This N.C. Wyeth illo has nothing to do with my story, I just thot it looked nice.
Finished the second draft of my YA neo-Western earlier this week. I never write exactly the same way twice no matter what I do. Sometimes the ideas come out almost completely wholly formed in the first rush, other times they need to be teased out through several missteps, other times still the basic idea stands but needs to be worked on and polished.
In this case I had the core idea about 14 years ago; had my set up, core characters, basic conflict, and ending in mind. From 2007 through early 2011 I began noodling down all the possible incidents and complications I could think of related to the central idea, as well as some light preliminary research.
Research can occur anywhere in the process. Some stories I've written have been the result of finally finding the story spine to an idea in the research, other stories have little if any initial research and just enough on the final draft to make sure I haven't made any egregious miztakes.
For this story a basic knowledge of the background was all I needed to get it plotted out. Once I finished the plot I started writing it while at the gym, pecking out 500-1,000 words a day on my cell phone while on pedaling an exercise bike.
Finished the first draft on November 7th, 2011. Printed it up, let it lay fallow for a while then did red ink copy editing / re-writing in mid-2012. Did a lot of research during this period for details, not core ideas. Finally picked it up again for for a serious re-write in late December / early January; wrapped up that draft three days ago.
I'm going to let it sit for a few weeks, then do another red ink edit followed by a third re-write in...? (Hopefully not too long; this has been sitting around much too much as it is.)
First draft is to get the story down: Who-what-when-where. Second draft is to shape the form: How. Third draft will be for characters & style: Why.
Will there be a fourth draft? Probably not to this extent, but I'll doubtlessly be tweaking and polishing up until the point where I actually upload it for readers.
As has been pointed out, stories are never released, they escape...