For a long time I believed that the third draft was my 'show copy': when the manuscript had lost gross weight and been purged of typos, grammos and infelicities. Beta readers could now see the book in my head. And though I'd continue to fine-tune for months, I regarded the real work as done.
I've done a 180 on this point. The third draft, I now believe, is where I can get down to business. By this draft I'll know if the structure and pacing are sound, if the characters are breathing.But the devil's own work lies ahead of me still and there's no way any reader can envision the book that I have in my head.
From the third draft on, I refer to passes through the novel. For a mystery I'll need a few passes to fine-tune the placement of clues and the advances in detecting. I'll devote another pass to tracking the timeline and another to weaving research into the spots I'd left blank. Then I'll want to make sure the main imagery is well-developed and sustained. In my book Nobility, for instance, colors played a major part: the book begins with the word 'black' and ends with a 'rainbow of colors'. I'll need a slow and careful pass to focus on the transitions.
There's nothing boring to me about the process of rewriting. The first three drafts are brutal work, about as exhausting as digging a ditch. Then the jeweler's art comes into play in the various passes that follow. After three drafts and a half-dozen passes, I can show the work in progress to my beta readers. But, as a perfectionist, I want more fun.
I'll go through the book for more months still, stalking parts that still aren't clear and prose that doesn't crackle. I have at it, committed to making each page a party for the reader.
Why settle for anything less?