Monday, June 27, 2005


I wouldn't blog about the weather if it weren't such a good metaphor for what's going on in my life this week. As I type this, I'm hunkered down behind my computer monitor because the evening sun is coming in at a bad angle through the arch in my window, and it's hard to see the screen. And this is after an incredible deluge of rain about an hour ago--rain so thick that almost all I could see ahead was the tail lights of the car in front of me. They say if you don't like the weather in Idaho, wait five minutes. It'll change. That's not usually the case in the summer, but this year has been exceptional for rain. I love it--except when it's trying hard to cause traffic accidents.

I got the car back today, and sure enough, it was the battery. One new battery and the car's ready to rumble again, thank goodness. You never know when I might get the urge to take a road trip.

In fact, I've decided to go to PNWA after all. I hadn't been planning to go, but then I read their list of classes and panels and decided that there are several things not to be missed. Plus, it gives me one more vacation to myself. That's what a trip away for work means to this full-time mom. I have to drive or fly hundreds of miles just to be without the family for three days and focus on my career? I have to dress up every day, laugh, smile and make lunch conversation with strangers? I have to sit in uncomfortable chairs for an hour and a half at a time and listen to authors, editors, agents and publicists drone on about how tough it's going to be to make it in the fiction market and how the odds are already stacked against me? Yeah, baby! Let's hit the road.

This is going to be a great conference. Check it out at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association website.

Even before I go and do that, three members of the Moxie 4 are going to have our own private writers' retreat here at my house the weekend before 4th of July--yikes, that'd be this weekend, wouldn't it? At least two straight days of writing, brainstorming, eating and puzzle working in the company of two other people who are focused on the same goals I am. Sounds like synergy, ladies and gentlemen! And all without family underfoot to trip over. The Huz and kids are taking off for the weekend, leaving me alone, so of course I'm throwing my own brand of house party--just without the booze. Well, without much booze. It's not the alcohol you have to limit with the Moxie. It's the chocolate.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Getting the Jump On Things

My new car played some tricks on me yesterday. When I went to drive it somewhere, it refused to start, and wierd things were happening. It told me to check my traction control when we were still sitting in the garage, the radio kept popping on all by itself, and it kept playing around with its CD changer even when the key was turned off. You could hear it spinning and whirring and trying to rearrange tracks. It lost all the radio settings and the time setting, but kept the milage and trip odometer stuff. Then it started, but as soon as I'd driven it somewhere and turned it off, it refused to start again. Of course it did, you silly chick, its battery was dead! Right? Yeah, I'll admit at first I thought the problem was with the computer, not the battery, but after the Huz mentioned it when he came to get me I realized that he was probably right. And so thought the service guy at Ford today when we dropped it off to them for repair. It spent last night in a public parking lot, but fortunately it was under a street light, so it was about as safe as it could be given the circumstances. But I was not happy. Not happy at all.

It pretty much has to be the battery. When the engine is running, everything behaves normally--runs like a dream. But getting it started...nope. Not happening. This nice guy in the parking lot came over and asked me whether he'd just heard my car not start, said he had cables in his truck, and offered to give me a jump. I told him thanks, but that my husband was on his way, and that he'd jump me instead.

Yeah, you're probably thinking what I'm thinking. Probably. By the way, did you know that on jumper cables there's a positive and negative clamp and that if you put the wrong clamp on the wrong part of the battery (and sometimes if you jump it with the host vehicle's engine running) you can actually blow up your battery or wreck your car's charger? The Huz explained that he was glad the other guy hadn't given me a jump because he might have done it wrong. Heh.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Thoughtful Spot

My younger daughter and I are reading Winnie-the-Pooh as we finish up our correspondance school year. Remember Pooh's Thoughtful Spot? It was the place where he went to do his serious thinking. Now, being a "bear of very little brain," Pooh didn't do any writing, but plenty of writers have had a very special spot where they do their best work. It's their garret, their attic, their personal writing sanctuary. For me, that special place is usually my office, because it's a room devoted to my computers and my writing, But sometimes I have to escape my escape, when the blank white screen remains too blank and too white, and the words just aren't flowing or there are too many interruptions. Sometimes I need a change of scene in order to get out of my own way and just get the job done. Tonight, my Thoughtful Spot was a local pub, where I ordered steak and iced tea and proceeded to let all the noise around me fade into the background as I worked on paper edits for Shadows. I've done it before, and it works well enough because even though there is noise, I don't have to respond to it. The only one who can command my attention is the wait staff, and they are there to cater to my needs, not demand that I respond to theirs. I love my home and my office, but sometimes the Throughtful Spot is just the place I need to be to shake things loose.

