The Final Draft (sort of)

diane and drafts.jpg

I’m often asked how many drafts I write when I’m working on a book. The answer: a lot. I finished my next novel, tentatively titled The Lies We Told, last week, and thought I’d show you the stack of drafts the writing generated. In my left hand, of course, I’m holding the nice, neat perfectly formatted and spell-checked version that I sent to my editor. Beneath my elbow are all the previous versions.

I use different color paper for each draft so I can keep them straight. In this stack there’s pink, blue, green and yellow, and then I had to start repeating the colors.

So, what happens now? My editor (and my agent) will weigh in with their thoughts on what works and what doesn’t in the final draft. By the time I reach the final draft stage, I’m too close to the book to see the forest for the trees, so their input is invaluable. The requested changes from my editor are often things like “Character X’s motivation for stealing his mother’s false teeth needs to be stronger”. My editor’s ideas for change invariably make me a) groan and b) want to punch my computer screen. It usually takes me 24 hours to recover from an editor’s feedback–and to see the value in it. By then, I’m ready to get back to work.

The one thing I’ve learned over the course of writing 19 books is that my

draft stack.jpg

editor is on my side–or rather, on the side of the book. She wants the book to be every bit as good as I want it to be. There’s a tendency, especially among new writers, to see the editor as the enemy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The other thing I’ve learned is that the editor is nearly always right on the money with her suggestions, no matter how much I hate having to make the revisions.

Here are a couple of examples of changes my editors have recommended in the past:

  • In my latest release, Secrets She Left Behind, I originally introduced the significant character, Jen, about halfway through the book. My editor, Miranda Indrigo, suggested I introduce Jen much earlier, which made a lot of sense and increased the tension in the earlier part of the book.
  • In Keeper of the Light, the old lighthouse keeper, Mary Poor, was originally a man. My editor at the time was Karen Solem, who is now an agent, and I will never forget her telling me to “sit down” before she made the particular suggestion to change Caleb Poor to Mary Poor. How I resisted for my usual 24 hours! I knew it would require revamping the entire book. Around hour 20, I realized she was right. I had to create an entirely new character in Mary, and she turned out to be a perfect and very necessary addition to the story.  

So now I wait. Soon, I expect to be enduring my 24 hours of agony, followed by the addition of one more draft to the pile. I think I’ll use purple this time.  


  1. Gina on August 10, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Oh Diane, I can’t wait for this book to come out.

  2. brenda on August 10, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Mary could not be Caleb…she knew intimate details…would not have worked with a man…but you poor person-going through that book and changing that name…whew…I have to say that I feel like I am out of the loop-so much traveling-I am getting ready to leave again…but I cannot believe you WIP is over…didn’t you just start it this year? Goodness…you are amazing.

  3. Diane Chamberlain on August 10, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Brenda, I did first try to just change the name from Caleb to Mary, along with the pronouns, but it quickly became clear I needed to create an entirely new character in Mary. More work, but a better book.
    I did write this WIP quickly. I know you worry when your favorite writers write too quickly, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 🙂 Believe me, the last six months felt like a year!

  4. Denise on August 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    I have a question: what makes an editor so brilliant? What sort of education and qualifications does an editor need? Are some editors better than others? What happens if you disagree with your editor? They sure seem to have a lot of knowledge, foresight and magic, and I have always wondered how they acquired or earned it!

  5. Diane Chamberlain on August 10, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Good questions, Denise. Just as in any other profession, there are excellent editors and less-than excellent editors. I’ve heard some horror stories, but I’ve been incredibly lucky. Not only have my various editors been smart and savvy, but they’ve been nice people who are easy to work with. Usually they’ll have a degree in English or literature. Here’s a good article that describes their many tasks:
    I’ve disagreed at times with an editor’s suggestions. Then we talk. The way I look at it is this: if an editor suggests a change, there is SOMETHING wrong with part of the book and it needs to be addressed. I may not end up with the exact change suggested, but I know I need to pay attention to the problem. Editors need to be extremely well read, know what a particular author’s readers want, and be able to read an author’s work from both the perspective of a reader and a writer. Often, an editor will tell me where something isn’t working and leave it up to me to figure out how to make the change. I think the best editor/agent relationship is one where there’s respect on both sides and a real give and take of ideas can take place.

