Next week, on Bank Holiday Monday, I start the second edit of my new book. The second edit for me. When it goes to Editor in March, it will be her first draft – but it will be the third time I’ve worked on it.
First draft (just getting the story out) – just for me.
First read-through & fix-up (tidying the above and trying to fix any obvious/major problems) – that goes to Agent.
This version, which I’m calling the second draft (not least because there’ll be some major structural work going on), may well go again to Agent before it goes to Editor (depending on how fast I work!), but whatever happens, Editor will read it as a first draft.

My point is this – what you and I (dear writer) call a first draft is very often hugely different from what our agent or editor call a first draft*. At least, it’s the way that’s worked for me so far. I’d hate my agent to see something I didn’t feel at least OK about sending out, I’d hate my editor to see something I didn’t feel at least pretty good about sending out. On both occasions I expect there to be more work to do. Not because I couldn’t do it myself, but because an outside eye (especially when you’ve been working on something for one, two, three or more years) can always be useful at the wood-for-the-trees moments. and the longer you’ve been working on something the deeper and longer-lasting those moments are.
I welcome the input from Agent and Editor. Sometimes I especially welcome the input from Agent or Editor’s assistant, not because they know better, but maybe they’re less familiar with how I write, maybe they’re new and keen to make a point, maybe I hugely disagree with them (not least because they don’t necessarily make their points in the more generous/gentle way Agent or Editor might!), but always – if they are less used to me, to what I do – they’re representing the new reader. The one I haven’t won over yet. And much as we want to please old readers and established readers and those gorgeous people who will read us regardless, I don’t know any writer who isn’t also keen to make new readers. (This isn’t merely a marketing/sales point, it’s because, having worked on your story, made your story the best you possibly can, of course you want it to go out to the widest possible readership. Well, I do. I want to tell my story and I want it to be heard/read/seen/engaged with. I’m not sure there’s any point in telling stories just for myself …)

So this week is the week ‘off’. The week where I clear my desk, do my accounts, sort my papers, (er, have a think about those two, or is it three?, short stories I’ve also rashly agreed to deliver at the same time as new book, eek), read work by other people (some friends, some not), allow the just-read novel to sit in the back of my mind and every now and then a thought pops up that I add to the notes already filling my whiteboard & noticeboard for when I start again on Monday.
I’m really looking forward to starting again on Monday. There are a few very knotty problems that, right now, I just don’t know how to fix. There are some chunks I do know how to fix and I’m very much looking forward to doing so. There are sections to be expanded and others to be cut cut cut. This is the good bit, the bit I enjoy, not the pulling-teeth that making up whole new pages (sometimes) feels like, but the making-it-better. Or at least, having done the making-it-up, this is the bit that, yet to begin, feels like fun. (I’ll get back to you in a few weeks about whether it really is or not!)
Meanwhile, Happy New Year, yay for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere who are now riding back into the light of longer days, and yay for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere enjoying your summer. See you in 2011.

*BTW : that being the case, the many drafts that lead to the ‘first’ (showable) draft, WHY OH WHY (dear writer-who-does-workshops) do I see so many first drafts when I’m (very occasionally) running a workshop where the writer says “Oh yes, well I wouldn’t give that to an agent/editor, I just didn’t get around to fixing it yet, I’ll do it later, this is just to give you the idea …”
Dear Writer, I don’t want the idea, I want the work. Why show something to anyone that hasn’t at the very least been spell-checked, is in the correct font and size, and has numbered pages?! Grrr.