For the last three months I've been working on a novel built around a new series character. I followed my usual practice of scratching out on paper a few ideas about the story and making a list of scenes or clues I wanted to include. Then I began writing. Some days I produced only a thousand words, but other days I produced up to five thousand words or more, with my fingers chasing the story across the keyboard. Now, at the end of April, I have 80,000+ words. And it's time to rest.
Using the word resting can be misleading, as other writers know. This is really a period of pausing and stepping back, of forgetting enough of the feel of the story to be able to come to it fresh in three weeks or so. During the first writing period, I might begin a scene and realize that the protagonist is going to interpret a clue in a particular way and I have to prepare the reader for that. This means I have to go back a few scenes or even chapters and set things up. I may want to introduce another character much earlier in the story, and that too may mean returning to an earlier section and dropping in his or her name, or a casual sighting of the person in a cafe or on a sidewalk. Only as I write do I know what I need, and then I can go back and make sure I've supplied it.
During the writing of this draft I rewrote the first forty pages several times. I decided to remove a specific feature of the protagonist's life, and that meant rewriting several earlier scenes. The story is stronger for it, but it means that I've redone the first few chapters several times. On some days I felt like I was never going to get any forward motion, and I might as well have been writing with a quill pen for the time it was taking me to get through the beginning. But the beginning must make sense, so I kept reworking it.
What I regard as the completed first draft is really only the first one I'm willing to print out. I've revised pages and scenes and entire chapters throughout the last three months, but I haven't printed out anything yet. Now I'm ready to print.
The draft I print now will again be revised and rewritten. I may add another character to strengthen a subplot or complicate the villain's plan. I will certainly rewrite some of the critical moments, building suspense or deepening the protagonist's feelings.
Overall I may do as many as thirty drafts. This doesn't mean the entire book has been rewritten thirty times. It means that my perspective on some aspect of the story changed and that change had to be made and carried through the entire manuscript.
In three weeks or so I'll return to the printed manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. The purpose of this reading is to find anything that is jarring or off-putting for the reader, scenes that don't make sense, missing clues or faltering suspense, anything that doesn't work. I may do three or more pass-throughs after this, but I'll know I'm coming to the end of the revision process when I read a new printout and find only a few things here and there to tinker with.
By late June I hope to have a finished novel. I'll let you know if things go as smoothly as I hope.