  6. Ingrid King on August 11, 2009 at 7:18 am

    I think I have you beat in terms of the size of my stack of drafts for my book (and it’s not near as long as your novels are). I wish I’d known about needing 24 hours to recover from an editor’s advice when I got my first round of edits back. I had no idea I could be that defensive and vulnerable until I dealt with those first edits. Yikes!

  7. Margo on August 11, 2009 at 7:57 am

    I’m so glad Caleb became Mary Poor…can’t imagine it any other way.
    Diane, I know that your WIP went fast this time but I have a feeling this book is going to be exceptional. I hope any changes you are asked to make aren’t too painful…it has to be hard hearing from someone else that something isn’t quite right.

  8. Margo on August 11, 2009 at 8:02 am

    You are absolutely amazing, and very organized with your ‘stacks’…what a great way to keep your re-writes straight, but I’m flabergasted (sp??) at the amount of drafts you go thru…in this pic you make it look like its a piece of cake but we know that isn’t really the case…so much work involved but it’s very obvious this is your love and passion.

  9. Denise on August 11, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Thank you for explaining the editor’s role and expertise so well! Are most editors a bit older? Surely they would not give such an important job to a young’un directly out of college.

  10. Diane Chamberlain on August 11, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Ingrid, your comment made me smile. It took me a while to realize I needed that 24 hours. My first reaction was (and still sometimes is) teeth-gnashing horror and the occasional tear. We work so incredibly hard and then to hear that it’s not perfect “as-is” is always painful.

  11. Diane Chamberlain on August 11, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Thanks for the compliments, Margo. I hope you’re right about this book. We’ll see what my editor has to say.
    Denise, editors usually start out as assistant editors working with someone who has more experience. They are all ages, but mine have usually been younger than me–which leads to the dreaded maternity leave. LOL. The editor I’ve worked with for several years is currently on maternity leave (and in Canada, that’s a civilized year!), so I’m working with a new-to-me but very experienced editor now. She’s been a doll to work with this year in dealing with the re-issues and other things that have come up, but we haven’t actually worked on a book together until now, so this will be a new adventure for me–a good one, I hope.

  12. brenda on August 12, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Diane-you read me like a book-no pun intended…you also work diligently and do not disappoint…

  13. brenda on August 12, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I have often thought of doing editing in my next career…teaching was my new career-still is…but would love to spend l year in NYC editing…
    Diane-I am sure the book will be excellent-that’s why we tell everyone that your books are keepers.

  14. brenda on August 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Do you publish through an editor/company in Canada?
    Okay-all of you-here goes-I know everyone wants to know, but no one wants to ask.
    Diane, have you started your next WIP? Dare we ask what it is? Don’t shoot the messenger.

  15. Diane Chamberlain on August 12, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Brenda, my publisher, Mira Books, is Canadian. As for the next one, mum’s the word until I know how this one is faring in the editor’s hands. Right now, I’m spending my time cleaning my office. This may take longer than I thought!

  16. brenda on August 12, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    I can’t believe you already have something to be mum about…that is absolutely amazing…you are such an accomplished writer.

  17. Margo on August 13, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Ditto, Brenda…Diane is certainly that.
    Diane, I must tell you that I bought BEFORE THE STORM and SECRETS SHE LEFT BEHIND for a new friend as a gift…she called me yesterday and was up all nite with the 1st book and is 3/4 thru the 2nd…she couldn’t quit talking about your writing and it made me feel SO good that I introduced you to a new fan…she now wants all your books and I told her about some of the reissues…THE SECRET LIFE OF CEECEE WILKES is still out at Borders and when I told her, she was in her car as we spoke enroute to buy it!! (-O:

  18. Diane Chamberlain on August 13, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Margo, please tell your friend I’m glad she’s enjoying my books.

  19. Margo on August 14, 2009 at 9:02 am

    I will Diane. Do you know what she said to me when she first told me how much she loved these books??
    She said ‘Diane really knows how to convey what’s inside the heads of these characters, both older people and the young…how does she do it?’…of course I told her all about you and how you lock yourself in a room and let the characters speak to you…she is really in ‘awe’ of you…I can’t wait for her to read the reissue of BREAKING THE SILENCE and next Spring read SUMMER’S CHILD…

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