J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter books in a cafe in Scotland. I've seen writers at Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, and the public library. I know one writer who loves to go and sit outside with a laptop. So where's your Thoughtful Spot and what about it makes the wheels start turning?

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Every once in a while, I read a forum or talk to someone as avid and driven as Ponce de Leon on his lifelong quest. Only these people aren't seeking the Fountain of Youth. They're after the Secret of the Successful Pitch. "How do I get Mr. Awesome Agent to represent my book?" "How did you get your agent?" They want the secret formula. Trouble is, it's different for everyone. But there are a few things that are probably universal. The first is to write a great book and know how to describe it so that it still sounds like a great book. The rest comes under the heading of simple courtesy.

As I well remember, the whole prospect of walking up to an agent or editor and trying to get him interested in your book can be incredibly daunting. And you know what? Even now that I have an agent, I still have to pitch now and then, and I'm still daunted by it. Every time I write a synopsis, I'm pitching. As my agent recently told a roomful of hopeful writers, every time someone asks you what your book is about and you give them an answer, that's pitching. I won't try to tell you that I'm any kind of expert on the pitch. I'm not--not even close. But I thought I might be able to give you a few anecdotes from the trenches and maybe take a little of the mystery out of what happens in the pitching room.

I've always approached pitching the same way I've approached a job interview, because that's really what it is. You have a product and some skills to bring to the table, and your potential agent has skills, and what you're really trying to find out is whether all those goods and skills mix well together. Obviously, if you write romance and the agent you approach handles only non-fiction or hard core sci-fi, then it's not a good match. You'll need to do some research to find out whether your target agent handles what you write. There are books and websites devoted to this, so I won't go into the researching agents spiel today. Instead, we'll focus on what to do when you meet them face to face.

So, you've signed up to attend a conference, you've determined which agents handle your genre, and you know with whom you'd like to speak. Great start. Next thing you know, it's the day of the conference, the day of your scheduled consult, and you're nervous. Fair enough. Use plenty of deoderant and maybe a breath mint, and above all, remember to breathe. The thing to remember here is that the agent may routinely do lunch with editors, she may call many of them by their first names, and she may have the clout to get your foot in the door with a publisher, but she still had to get up in the morning, put on the deoderant and maybe pop a breath mint, just like you. She, too, had to consider whether her new shoes match her suit and whether she ate enough breakfast to tide her over until lunchtime. In short, she's just a person, like any other. Like you. You have different jobs and different experiences, and maybe those will compliment each other enough that you can form a great partnership. But she's not a rock star, and you are not her groupie. You are her potential partner. Breathe. Don't react as though Elvis just walked into the building. (Unless, of course, he did!) They're human, I swear.

Now, the other side of that coin is that they know you're human, too. Don't try shock and awe on them. They don't need to hear how brilliant your sister's husband's cousin thinks your book is. They don't need your entire marketing plan, they don't need your entire social history, and they don't need to hear that you're doing them any kind of a favor by bringing your opus to them for representation. Be NORMAL. Not overly humble, but not arrogant, either. Just be a real person who knows that neither you nor they walk on water. Normal. Talk to the agent the way you'd talk to a new colleague you just met at work. Handshake. Brief but friendly hello. Pitch. It's business. Be professional.

Want some anecdotes? Hmm. Ok, here's what happened at my first conference. I was scheduled to talk to an agent named Andy Zack. I went to that pitching session and tried to behave as a professional. Yeah, I was nervous. Andy listened to my pitch, asked for the first three chapters, then commented, "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Ok. So it was my first time, and he knew it. But I got through it in good shape and got the request for chapters that I was after. Then at the same conference, I waited in a line to talk to another agent who repped fantasy, Don Maass. It was just after a panel, and he didn't have much time, but when I gave him my quick pitch, he said to send him a query letter with maybe a page or two from my manuscript. By the way he said it, I knew he was just being nice and trying to do me a favor, but a page or two submission wasn't what I was after. Earlier during a panel, I'd noticed Don and Andy Zack giving each other the occasional friendly jibe, and I'd gotten the impression that a little friendly rivalry was going on. So I looked back at Don and said, "Andy Zack just asked me for the first three chapters." He grinned and said, "Well, then I must have the first three chapters, too." (A little disclaimer here: This is only meant as an example of how paying attention to what makes people tick can sometimes pay off for you. It is not meant as a means to get Don to ask for your manuscript.)

