[I wrote this as a comment to question posted on Book Country and thought it’d make a great blog post here, so here it is!]
The only ‘draft’ copy I’ve ever kept was the first completed copy of Midnight back in 2004. It’s in a sealed manuscript box on a shelf in my closet.
I write longhand and am one of those “edit as you go” types. (so when I write, it looks like this:
(ignoring the gaming monkey, of course!)) I will read what I’ve written before I sit down to type it up. I find everything that’s a mistake or that I don’t like, fix it, then type it. Other things might get changed while I’m typing, too. As I type, each chapter gets its own file under the main story folder. (something like this:
I also save a document called “unused bits”. That’s where I stick stuff that I decide doesn’t need to be in the main story body. Sometimes these come in handy – a phrase or two might come back into the story somewhere else; or a whole scene (or paragraph or snippet) might come back in another story, reworked to fit.
Once a document gets typed up, though, it’s subject to any and all kinds of reading, editing, hacking, you name it (because I never can just “leave it alone”).
Once the story is finished, then the files get arranged in chronological order and printed out. This is when they get their first “heavy hand” line edits. Those edits get typed into the existing files. The the files get put into one document. All those individual files (except the “unused” files ones) get deleted. The full document, then, is my “official first draft” – even though it really isn’t; it’s probably draft twelve squillion and a half, but that’s the process that works for me.
From this point forward, it’s the full document that’s going to be read by readers, editors, etc, etc.
This is all probably about as clear as mud.