The Final Draft

Nov 8, 2021 | Me, Updates, Writing

AttenSHUN!

You are here because your author, to whom you have pledged your spelling, your diction, your very punctuation, requires a few good words to lead a campaign against the fortress of a reader’s mind.

You are not those few good words.

You are garbage. You are diarrhea. You disgrace the very language that birthed and breastfed you merely by coming to rest on an otherwise pristine page.

You should know, before I proceed to put you through literary hell, that I couldn’t give half a fark about where you came from, or what other published works have used you to mediocre effect. You think you’re hot shirt because Shakespeare used you. I don’t care if Shakespeare invented you. A mad bard giving birth to 1700 never-before-seen bastard words doesn’t make the lot of them worth one spoonful of giblet gravy in a syphilitic hyena’s barf bucket.

If you survive my regimen, you will have been molded into ruthless and efficient killers of boredom and distraction. But until such time as you crawl through your own vomit to the finish line of my approval, you are lower than a legless hooker at a church-sponsored hoedown.

You will grow to hate me, but a whole world of readers will grow to love you because of what I did to you.

The Author’s Home Stretch

In case you haven’t been keeping up with my Twitter feed lately, I am currently in the process of final drafting Advent 9. This will be the first book of mine to ever make it to any form of publication.

Which makes final drafting the first completely new author experience I have had in many years. Never before have I produced a manuscript that will immediately be sent to a printer and audiobook narrator. In traditional publishing, this would take the form of a final edit, submitted to the author by copyeditors, and returned with corrections.

For a self-publishing author, the final draft can take the form of any method he wishes. When that self-publishing author has already passed his book through three professional edits, he has an advantage over many other authors. But he is not done.

What Sets It Apart

I’m only halfway through this final draft, but I can already say it is the easiest part of writing the book. Fastest, too. In every practical way, it is the opposite of the first draft.

When writing the first draft I started with nothing but an outline. If you consider that outline to be the true first draft, then I started with nothing but nothing. The first draft is always the hardest and slowest part of the process, because you have to invent every part of the book by yourself. You have to create the clay in the same moment that you shape it.

Because of this, the first draft inevitably fails to sparkle. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the author can open the floodgates of the magic, but he has no hope of controlling it.

When that first effort is done, the author is left with a material body of work, but he can’t rightly call it a book.

And that’s fine. Because an opus of work is mutable. It can be knocked into shape as the author introspects on the merit of the product. And with outside professionals enlisted as extra eyes, identifying the lode-bearing problems all but guaranteed. The rest is simple carpentry.

When final drafting, the author is inspecting an object that has already been planed down. For this draft, I set myself a leisurely goal of completing three chapters a day. Imagine trying that with a first draft. It would do wonders for an author’s productivity, but I doubt even most professionals could pull it off.

It goes quickly because there is so little work left to do.

What I have been Doing

The best tool I can recommend for final drafting is text-to-speech software.

Granted, it’s a trick I use in all my drafts. But with a final draft—particularly for a self-publishing author who is not getting final edits delivered from a publisher—it is indispensible.

For best results, follow the text with your eyes as the software reads the book to you. Most spelling errors will become obvious when the software says the wrong word. And any turns of phrase that appear acceptable on paper but are obtuse in the speaking will get noticed.

The other tool that is giving me excellent results is the fast pace of the editing. I mentioned that I am reviewing three chapters every day. With previous chapters. I never examined more than two chapters in a week. In those drafts, individual chapters became highly polished, but only after picking up the pace have I noticed better ways to fit the chapters together.

For example, it’s easy to assume, when I am working on one chapter at a time, that important information about a character was already revealed in a previous chapter. By working on three chapters at a time, I can more easily see any gaps I have accidentally left in the timeline of my story.

Breezing through multiple chapters in a day reveals how all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together.

You Don’t Want to Embarrass Yourself

It’s not the audiobook narrator’s job to find mistakes in the manuscript, yet I would not be surprised if many such narrators, including those contracted by major publishers, become the method by which critical errors are discovered in manuscripts already on their way to the printer.

Needless to say, but an author wants to avoid that outcome. To quote a famous French essayist:

A young musician plays scales in his room and only bores his family. A beginning writer, on the other hand, sometimes has the misfortune of getting into print.

MARGUERITE YOURCENAR

I’d reveal even more, but I have a deadline to keep.

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