrolls. Some reports say he used butcher paper rolls.

On the Road was first published in 1957. But that was after six years of rewriting and revisions, which, in turn, was after four years from 1947 first inspiration to 1951 first draft. There's the ten-year principle in action, '47 to '57. There's artistic differences between Kerouac's finished manuscript and the first Viking Press published novel too, editorial mechanical style differences that affect the voice. A later edition restored Kerouac's punctuation and voice at his insistence.

Comparing the voice of the 1951 scroll draft to the 1957 published novel illustrates a procees of first draft to published work. The 1951 voice is flat and everyday conversational, lacking the sharp improvisational jazz voice of the published editions.

The 120-foot scroll was bought by a collector in 2001 for $2.43 million and is on display.

The opening of the first draft from the scroll at NPR; ... croll.html

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 20th, 2011, 9:55 am
by Sanderling
I'd never heard that about On The Road, polymath - that's pretty fascinating. Interestingly, we named our dog (Boston Terrier) Jack Kerouac, as the author is one of my husband's favourites. I'll have to go see if I can dig up a copy of that book from his bookshelves and check out that site you linked to. Thanks!

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: July 30th, 2011, 3:38 am
by AnimaDictio
This is why I'm not discouraged by Dean Koontz's genius. I'm great at editing and revising until I get what I want, even if it takes a lifetime.

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: August 1st, 2011, 7:55 am
by airball
I think it's going to be different depending on the author's experience, personality, and writing style, to name just a few factors.

There are some authors (who've been at it a while!) who can bang out something pretty good in no time at all. For mere mortals, it takes a ton of hard work.

I've always been in the "Bang it out now, tart it up later" crowd. As a result, my first drafts are: a) quite bad; b) very different from final drafts. Then there are people who agonize over every page, editing as they go. Too often, they are also the writers who never finish a book or story because they crap out at p. 35.

I revised my MS three times - so obv. it was a very different book when I finished. Characters came and went, the plot changed, but some scenes didn't change at all.

Good luck!

Re: First draft vs. published work

Posted: August 1st, 2011, 10:15 am
by Sanderling
You've got great optimism, AnimaDictio! I'm awed by the work of my idols, and I just hope wistfully that someday I might reach that level. In the meantime, I'm content to hang in the middle of the pack. I take comfort in the books I encounter with awkward pacing or over-indulgent writing or other things that make me wince and think well, someone obviously liked them well enough, so I should be guaranteed that someone will eventually take mine.

That's probably quite true, Sam. The reason I posted the thread initially was because I've finished four passes of revisions; I've made some substantial changes to the plot, inserted a new character, removed a few scenes, completely rewrote the ending. But I've done very little with the words themselves. This isn't just because I'm leaving them for later, either; as I've encountered spots with choppy phrasing or awkward wording I've made changes. I've pulled out unnecessary lines in spots. But for the most part the words and paragraphs are pretty much as they were in their first draft. I feel like I'm being negligent in my revisions or presuming to be better than I am because I haven't made many changes there, which got me to wondering just how much the text of a story changes from first draft to final for published books.