No one writes a perfect story, essay, or novel the first time around. That’s where revision comes in. The first draft contains everything you wanted to say. The final draft contains everything you needed to say—those things that are essential to the story.
The first draft is likely to have more abstractions, while the final draft should be brimming with significant detail.
The final draft should not contain every detail you find interesting or clever, every detail that came to you during your many inspired and challenging hours of writing. It should, instead, contain relevant details that add meaning. Purple flowered couch may be less meaningful, for example, than the broken pot beneath the window. The purple couch is merely a matter of taste, whereas the broken pot indicates that something has happened—a break-in, maybe, or a more general state of disrepair in the lives of the characters.
The final draft may be longer or shorter than the first draft, depending on your inclinations, but it should be more focused.
I usually edit out many thousands of words over the course of my revisions, but some writers create a skeletal first draft and flesh it out later. I tend to write an overblown first draft and pare it down over time. Whether you pare down or expand upon your first draft, in the end, your final draft should be more focused. The associations among the various parts of your narrative will be clearer, and the themes will have been strengthened by the actions and observations of the characters.
The first draft is your baby, the thing you can’t let go of. The final draft is your concession that a book must be interesting, it must be cognizant of an audience, and it must make the reader want to keep turning pages.
By “concession” I do not mean that you have sold your literary soul, only that you have found a way to combine your best vision and your hard-won narrative skills, in order to make a thing of beauty that is both meaningful and entertaining.
Michelle Richmond is the author of four novels and two story collections. Get her weekly writing and publishing tips, or sign up for an online writing class.
- Random HouseWriter, presentAuthor of four novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog, and two award-winning story collections. Essays in The Wall Street Journal, The Oxford American, Playboy, Salon, 7x7, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, The Telegraph, and elsewhere.
- Bay Area Book DoctorEditor & Writing Coach, 2015Substantive and developmental editing for writers. Offering comprehensive manuscript critique, coaching, and more. http://bookdoctor.org
- Fiction Attic PressFounder/Publisher, 2014
- Authors GuildBoard Member, 2014
- Notre Dame de Namur UniversityVisiting Scholar - Catherine Julie Cunningham Chair, 2012
- Saint Mary's College of CaliforniaDistinguished Visiting Writer, 2004 - 2005
- California College of the ArtsAdjunct Professor
- University of San FranciscoAdjunct Professor
- Bowling Green State UniversityDistinguished Visiting Writer
Michelle Richmond's fourth novel, Golden State, and her new story collection, Hum, winner of the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, were published in the spring of 2014. Her previous books, which have been published in ten languages, include the international bestseller The Year of Fog, as well as the novels No One You Know and Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Believer, Oxford American, The Telegraph, Coastal Living, Salon, and many other magazines and newspapers.
A native of Alabama, Michelle lives with her husband and son in Northern California. Since 2010, she has served on the board of the Authors Guild, the nation's longest running advocacy organization for authors.
In 2012, Michelle held the Catherine Julie Cunningham Chair at Notre Dame de Namur University. She has taught in the Masters of Fine Arts programs in creative writing at the University of San Francisco and California College of the Arts, and served as Distinguished Visiting Writer at St. Mary's College of Moraga and Bowling Green State University. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami, where she was a James Michener Fellow.
Michelle is the founder of Fiction Attic Press, which publishes short stories, essays, and flash fiction by emerging and established authors.
To read more about Michelle's books and essays, please visit http://michellerichmond.com. To consult with her on your manuscript, please follow the Book Doctor link below.
Fiction Attic Press: http://fictionattic.com
The Book Doctor: http://bookdoctor.org
- University of MiamiMFA Creative Writing, 1996 - 1998
- University of AlabamaJournalism, 1988 - 1992