16 March 2021

Drafts? I Don’t Keep No Stinking Drafts!

When Eve Fisher wrote “I’m so relieved to hear that I’m not the only one with 50 versions of the same damn story on my hard drive” in her response to Bob Mangeot’s SleuthSayers post “Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around,” I spit my drink across the room. Then I reread Bob’s post and realized I’d missed his mention of having “75 versions” of a story on his hard drive.

Clearly, Bob, Eve, and writers like them live in a different universe than I do. I only ever have a single draft of a story—the current draft, which, when I finish fussing with it, becomes the final draft.

I’ve found that keeping multiple versions of a story encourages me to look backward while I’m working—How did I handle the second scene in version three? Was the dialog in the fifth scene more pithy in version twelve? Why did I insert so many exclamation points in version twenty-seven?—when what I should do, and what I try to do, is constantly look forward.

Perhaps part of the reason I don’t keep multiple versions of stories is that I never actually have multiple versions. I write and edit as I go so that my first complete draft is my final or near-final draft. Often all that’s required at that point is a serious, in-depth proofreading.

Not all writers work as I do. Some pound their way through a draft, dumping everything into it as they go. Then they create a second draft, rearranging scenes, rethinking their characters’ motivations, revising so many bits and pieces that the second draft may actually be a different story. Then they do the same again for a third draft.


Okay, I lied. There are two exceptions to my having only one version of a story:

1) Early in my career I wrote for men’s magazines. Many of the stories were equally appropriate for genre magazines with one exception: graphic sex. So, I sometimes created two versions of a story: one with graphic sex intended for men’s magazines and one without graphic sex intended for genre magazines. Sometimes the version with sex sold; sometimes the version without sex sold. (And sometimes I sold first rights to the version with sex and later sold the sexless version as a “slightly modified” reprint.)

2) When I receive a copyedited ms. from an editor, I maintain my original version until we’ve completed the editing process and the story’s been published. Then I delete my version and retain only the published version.


So, one-and-done or multiple versions? Is one method better than the other?


Whether you’re a one-and-done writer or a 75-versions writer, the end result is likely the same: a publishable story.

And that’s what we’re all striving for.


  1. Michael, we're in the same boat. I used to keep early drafts, but I stopped doing that long ago. I create a first draft and edit that one over and over until it becomes my final draft. I do create a new file if I decide to change the story title, but only then.

    As you said, different ways work for different writers. Enjoyed the post!

  2. Interesting post, Michael. I suspect most of us modify our method as we find something better.

    I used to keep many drafts, called (Cleverly) A, B, C, etc. That was especially true fdor separate scenes in my novels. Sometimes, I changed the order for better flow or more tension.

    Now, I find that I tend to overwrite the first version of a short story and do a simple "save" instead of a "save as B." The only exception is if/when I make a radical change like adding a character or making someone else the villain.

    I don't know if one is better than the other, but the new way is a little faster. I seldom go back to look at early versions because I believe each new version is better. That's especially true of dialogue, backstory (which I hate) and description (which I hate even more). I only keep the final version of a story once it sells, and those go to a separate hard drive to keep my PC as uncluttered as possible.

  3. Color me impressed. I wouldn't have the nerves to keep only one draft. *clutches pearls*

  4. I don't know what made me laugh more, you're spitting, Michael, or Kris clutching her pearls. I also usually only have one draft of a story, which I edit as I go. Then when I reach the end I'll go back to the beginning and read through it and make edits to that version. I will occasionally have a second draft in a separate file, if I've decided to make a material change to the story to see if that big change would make a good difference.

  5. This is so interesting, Michael. I do keep the old drafts of the story, usually 3 or 4 of them. When I’m done with a final draft I actually find it useful to look at the very first draft of a story, take a quick read, and see what stayed from my original vision and what got cut. Then I move on!

  6. Drafts of stories – no. Drafts of novels – yes. The final drafts of my shorts stories are on my computers. Since I’m a Mac man, my computer comes with time machine software. I have an external hard drive attached and my computer is periodically backed up. Drafts of stories are on it. Drafts of novels are kept but I rarely go back to them.

  7. I just checked my story in the current issue of AHMM. 18 drafts of "Shanks' Locked Room."

  8. I too generally have only one draft of a story, which I make changes to as I go. I do a lot of editing and revision along the way, but I only save a different version if I make a major structural change, and then only if involves cutting a significant amount of material that I think I might want to bring back later.

  9. I don't think we choose our method of working; it chooses us. Mine is to put everything into the first draft, pearls and darlings and squirmables and all, regardless of word count. I keep Draft 1 to prove I actually wrote the story—it's cheaper than registering the copyright for what might be more than I'm paid for it. I duplicate that and revise the hell out of it, several rounds, with and without Track Changes, sometimes making additional revisions in between rejections and before and after a timed lived reading. So I end up with two versions of the story. Or novel, as the case may be.

  10. I don't keep versions of stories, but I do of novels. I put the current file into a backup folder with the date every night. Sometimes I've gotten off on the wrong track on the novel and I can go back and start from the point where I went wrong. Also, I'd hate to lose that ONE draft of something I had worked on for a year. It's backed up, of course, but I trust nothing. After it's published, I don't need them, but future literary historians may be interested in putting them in my museum.

  11. Having had a computer crash - I keep one in a cloud/email version in case the one I'm working and editing doesn't survive. When the story is finished and submitted, that becomes the one kept until I learn if it is accepted/rejected or in never never land.

  12. Alas, I wish I could write short stories and novels in one draft and edit as I go along. I painfully write multiple drafts of pretty much everything. Subsequent drafts usually are made on the same file. I don't save each draft (typically 3-4 drafts will do it) except what might be temporarily backed up on a flash drive at the end of the day just in case the computer crashes the next day. Yet lo and behold, more than once I've gone back to one of those previous drafts to retrieve a paragraph or section that I cut or drastically rewrote in a subsequent draft but later decided I wanted back in its entirety or to borrow and repurpose. I think I need to start saving distinct drafts on a long term basis.

  13. I've re-done a few of my stories that I couldn't sell to save my...I mean, that I felt looked better with a revision! I have a couple written for specific theme anthologies that I needed to re-write; one being a shared-world story where I took out all the shared stuff. (the latter proposed anthology vanished without a trace, possibly into its shared world!) And I do have an erotic horror story where I removed all the erotica. The story exists in two versions and I hope I don't slip up and send the wrong one out!! Wonderful column, Michael!

  14. Michael, I do one draft. I go over what I wrote the day before, make some changes, then continue on. By the time I'm finished, even with novels, I don't do a whole lot of revising. The only extra drafts I have hanging around are different guideline formats.

  15. I'm with you, Michael. The only exception is when I keep a scene I cut from the draft, but even that I only hold on to for a limited time.


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