I made my first pitches in 1998, for a manuscript that I have since tabled. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about pitching at that conference and the ones to follow. I never forgot the idea that I was talking to professionals, and that in return I was going to act like a professional. "Dress for the job you want," is a quote I got from a movie whose name I don't even remember, but I think it's apt nonetheless. Want to be a professional writer? Act like one. That alone won't get you published, but it can get your foot in the door and pave the way for future pitches. I have gone on to make many more pitches over the years that followed that initial conference. It was at another conference in 2002 that I met and pitched to Bob Mecoy, the man who would become my agent. It takes time and persistance, but it does pay off.

Agents and editors want a pitch that hooks them and tells them what makes your manuscript different than all the other similar ones out there. Hook them with your pitch, then hook them with your writing--it's the one-two punch that'll either get you into the ring with the pros or send you back to the gym to wait for another title shot. That's the bottom line, and the most important part of the secret formula.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

(Net) Working It

The local mystery conference went quite well, and now that's over for another year. My fabulous agent came, spoke on a panel, taught a class, and listened to local people pitch their books. Now he's on a plane back to New York. Comments I heard from various conference attendees were good. The Ridley Award (a mystery writing award named for Ridley Pearson) was given to Carolyn Hart, and her speech inspired a roomful of hopeful writers. For a smaller city, it was a very nice little conference. They want it to be an annual event, and I hope it grows into something much larger and well-known.

When I started this post, I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be about. But now I realize that it's about networking. In talking to some of our locals, I realized just how many hopeful writers there are who haven't actually found any significant support systems. Sure, plenty of writers across the country hop on planes or into automobiles and travel to writers' conferences throughout the year, but for every one who goes, there must be many, many more who do not. It's not always because they just don't want to, although there are bound to be some of those as well. Some people don't take advantage of the opportunities inherent in a conference (local or otherwise) because they either don't know the conference exists or they don't know how attending one might help them. Here's a fact: When my husband mentioned this weekend's conference to some of our neighbors and some of the "guys at work," none of them even knew that our city had a writers' conference of any kind, genre-specific or not. When the Huz mentioned that I was at a conference, they automatically assumed it was out of town. And several of these were people who had writers in their families who would probably have gone if they'd known. The cost per attendee was very low, which was appropriate for what amounts to a one-day conference. Add to that the fact that the locals don't have to stay in hotels, and you have a very affordable opportunity that would be a shame to miss. How many writers out there would love the opportunity to learn more, learn how to network and connect with their dream agent or editor, hobnob with published authors and learn from them? How many missed this opportunity because they didn't know about it? Hopefully, we can get more and better advertising in future.

I know plenty of authors who don't like the limelight and don't want to network. That's fine if you're either already so well-published that people across the country know your name anyway, or if you just write for your own enjoyment and have no particular desire to be published. But my personal opinion is that if an author wants to kick-start his career and meet the types of people who can help him in his quest for publication and recognition, he has to network. He has to travel to those other cities, take and give out those business cards, talk to those people whom he might never otherwise have dared approach, and do any appropriate follow-ups. Or, if for some reason he cannot travel, then what about online communities, like Forward Motion? Forward Motion offers so much, and while you're welcome to donate for the web space if you'd like to, you aren't obligated to pay a cent for all the great advice and feedback and support you get. Another great source of info is writer blogs, from which you can often learn a lot, including what NOT to do. A knowledge of mistakes to avoid can sometimes be even better to have in your bag of tricks than a boatload of well-meant how-to advice.

