I’ve heard bestselling author Neil Strauss say on a couple of occasions (links at the bottom) that he writes his books in three drafts. As I finish writing another book, I find this advice to be extremely helpful and challenging. Most of us just do the first draft and maybe the second. I think we would all rather just be done with the project and turn it in as soon as possible. The three-draft system, however, pushes you to make the book better especially for the reader.
First Draft: For You
You write the first draft as fast as you can. No one is going to read it but you. This isn’t the draft you are going to turn in to your publisher. It is not the draft that will go live on Amazon. As you are writing the thing, you may not even know what it is yet.
Once you are finished, though, you can go back through it and find out what it is for. Now you are ready to rewrite and rework the second draft.
Second Draft: For Your Ideal Reader
You may think your book contains the most interesting ideas in the world. To everyone else, though, it doesn’t matter.
Here you have to go back through your manuscript and take out anything that isn’t interesting. What will the readers find boring? What will they find repetitive? What will they find confusing or irrelevant?
At this point the book isn’t yours anymore. It is for the reader. It is a gift.
But not everyone is going to like it . . . yet.
Third Draft: For the Haters
For the final draft, edit your book from the perspective of a critic. What arguments and evidence might they find to be weak? What facts need to be checked? Is there any question that went unanswered or idea that needs better explanation? What questions or criticisms would the critic (the hater) have as they read the book? Prepare yourself for the objections and address them as best you can in this draft.
Now the book is ready for real readers. Read it to a friend, get feedback from a focus group, and hand it in to your editor for real feedback and improvement.
Both times I heard Strauss talk about this three-draft approach, he was taking with Tim Ferriss. Here are the interviews: