I am in the camp of "Don't Stop Writing Until The Draft Is Done," and yet at this very moment I'm putting my majorly secret project under a pretty massive revision. Mid. Draft.
This is something I never imagined I would do. In some ways I feel like I'm "betraying" my process, or at least my process as I've known it for the last, oh, 15 novels. Sure, I've gone back to reread in the middle of the writing, maybe make a few tiny changes. But this time I'm doing some pretty huge things—like deleting 4 characters, completely altering my MC's character arc, cutting scenes (entire chapters, even), and adding new ones.
I've been asking myself often why this couldn't wait. Usually while I'm drafting I'm aware of problems, and I note them to fix later. I'm fine going on knowing things aren't perfect. But this was driving me crazy. Maybe I can take this as a sign that I'm growing as a writer, because I can more readily see my mistakes. Or maybe I'm just getting more neurotic and paranoid. Total possibility.
But I did have reasons, and as I approach the end of my mid-draft revision I don't regret it in the slightest. It needed to happen. So I thought I'd share my thinking on this in case any of you have ever wondered whether or not you should stop drafting to revise.
• 140 pages seemed a lot easier to manage than 300. As I saw these issues piling up, I knew that continuing on that path would only exacerbate the problems. What were considerable changes now would have become insanely unwieldy had I continued.
• Character arcs are hard to change. I realized last week that I had written my MC's motivations as I wanted her to be at the end of the book. Which means if I'd continued, she'd have experienced little growth during the book and I'd get called out on that. I had to shift it now so that I could write the rest of the arc the right way.
• Major Case of Character Soup. I tend to write big casts, and by mid-draft I could already see it was out of control. Characters were becoming stick-figures—completely interchangeable. They were cluttering the story and adding confusion. And I hadn't even brought in all the characters I'd planned on! Bad news. Minimizing the cast has made it less clumsy.
• Neglecting Important Sub-plots. While focusing on the main plot, I'd dropped a lot of elements I needed to have for the latter half of the book to make sense. Adding that now will save me work later.
Notice that none of these have anything to do with punctuation, grammar, or prose in general. It can be really easy to fall into that kind of polishing mid-draft and never actually finish anything. But I think if there are big story-related issues you are already aware of in the middle of drafting, it might not hurt to revise those if you want.
What this has taught me is that my process isn't a permanent thing. And that's okay. You have to do what works for the book at hand, and it's never quite the same as the last novel. This is both frustrating and oddly invigorating.