We live in a world that is figuratively much smaller than it used to be, and often a mutually beneficial contact is just an email form away. In order to get published in fiction in today's market, you need a combination of factors, including:

1. a compelling manuscript
2. an agent or editor who loves your work
3. luck/good timing
4. the determination to succeed

It isn't all about the networking. But the networking is important, nonetheless. I heartily encourage all aspiring writers to attend a writers' conference at least once. Aside from meeting the "big shots," you'll meet so many other great people--hopeful writers like you who may become friends for life, crit partners, or valuable contacts in the future. And if nothing else, you can learn a lot about writing and have a great vacation while doing it.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Cat - Tastrophe, Redux

Ok, I'm beat. And the kids now know what a cat's skeleton looks like on film. Today (Thursday) I just couldn't stand it any longer and wasn't sure he could either, and so we took him to the vet. She confirmed our original impressions: he's a perfectly healthy older cat who has suffered an injury, and he's just going to have to hang out and mellow out until he gets better. The good news is that nothing's broken, he has the perfect amount of bone density for his age, he hasn't blown out a knee or ruptured any of the main ligaments that would require surgery. BUT he has done something to one of the ligaments on either the medial or lateral (inside or outside) of his left hind leg. He had to be put under general anesthetic for his X-rays, and have this little gas mask on to keep him under after the first shot wore off. Did you know that when they're drugged, cats' eyes don't close? They just stay open, staring off into space, but no one's home. When they discontinued the gas, he was woozy and just lay there with his eyes wide open and his tongue sticking out. One of the tests the vets do to see how the cat is doing is a quick pull on the tongue to see whether it's pink and whether he can pull it back inside his mouth. It's wierd--imagine what happens when you pull and release a measuring tape. He didn't focus immediately, but you could see the moment when he "came back" and the intelligence was awake behind those dilated eyes. My poor kitty. I'm very proud of him; he took it all so well. I'm positive that he knew we'd taken him there to try to help him.

He's much better tonight. He's supposed to take it easy for a few weeks to heal, and he has some anti-inflammatory medication to take in the evening to help get him through the next few days. But he's doing all his ADL's (that's Activities of Daily Living, for those who didn't have to suffer through nursing school) and he's getting around so much better that we're actually starting to hope that the ligaments may be merely pulled and not torn. I'm just glad to see him comfortable and reasonably happy again. When this cat's in pain, everybody knows it.

After about 24 straight hours without sleep, I collapsed in the afternoon after the Huz got home and slept until 10:00 pm. Then about midnight I went down to the couch to visit the cat and ended up falling asleep there for a while. Now I'm going to work for maybe an hour or so and then sleep again, so I can go and meet Bob at the airport tomorrow and go to the kick-off events for the conference in the evening. I have not finished the revisions, nor will I have them completely done before the weekend. But I should have them done by mid next week, and that's the best I can do. I've discovered that on zero to five hours of sleep, I can't write worth ****.

I just read something that said sleep deprivation can produce the same level of impairment as being legally over the limit for blood alcohol level. A sobering thought, that. And so was the fact that after all those hours of sleep, it took me about ten minutes to fix a problem in the manuscript that had stumped me for the past four days.

I never said I didn't occasionally need a good whack with a clue-by-four.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Cat - tastrophe

Well, I'm scrambling here. My agent is coming to my city this weekend to appear at a local mystery writing conference, and I really wanted to have my revisions done by then. But Real Life often hits with a crash and a yowl, and it looks like I won't get it finished quite on time.

I homeschool my two muchkins. Well, it's almost homeschool. They're in a nationally accredited correspondance school, and they send in their schoolwork. We'd made plans to finish this year up by the end of June, and then we got behind. So I've been scrambling to help them get back on track and get packets mailed in just as fast as we can crank them out. That's gumming up the writing, but both are important, so I try to divide my time between them. Oh, and sleep. And eat. Usually sleeping and eating get shoved to the back burner, but sooner or later you pass out from lack of one or the other.

