David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

From First to Final Draft: A Case Study

[Note: I generally try not to cross-post entries between this blog and the DeepGenre group blog I belong to. But in this case, I’m making an exception. Feel free to read and respond to this entry on DeepGenre instead.]

Infoquake by David Louis EdelmanThis weekend, I did something that’s guaranteed to strike fear in the heart of even the most accomplished writer: I looked back through the old drafts of my novel.

Every writer has a different method of rewriting, and there’s no one method that fits everybody. Some bang out their magnum opus in one draft, more or less; some take five or ten drafts. I tend towards the latter end of the scale. My book Infoquake took no less than five drafts to complete — and some chapters went through ten or fifteen revisions.

So today I decided to do something that sets my knees a-knockin’ even thinking about it. I posted all nine drafts of the first chapter of Infoquake online at my book website.

You can now see every revision Chapter 1 went through from its original incarnation as something I jotted down on a laptop in 1997 or 1998, to its final polished form released by Pyr to the public just last month (July, 2006).

And to those of you smarting from the occasionally stern paddle of Kevin Andrew Murphy, Katharine Kerr, and Sherwood Smith’s 13-Line Critiques on DeepGenre, let me offer you this consolation: the first drafts of Infoquake royally sucked. You could power a small city with the writers spinning in their graves at some of that sucktastic, sucky, sucktious prose.

Now the point of posting these drafts is not to dazzle everyone with how wise and witty I’ve become. (Although if anyone is dazzled, I’m enough of an egomaniac to take it, no questions asked.) The point is that I thought writing neophytes might be interested in a behind-the-scenes look at what novelists go through in the revision process. These are the actual drafts of chapter 1, unedited, unaltered from their original versions (except to convert them to HTML, naturally). I’ve also added a few footnotes along the way to give some clue as to what I was thinking as I was revising.

And what lesson are you writing neophytes supposed to take away from this? Well, the obvious lesson, I guess, but also the most important: don’t give up.

Infoquake began as a fairly lousy, unfocused, rambling work with a few decent ideas. I’m sure its opening lines would have gotten roundly thumped by DeepGenre’s resident 13-Line Critiquers if I had submitted them there.

It took me several years of work, with a number of discouraging periods of self-doubt in the middle, but I finally managed to get the book into fighting shape. And regardless of what you think about the final released draft of Infoquake — I happen to think it’s pretty damn good — there is one thing to be said in its favor: it’s published. By a real publisher. And it’s in real bookstores.

So now I’m curious about a few things:

  1. If you were my writing professor and I had turned in the first draft of Chapter 1 as my assignment, would you have encouraged me to continue?
  2. Do other people have books/stories that sold, but whose first drafts now seem unredeemable?
  3. Have other writers posted said drafts on the web for the world to see? I’d love to link to them if they’re out there.
  4. Was I absolutely out of my gourd to have shown Draft 2 to my then-girlfriend after only a month of dating? (And in case you’re wondering: Reader, I married her.)
  5. Was she absolutely out of her gourd to continue to date me, and to encourage me to keep writing?

On second thought, don’t answer numbers 4 and 5.

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  1. Alma Alexander on August 14, 2006 at 1:19 pm  Chain link

    1. I’m known to be brutally honest with people who offer up work in workshops I teach, and I would have been likely to have been the same with you (as the ptoential student in the situation where I was the potential professor) – but encouragement would have depended hugely on what your *attitude* was. You FIXED the thing. If you had come on as somebody who thought this was perfect and a “don’t mess with my words” kind of tone, that would have had a bearing on my response.

    2. Oh, GOD, yes.

    3. I’m not that brave [grin] And also, I tend to edit online so that earlier drafts get edited into later drafts. the only real “saved” versions of older drafts perhaps exist in hardcopy form where I’d printed them out and read them and made commentary on them on the paper – and I ain’t about to retype THOSE…

    4. and 5. See? It’s all in the attitude [grin]

  2. Alley on August 16, 2006 at 1:06 pm  Chain link

    Thanks for posting those drafts. It is a boost to see published writers struggle just as much as us unpublished aspiring writers, or as I call myself, tomorrow’s published writer :). And thanks for the 13 lines link.

  3. Jose on August 17, 2006 at 1:21 pm  Chain link

    Thank you kindly for putting that up. It must have taken a bit of guts to air out your prose’s laundry in public. I found it very informative and encouraging.


  4. […] Writing If you’re interested in how a novel went from first draft to finished and published, this is a good read. […]

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