I can’t speak for other writers, but I seldom write one draft of a story and consider it done.
As Dorothy Parker said in The Art of Fiction, “I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times–once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.”
The most important key is to write that first draft no matter how horrible it looks. Nora Roberts is quoted as saying, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”
This came home to me this month. I’m in the process of rewriting a manuscript. I’ve completed my first two steps. I’ve had my computer read it to me and I’ve completed one revision. Hearing my words highlights awkward word choices, typos, missing words, clunky sentences. In step two, I incorporate my notes from step one as I reread the manuscript, correcting and revising. Here I also focus on picking up what Steven James calls promises to the readers. Have I included events and characters that seem significant but they fade out over the course of the story? Are my characters and settings consistent? Do I drop subplots? And I tighten the writing, cutting unnecessary words, clarifying dialogue and descriptions.
I’ll begin my third step in a week or so. I’ll look to kill my darlings, those characters and scenes I really love but don’t add much of anything to the story. They have to go. After steps one and two, I have a good idea who they are. In steps three and probably four, out they go and the manuscript is revised to smooth out their disappearance so the story still works.
I’ve written enough now to know I need at least three rewrites “to compel the story to say what it still must say.”
How about you? What is your process to get your story where it needs to be?