Ambit Creative

Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing, and is a fiction and nonfiction book editor, specializing in nonfiction and memoir. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele writes for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals. Her stories have appeared in The Circle, The Fairfield Review, Hotmetalpress, Miranda Literary Magazine,,The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Trillium, the Italian-American literary journal Pyramid and an anthology for Fairfield University. She won Poetic Voices of America's editor's choice award, and presents the editing and writing workshops for libraries and other venues. She is a nominated member of Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in American Women. She's also working on a new novel. Visit her website at: Adele Annesi, Facebook, LinkedIn, Redroom, Twitter, and Word For Words.

Drafting: Not Just for Architects

It’s impossible to build a house without a plan, and most architects need more than one pass to get the results they and their clients envision. The same is true for writers. Nobody can accomplish everything—story arc, proper word use, accurate spelling and punctuation—in one try.

When a writer says she wrote her story in one sitting, what she usually means is that she did little or no revising, rewriting, or restructuring. Okay, that’s a blessing if the result is good, but it’s rare. Even in these situations, it’s wise to at least run a spell-check. For writers whose work doesn’t come this easily, one way to consider the editing process is the way an architect plans a building: with a series of drafts.

Draft 1

Sketch or rough draft: This stage is called the rough draft for a reason. For a master builder constructing a home on a Tuscan hillside, the goal isn’t to draw each detail of the rooms he’ll design, or to inventory every nail. It’s to capture the concept emerging from his imagination while the creative fires burn hottest. For the writer, the focus is to capture the overall story and the basic shapes of the characters, and to do it as quickly and single-mindedly as possible. At this point, you’re developing the people in your story and the landscape they will inhabit, using broad brushstrokes here, details there.

Editing at this stage is mostly developmental, largely done in the back of your mind. While you work to get everything down quickly, you’re making lots of mental notes, like whether the characters are believable, the dialogue is realistic, and the plot rings true. Jotting down essential concerns is fine, but get them down quickly and don’t dwell. This way you avoid distractions, especially because many issues won’t resolve until further in or at the end of the story.

Where you’re stuck for words along the way, explain to yourself what should happen. Then when the rough draft is done, whether for a novel or short piece, give yourself time and distance—emotional and physical. Write something else. Read other things. Move away from the work for a while.

Draft 2

Floor plan: Once you’ve gotten the story down, read what you’ve written, preferably all in one sitting and not in the same place you wrote it. Taking drafts to public locations like libraries and diners casts the work in brighter light, making it easier to see problems you might otherwise miss. As you read through the manuscript—paper still works well here—note what you’d like to change.

Now it’s time to whittle dialogue to its essence, polish scenes so they shine, tease out plot problems using what-if questions and answers, and peel back the layers of your characters. It’s at this stage that revision and reconstruction live. Many a house, even one that’s new, needs work before it’s livable. When your manuscript reaches this point—where there’s a certain comfort level—give yourself time and distance before moving to the next stage.

Draft 3

Interior design: At this stage, a planner considers what the house will feel like to live in and how it will look to the family, friends, and guests. What kind of lighting works best? What fixtures and flooring? What about window treatments?

This is the time to retain what works in your prose and to remove everything else. It’s the time to reword what’s good to make it better, and to exchange imprecise wording for clarity to make the work your best. As always, to know what to cut is to ask yourself whether the scene, dialogue, character, or chapter advances the plot. Give yourself an honest answer, and make sure to resolve any questions that arose in earlier drafts. As with a house, especially one that’s yours, the overall impression should be favorable.

With all the writing and editing tools available, it’s easy to fix font, spelling, punctuation, and formatting at any stage. It’s imperative to do so at the end, after everything is done. You may even consider working with a professional editor before trying to sell the manuscript. As a primer, editors come in various flavors, but there are three basic types: development, line, and proofreader. (We followed the same progression in the drafts.) Writers should consider hiring a copyeditor because mistakes, simple or complex, are easy to miss.

So, if you’re thinking along these lines, development editors scrutinize writing for big ticket items: character, plot, theme, transitions. Line editors look mostly for whether the writing flows, scenes make sense, and the story works. Proofreaders get out the magnifying glass and check for mechanical errors and grammar, and they query inconsistencies.

It’s impossible to build a home without a plan, and it takes more than one pass and one set of eyes to achieve the desired result. For lack of counselors, and attention to detail, plans fail, but with a multitude of wisdom plans succeed.