And then there's the cat. Last night I had just dragged my sleep-deprived self out of the chair I'd collapsed in, eaten a plate of fruit and protein and started to work on the revisions again, when the cat got up from my desk to lick the plate and then just went completely berserk. Crying, meowing, telling me that something was wrong, wrong, wrong. I put him down on the floor because he made the meow that usually means he's going to be sick, but this time it was pain, not hairball. When he walked, his left hind paw scissored in front of the right hind paw, so he listed like a drunken something-or-other. I thought he was having a stroke, but he never lost the use of the limbs--just acted like he was in pain whenever he moved that one back leg. The ensuing distress woke up the whole household. We all hovered anxiously as we determined that he'd suffered an injury, not a stroke. One of the kids had stumbled over him when she got up to go to the bathroom, and it must have hurt him somehow, though nothing's broken. Sheesh. Things that go bump in the night.... Today he's much better, able to climb up to the back of the couch to sleep in the sun, stand up to eat with apparent relish, and not meowing in pain. Everyone else is sleep-deprived and hollow-eyed. Which just proves--the household really does revolve around His Cattishness.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Fantasy Forecast

Cold, damp and cloudy with a strong chance of showers and flash floods. No sign of clearing in sight. Sounds a lot like the current weather in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy fields, doesn't it?

Lately I've been reading lots of posts on blogs and in forums about how difficult it is to get published in Sci-Fi or Fantasy these days. I'm sure that's true and has probably been true for a long while. And just when I'd hoped that the recent success of movies like "Harry Potter" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy might have done something we novelists have all been trying to do for years--make fantasy cool to the masses. And yet--it might actually be working and we just haven't seen the repercussions in the publishing field yet. A few facts:

1. The new Harry Potter movie is due out soon, as is the new Harry Potter book. That ought to get people thinking in terms of magic and mayhem again.

2. The Lord of the Rings was a supurb effort that not only proved a fantasy epic trilogy could be successful, but that movie directors and producers are willing to make the effort to keep the films true in spirit to the book or series that inspired them. That surely bodes well for the future of fantasy film making.

3. This Christmas, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" opens in theaters, finally in a true film format with a big enough budget and CGI tech to do it justice.

4. And what about:

Fantastic 4 (coming right up!)
Star Wars (just hit a box-office record, didn't it?)
The Incredibles
Pirates of the Carribbean
Lara Croft, Tomb Raider
others I probably missed....

If audiences didn't like sci-fi and fantasy, we'd have known it by now. The gradual increase in fantasy film releases in the past few years would seem to indicate otherwise. There's a built-in audience out there, and sooner or later their presence will be felt by the publishing world. I have foreseen it.... Oh, sorry. Took a walk on the Dark Side for a moment. But it can't be only the Sith who see the future, even if always in motion the future is.

I've also seen the first volumes of several new fantasy trilogies out on shelves in the past few months, some of them sporting plots much less original than many of those I've heard about recently from unpublished writers. Fresh stories with an original look and feel have to come from somewhere. Why not me? Why not us? As a reader, I've stopped buying books whose blurbs sound too much like all the others I've read before. I'm sure that must be true of others as well. Despite all the negative odds and scuttlebutt and rumors and concerns, I still have to believe that if we stick with it and write the stories that tug at our hearts and minds, we will get that coveted contract in the end. Only passion and dedication can carry any writer through the long slog to publication. People don't stick with this profession unless they love it. And if you aren't writing because you love to write, then what's the point? The only people who have ever been published are the ones who didn't quit. Once you've decided not to quit, then it's just a matter of time and patience--the patience to wait out the storm and to know that the rain and clouds can't last forever.

I know, I know, Hail, Polyanna. Oh well. Somebody's got to put on the short skirt and pick up the pompoms. Cheers, be well, keep on writing.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Mug Is Done

I picked my Moxie 4 mug up from the ceramics place today. It looks pretty good. There are a couple of things I would do just a touch differently if I had the chance (kind of like revision) but it's fired now and finished for better or worse. I'm well enough pleased with it that I don't intend to scrap it and start over with a new mug. One thing's for sure, though: next time I make a group of home-crafted items for an organization of any kind, I want to be sure I can get them all done within the same time frame--even if I have to order the right number in before I start any of them.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Vision and Revision

Wow. I just visited a forum where a long discussion is going on regarding the writing process and whether certain methods are efficient or not. Efficiency is an interesting subject, especially when applied to writing. Remember the movie "Cheaper By the Dozen"? In real life, those parents were efficiency experts, and they applied their knowledge in that area to the task of raising children. Everything in their house ran like clockwork, and they had a streamlined process for everything right down to making the kids' lunches. Would a streamlined efficiency process work in writing novels? Not for me, and here's why:

I've written five novels to date, but let's just look at novels four and five. Novel Four, Aspects of Illusion, was written in a spontaneous, organic fashion which took eight weeks. After that, it went through at least three or four revisions, during which I learned a lot about bringing a book to a publishable level. Efficient, no. Useful, yes. When I wrote Shadows of Memory I was able to avoid many of the mistakes I made in crafting Aspects.

