How Many Times Can You Draft a Book?

A little more than two weeks ago, a book manuscript was sent to my editor for her first round of edits. The passivity feels appropriate. That email was preceded by a few months of revisions with some new drafting here and there for subjects I had not fully fleshed out and which hinged upon other subjects I needed to get right before I could adequately take them on. A few friends read the manuscript and offered up their comments. I printed out the roughly 300 pages a few times, marking them up with a sharpie pen and neon sticky notes and a few different highlighters, only to change course when I opened the word processor window and typed the revised paragraphs into the new draft.

I determined the date, leaving a month before the manuscript’s deadline hit. If the deadline wasn’t for another year, and I had started writing at the same time, I could and would have revised it another nine or ten times; I don’t doubt I would have used the extra weeks. There were particular sentences, a few historical descriptions I knew I didn’t get right, but whose solution I didn’t yet see. After turning in the manuscript, I’ve found some of their proper forms while others have remained hidden.

Students have asked me when I know revisions are done. It’s an impossible question to answer. Never, if you view the book as a changeable object, one that shifts as the creator does according to new research and ideas and an environment beyond that creator’s control. Of course that doesn’t mean the object will get better for anyone. If it does, the improvement might only be temporary. Even the writer will eventually look back and wish they had stopped at one earlier point or another.

The revisions get smaller, at least, for most people. Chapters turn to sections turn to paragraphs turn to sentences. A few times spinning around the last will generally put you in a good place to give it to others, not considering any deadlines. A more holistic measurement considers the aims of the project at its outset, but I know plenty of writers who don’t think in those terms.

On the bright side, in the weeks before getting back edits, I’ve found time—the first stretch in years—to develop a few feature pitches and to begin thinking about book number two.

A Bonus:

A Friend, Nikon F2AS, Ilford HP5 (+3)