There Might Be More Than One Vomit Draft (And Other Lessons From Editing A Book)

I am about to embark on the 5th draft of my novel. Before beginning this process, I don’t think this statement would have necessarily surprised me, but I didn’t fully understand it either. “Of course you go through several drafts,” I may have thought. “You find new mistakes each time.” What I didn’t realize yet is that each draft serves a different purpose– is really almost a different book.

The Vomit Pass

My first draft was my “vomit pass.” Touted by folks like Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham, and encouraged by the structure of marathon writing programs like NaNoWriMo, this is the idea that you just have to get the words down. They don’t have to be good. They don’t even have to make sense. You just have to suppress the urge to edit as you go and get a lot of words on the page. For Rock of Ages, this was about 50,000 words of stream of consciousness writing. I got out stories from my own life as well as some based on family stories and my dad’s poetry. It was definitely a mess, definitely not cohesive, but I still think there were some gems in it. There was emotion in it and it was honest.

Finding a Story

Years later I came back to this jumbled mess and decided to make something of it. I laid each of the stories out on an index card and moved them around until they were in an order that made sense. I filled things in to make a plot–  a string that tied one story to the another. At this point I was pretty convinced I was a genius. When I read authors talk about how bad their early drafts were, I thought I was one of those rare writers with extraordinary natural talent. This book would be a classic, I thought, and I’d already done most of the work on it.

Fixing it Up

Now sufficiently confident, I sent my book out to some beta readers, who responded well. Bolstered by their approval, after another long break (to have some babies), I started doing some line editing. I changed sentences to make them read better and fixed some spelling mistakes. This round was easier, but much less exciting. This is the draft I sent to Inkshares.

The Developmental Rewrite (Vomit Pass Take Two)

My editor had a lot of suggestions, and surprisingly, in spite of my previous big headedness, I was extremely excited about all of them. We worked together to rework the book’s outline, taking out some superfluous plot lines and fleshing out the important stories and characters. I worked ridiculously hard for three months rewriting the book based on this outline, adding description, researching time periods and places. I ended up with a new draft that was almost 40,000 words longer than the one I had sent in. I felt like a badass. Now this was the big hurdle on my way to a finished book, I thought, and I had rocked it. I knew there would be more changes. Maybe I’d have to rewrite a few chapters, hone my prose some more.

So when I talked to my editor a couple days ago and he referenced this as my “vomit draft” my heart sunk for a moment. I had done a vomit draft! Three drafts ago.

I realized though, that in an intensive edit like this, there might be more than one vomit draft. Any time you change so much of the outline, you’ll have to have a round of just getting the words out there.

The Old POV Switcharoo

So now I’m back to step two again– improving the vomit draft. I’m switching from first to third person. I’m overwhelmed by this huge task, but not upset about it. I needed to use first person to get into my characters’ heads and write them authentically and now I need to use third person to improve the prose. I’ll be working on my descriptions, on making them even more authentic for their time periods. I’ll be working to make my book very literary– not just the meanings of the words but the words themselves, their sounds, will invoke the feelings I want to convey. I’m taking it all to another level.

My editor was reassuring when we spoke about this next step. He did the same with his book, he told me, as did other big books he’s worked on. “This is just the process,” he told me.

It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating.

But it’s also incredibly exciting. I’ve seen leaps in my goals along with the leaps in my writing. A few months ago I just wanted to be published. I wanted a few people to read my writing and relate to it. Now I know I can make something really, really special.

With each draft, my imposter syndrome diminishes. I am putting in the work. This process has also shown me the importance of having an editor, and a good one.

If you’re on the fence about hiring someone for a developmental edit of your book, do it.

If you’re in the middle of rounds and rounds of edits, keep it up! The work you are putting in is important and meaningful. It will be worth it.

If you’ve gone through edits like this and come out with a finished book, TELL ME ABOUT IT! Send me motivational quotes! Send me book links!


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