The Keeper of Lost Drafts

So much work goes into writing a book. Readers never see most of that.

There is a look of bewilderment peculiar to non-authors when they find out how long it took to write a book. They see the finished article and assume it came out of the author’s imagination in something close to that fully formed state. Which is very rarely true.

Writing a book is similar to creating artwork. Artists often sketch studies, then work on separate parts of the composition, before producing a complete piece. There can be many practice versions. Only the final work is usually seen.

Image of artist making a sketch.
Photo by Diego Pontes on

Writing is all about decisions

There are different perspectives I could use to write my current story. I could write as an external narrator. I could use the main character as the narrator, telling the story from their single point of view. Or I could write it in multiple viewpoints following a different character for each event.

There are different time periods in the story but they are all within one lifetime. So I could present the story in a straight-forward, linear fashion. Alternatively, I could split it into sections for each of the time periods. Or stick to one time period with the main character recounting earlier events. If I go with multiple viewpoints, the story could follow different characters at different points in time.

There are many options and no right answer. I can make a decision knowing I will probably change my mind later and will have to rewrite it. Or I can write several key scenes, several different ways, and see what works best. Whatever I choose, there will be lots of work that won’t appear in the final book. And something I write later could change the decision again.

The mountain of discarded words

There are so many books where the author has had to make these sorts of decisions. How many words, I wonder, are hidden away in drawers, on flash drives, floating around the cloud, or just lost forever? How many years of writing that no-one will ever read?

Wouldn’t you like to get your hands on those lost lines of dialogue, jettisoned scenes, and missing perspectives? To know what might have happened if the author had made a different choice?

Then again, if a story is told well enough, we can always imagine how another character might have told it from their point of view. Or how the story would have worked if the time periods had been organised in a different way. After all, a book only comes alive when readers use their imagination. Perhaps giving too much information would take that power away?

I only want my readers to see the best version of my stories. I’m sure other authors feel the same. Perhaps it is only writers who would like to get a peek at other author’s drafts, and marvel at how differently the story could have turned out.

Maybe it is enough just to hint at the number of drafts that went before – and let those drafts remain a mystery never to be solved.

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