How many rewrites? Hard to say. My early novels were rewritten fifty times. No exaggeration. Part of that was because I couldn't get them published and so I just kept rewriting. Another reason I rewrote so much was that I was learning and every time I hit a new level I had to go back and rewrite the novel to match what I had learned. With my second novel, it became really schizophrenic because of the length (700 pages) and I would have to run around to the beginning to get it to match the end.
Faulker brought it all home. I was on about my tenth rewrite of Tobacco Sticks when I started reading Faulkner. The level of Bill Faulkner is so deep that it broke the ice I had been gliding on. Every sentence had to be destroyed to match this new level. Much like breaking glass. The new sentences just pushed the old writing aside. That was when I truly began to rewrite and I dug in for years of rewriting. Seven in all.
Now it is much more predictable. The first five rewrites are mostly killing off scenes, repetition, bad sentences, unnecessary exposition. There is expansion of characters and possibly elimination in this phase. The next five rewrites are polishing up the novel and looking at it as a whole. Does it really work? A very hard question after all those hours of rewriting. The next two or three rewrites are tweaking and then finally the final one or two rewrites are looking for anything I missed. And then the novel is as good as it is going to get. Give or take a few rewrites.
William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man due out in the fall.