Has the process of crafting Shadows of Memory, novel five, been more efficient than the process for Aspects? Yes and no. For Shadows, I knew what mistakes to avoid, so I tended to edit as I went, striking down the little problems and bad habits whenever and wherever they arose. I wrote a scene, gave that scene a quick immediate first pass as I read it aloud to my husband and made notes of things I noticed that were wrong with it. Then I made more changes as I input the first batch of changes, and then I ran it through my crit group and made still more changes. The result, a cleaner "first draft". But at that point, was it really a first draft? Probably not. Was it more efficient? Maybe or maybe not. With this general nip-problems-in-the-bud process, I avoided lots of crafting issues that might have needed editing later, but I also got bogged down in minutiae that ended up adding more fluff to the manuscript than I had in the previous book. Even after the manuscript was as tight and streamlined as I could imagine it to be, my agent still sent it back for one last pass, which I'm still working on.

This time I wrote from an outline, and that's got to be more efficient, right? Ah, but my outline included a lot of extraneous matter that needed to be cut--whole scenes that were added just because I was trying to find my plot and hadn't yet found the track I needed to be on. So was the outline approach really more efficient than the organic process I used for Aspects, whose plot didn't need anywhere near as much tweaking?

In my opinion, no matter which process I used for these two books, efficiency was bound to become a moot point sooner or later. Because each book was different, the creative processes were different, and my ability to envision the story was different. One fell out of the sky into my brain and out my fingers, while the other I had to fight, claw and bleed to find, requiring brainstorming session after brainstorming session and plenty of figurative wailing and gnashing of teeth. Shadows is the book you might say I sweated blood for. Aspects, I blithely typed until it was done and then went..."Wow, a book!" And both stories are good--really good, from what people tell me who read them. Was one process more efficient than the other? Not really. Both stories grew and changed as I delved into them, and both needed revisions, despite the fact that one was organic and one was outlined. Both had stuff that turned out tight and honed in the first draft and both also had stuff that needed lots of pruning to bring it into shape. Two books, two processes, both different, neither particularly efficient if you rate efficiency by whether they sprang onto the page in perfect, publishable form without revision.

Can I change my writing process to make it more efficient? Well, I can get better and faster at avoiding the little mistakes that usually need revision, yes. I use far fewer "ly" adverbs, fewer instances of "and", "was" and "ing" now than I used to, and that has helped--but that's just the basic wordsmithing. The creative issues themselves may change from day to day, depending on what new ideas occurred to me yesterday, what movie I went to see last week, or what I had for dinner. One time a character developed a head cold because I had a head cold, and it wasn't something I'd planned ahead of time, but it led him to a discovery that changed the course of the story! I could have the entire plot planned out to within an inch of its life and still find that vital changes were needed once the work got underway. A lot of my carefully, efficiently crafted scenes might have to be scrapped when the story circumstances change during the actual process of writing. It's a lot like moviemaking--that's why a director shoots and re-shoots scenes that may or may not make it into the final version of the film. Same type of issues. It's expensive, sometimes excruciating and not particularly efficient, but it's how the creative process works for many people.

The creative process isn't something that I can force to comply with a set of efficiency rules, because the story evolves differently each time, and with each book, I face a different set of challenges. Sometimes painful life events interrupt my "efficiency," and there's nothing I can do to change it. During the writing of Shadows, my grandmother died, which threw me off track on the story for a matter of months. So much for efficiency.

The bottom line is: any scene is subject to change if the change suits the needs of the story, no matter how much skill or efficiency I was able to bring to bear in the first draft. The final product is the most important issue--not whether I needed five drafts or only two. And then there's the publisher, who will suggest changes they'd like you to make. Again, so much for efficiency. Constant change, constant evolution--all the hallmarks of a dynamic creative process. If you do strive for efficiency and perfect first drafts, you go, guys! Even if you never achieve that perfect first draft (and you probably won't) it's constantly striving to better your skills that will result in stories that get published, read and treasured by readers.