After the creative surge of the first draft and the monumental workload of the second, it may seem as though there’s nothing left to do. However, the third draft comes with a lot of responsibility – it’s your last chance to perfect your creation before you send it off for someone else’s assessment. Now is the time to ensure that nothing has been forgotten. How?
The first thing I do is read. Start, as always, with a small section – a chapter if it’s a novel, a few pages perhaps or the whole thing if it’s a short piece – whatever you choose, it should be a nice little arc of writing. Due to time, parenting and financial constraints, I work with my laptop or ipad for this part of the proceedings. If you prefer to print your manuscript out and chillax with a hard copy, then by all means do that. Make yourself a cuppa, curl up in a favourite place. Imagine the writing in your hand is someone else’s – that book mum gave you the other day which you just knew was going to steal three days of your life. (Or two, if you stayed up half the night by accident. Ahem.) Relax. You are a reader now, nothing more.
As you read, take note of anything which interrupts the flow of your writing. Anything you have to read twice, something that makes you frown, paragraphs that have you yawning. I keep a pen and paper handy, and jot down a quick note when the need arises. Make it as short as possible, but something you will understand later. Things like ‘Pg 12, second para, wrong voice’ is a good start. Notations such as ‘where did the pink horse go?’ will only leave you scratching your head. If you’re rocking a hard copy, then I recommend an offensively bright highlighter. Colour over the section of writing in question and pop a quick note in the margin such as ‘revise’ or ‘voice’ to jog your memory later on.
When the reading is completed, sit back and consider what you’ve just experienced. How did the writing make you feel? Did it do what it was supposed to do? Was it enjoyable? Irregardless of your subject matter, I firmly believe that your writing should be nice to read. On the flip side, if you are high-fiving yourself thinking ‘this is the best thing I’ve ever written, somebody call Steven Spielberg,’ then you probably want to check what was in that drink you made. This is still part of the drafting process, so you should have some notes. Notes are good, because it shows your brain is capable of separating from your work and this is exactly what you need.
I prefer to do all my reading and note taking before I sit down to adjust things, so if you’ve got a longer piece of writing in front of you, then now is a good time to move onto the next section. When the reading part is over, it’s time to go back and have a look at those notes. Address your comments and massage the writing until you are satisfied with the results. Most of the time it will be a quick fix, such as a grammar error or a sentence that’s too long. Other times, you might be grumpy at dinner because that one paragraph has cost you an hour of your time and you still can’t make it better. Don’t give up! It will fall into place eventually.
I’m sure you know what happens next. Yes, return to the couch and repeat step one. If you’re lucky, there should be no notes. If you do get a couple, don’t beat yourself up, just fix them. Keep reading and fixing and reading and fixing until the note pad is blank. BLANK. Do you know what that means? Your third draft is finished and ready for submission to wherever you need to send it.
So that’s how I do my third draft, regardless of length, genre or style. What about you?