The Secret of Writing: Why You Want At Least Four Drafts

Even though I’d been writing for nearly thirty years and writing various drafts, it wasn’t until I returned to school, learning how to teach college composition that I discovered the different drafts each had a name and a purpose.

Once I started following the nature of each draft, I found my writing changed. Surprisingly, I was writing faster, better, and with less confusion.

In summary, writing is all about the rewriting. The act of writing is all about the first draft. The drafts that follow are about editing, with each editing draft pertaining to a certain set of editing details.

Personally, I don’t know of any writer—student or pro—whose work is publishable or ready for grading with only one draft.

So, what are these four different drafts and what purpose does each one serve?


This draft is the first completed draft where pure writing takes place, where creativity is at work. You want to write this draft quickly. Stream of consciousness is the best way to describe this draft.

Plotters will follow their outline as they write this draft. Pansters just let the writing flow with no thought of an outline, let alone knowing how the story will end.

Holes are allowed, as are misspellings, incorrect grammar, and wordiness. The rule in writing a first draft is to never go back and fix anything. All fixes will occur in the following drafts.

To stop and fix anything while writing this first draft means you are stopping the creative process and are now in editing mode, which is an entirely different skill set and is guaranteed to stop the creative process in its tracks.

Have you ever been writing where it’s gone fairly smooth, and then suddenly, you realize something isn’t right, so you stop to look back at what you wrote before, only to start writing again only to find that you can’t? That you lost your train of thought? That the creativity is gone?

Yup, that’s because you went from the skill set of creative writing to the skill set of editing. They’re two different modes of writing from two different parts of the brain—one is creative and one is technical. You can be in one or the other but not both at the same time.

When writing your first draft, the goal is to stay in the creative brain, so no editing allowed!


This draft is where the big rewriting occurs. It’s about organization and high order concerns where you’re moving paragraphs and pages around, where you’re making major additions and deletions. This draft is about making sure you have a theme and a thesis statement for nonfiction. That you have a great beginning hook for fiction. That your meaning is clear, that the writing contains originality with a consistent flow of your idea, where you’re not wandering around aimlessly.

THE THIRD DRAFT: the Revision

This draft still pertains to high orders but in a smaller fashion. Now, you’re looking at paragraphs and sentence structure. Are the paragraphs too long? Not long enough? Is a deeper point of view needed? Are you telling or showing? Does the paragraph move the story or theme forward, does it reveal character or their motive? Does everything make sense?

This draft deals with wordiness, repetition, word choice, parallelism, voice, and use of tense (consistency).

For college papers, this draft is about checking the citations, as well. Are any missing? Are the citations correct? Is the paraphrasing correct? Are quotes being used correctly? Are all graphics cited and with captions?

Don’t be surprised if your work is still changing quite a bit at this point. Generally, this is the draft that can have multiple drafts. Why? Because you keep finding things to change.

THE FOURTH DRAFT: the Polishing

This draft is where the polishing occurs, where the low-order concerns are addressed: punctuation, grammar, and formatting.

Polishing is everything. Don’t be misled thinking that because these issues are called low-order concerns that they’re not important. They’re highly important and can make the difference between a sloppy manuscript, paper, or résumé and one that looks professionally finished.


While I’m able to write a first draft fairly fast now, I can have several rewrite drafts, half a dozen revision drafts, and several polishing drafts. Once I finally stop finding errors, that’s when I know the manuscript is finished.

It’s not unusual for my manuscripts and screenplays to have a minimum of a dozen or more total drafts before they’re ready for publication. It’s these editing drafts where I spend the most time.

So, how many drafts does your work go through before you’re ready to submit?


About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
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5 Responses to The Secret of Writing: Why You Want At Least Four Drafts

  1. Michelle says:

    I’ve lost count of the amount of drafts I’ve worked though, but I know that one or two drafts are definitely too few!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sometimes after many many drafts, I’ll happen upon the first and find it was the best. In the process of reworking, I’d lost the spirit of the piece (poem or scene.) But even then there are edits needing to be made! It’s endless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diana Stout says:

      Writing can be endless, as it’s been said that no writing piece is ever truly finished. We writers can always find something more to change. Poems can be radically changed and often the spirit of its purest thought is in the first draft. You’ve presented an interesting take on those first drafts. Thanks for commenting!


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