September 14, 2021
by Samantha Hoffman
When asked in a 1992 interview for The Paris Review, "How many drafts do you go through in writing a story?" Grace Paley said, "I don’t like to count. I never understand what people mean when they say they’ve done twenty drafts or something. Does that mean they’ve typed it twenty times, or what? I’m always changing things as I go. It’s always substantially different by the time I’ve finished. I do it till it’s done."
And in an article from best-selling author Jami Attenberg, my favorite quote: "There is no perfect first draft in the history of ever."
Write that on a Post-it and stick it to your computer as you're writing.
When I started my first novel, many years ago, I created a Word document. Classmates.com was the title of that manuscript and it was the story of a 50-year old woman who reconnects online with her high school sweetheart on the same day her significant-other proposes. I'm not sure I can count the number of drafts I did of that version, or the version called Mr. Right-Enough (title change when the company Classmates.com declined to let me use their name), or the final, published version What More Could You Wish For, but a quick glance at the files at left will give you a clue.
Now I use Scrivener for my writing, which automatically saves your document way more often than you will ever want it to, so essentially, every time it saves, that could be a draft.
How many drafts are enough? My agent told me there is an axiom in publishing: Seven drafts to final. At least, in my opinion.
What exactly is a draft? As a serial editor I am constantly changing things. Is there a specific number of edits before you call it another draft? A word? A paragraph? A chapter?
What counts as a draft?
Does it matter?
Finish draft one, then keep going until it's the best it can be, keeping in mind we're not looking for perfection because perfection is a myth. Make it the best it can be at the time.
Or keep going until you're simply sick of it.
Writer, editor, artist, personal assistant, private chef, runner (8-time marathoner), film and theatre buff, traveler… Author of What More Could You Wish For (St. Martin's Press).
V.P. of the Chicago Writers Association, Executive Director of Let's Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference.
Visit me at www.samanthahoffman.com
Read my latest short story, Only One Syllable, published by Hypertext Magazine.
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