Have a million amazing story ideas swimming around in that head of yours?
Well, you can't write them all at once, but you can work on several of them. "What is this?" you ask. "Shouldn't I focus on writing one novel at a time?"
Well, yes...you should. But that doesn't mean that you have to complete an entire manuscript before moving on to the next. Using a technique called the Drafting Cycle, you can actually work on multiple projects without feeling overwhelmed or underproductive.
In fact, many professional novelists use the Drafting Cycle to streamline their writing processes so that they always have a new book coming out, and you can do the same. Though it might sound crazy, you don't need a lot of time to pursue this technique. With a strong writing routine and a novel action plan in place, you're already well on your way to crafting an exciting and prolific process that will have you writing like the pros in no time.
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The Drafting Cycle is an important technique for writers of all levels of experience to utilize. In addition to allowing you to work on multiple novel projects at a time, the Drafting Cycle promotes healthy objectivity, a skill that is incredibly important to have when it comes time to edit your work.
I've talked about stepping away from your manuscript between drafts before in posts like 10 Things to Do Before Editing Your First Draft and 10 Reasons Why You Should Participate in NaNoWriMo. Essentially, the more time you spend with your work, the more attached to it you will become.
If you try to edit your work without first taking a break from it, you'll likely find it difficult to maintain the critical eye needed to make the appropriate changes.
In order to regain a bit of objectivity, you'll need to take at least two weeks to step away from your work and let it breath, so to speak. But what should you do during that break? This is where the Drafting Cycle comes in.
It may be tempting to quit writing for a few weeks, to give your mind a break from all the hard work you just completed, but maintaining a writing routine isn't easy. If you quit for even a few days at a time, it may be difficult to pick it back up again. Instead, you should use the break between drafts to work on a new novel project. This is this essence of the Drafting Cycle.
Let's say you have two fun story ideas, and you'd like to write both. Using the Drafting Cycle, you'd choose one idea to work on first and spend a few months creating the first draft. After you'd finished with that draft, you'd it aside and create the first draft of your second story idea.
Once the first draft of your second project is finished, you'd go back and write the second draft of your first project. You'd continue this pattern until you'd finish one or both manuscripts.
Feeling a bit confused? Here's a quick breakdown:
Step 1: Project #1 - Draft #1
Step 2: Project #2 - Draft #1
Step 3: Project #1 - Draft #2
Step 4: Project #2 - Draft #2
Step 5: Project #1 - Draft #3
Step 6: Project #2 - Draft #3
And so on...
If one project is still ongoing when you complete a manuscript, you can either add a new project into the mix or use the break between drafts to work on publishing the completed project.
Not convinced that the Drafting Cycle is right for you? Improving objectivity aside, here are four reasons why working with this technique will benefit your writing process.
1. Improve focus. Have trouble finishing any novel project, let along multiple? Chances are that your excitement over new story ideas is distracting you from the old ones. If you ever want to complete a manuscript, you'll need to learn to focus. And while this is never easy, utilizing the Drafting Cycle can help.
When you work with the Drafting Cycle, you work with the knowledge that a different novel project looms just over the horizon. You won't have to commit to a project for more than a few months at a time! This consistent pattern of switching things up can help you channel your excitement into a more focused writing process.
2. Expand the scope of your skills. The key to improving your writing is to constantly expand the scope of your skills. By trying out as many different story ideas as possible, you'll take on a more confident and skilled writing style.
But finding the time to try out new styles of storytelling can be difficult if you're focused solely on finishing one manuscript. With the Drafting Cycle, you'll have the opportunity to work on several different writing projects every year, meaning you'll always be stretching your skills.
3. Avoid overwhelm. Working continuously on one project can be overwhelming at times, especially when plot holes and continuity errors abound. Taking a few weeks to regain a critical eye is the key to staying rational (and avoiding all of that nasty writer's doubt).
By working with another project in the meantime, you'll take a well-earned break and maybe even figure out a way to deal with some of your first project's tougher issues. And even if you don't return to your first manuscript with any bright ideas, you'll still be far too thrilled about knocking out a draft for another project to let writing doubts get you down.
4. Grow your author brand, fast. Most writers don't make it big with their first novel. It's only after they've published several more that their renown begins to grow, allowing them to pursue writing full time. If you want to be a professional novelist someday, the fastest way to gain a solid readership is to continue publishing new novels. And with the Drafting Cycle, you'll always be able to do just that.
So are you ready to dive into using the Drafting Cycle to perfect your own writing process? Fantastic! But before you get started, here are a few things you need to know:
1. Only take on what you can handle. You can actually work with more than two projects using the Drafting Cycle, but I highly recommend not taking on more than three. Some ninja writers can knock out a draft in a month or less, but most writers take anywhere from two to six months to complete a draft.
While taking a break between each draft is good, spending too much time away from a project can actually harm your manuscript more than it can help.
Considering that the more projects you add to your Drafting Cycle, the more distanced your drafts will become, it's best that you keep your projects limited to two or three at a time. Any more than that, and you won't be able to complete a full cycle in a year, meaning you'll likely lose touch with your manuscripts.
P.S. Not sure what a three-novel Drafting Cycle would look like? Here's a breakdown for you:
Step 1: Project #1 - Draft #1
Step 2: Project #2 - Draft #1
Step 3: Project #3 - Draft #1
Step 4: Project #1 - Draft #2
Step 5: Project #2 - Draft #2
Step 6: Project #3 - Draft #2
Step 7: Project #1 - Draft #3
Step 8: Project #2 - Draft #3
Step 9: Project #3 - Draft #3
And so on...
2. Know your process and your projects. The number of projects you add to your cycle may also depend on the size of each project and the speed at which you write and edit.
If you're working on three average-sized novels at a rate of 500 words a day, you'll probably be able to work through your Drafting Cycle two or three times a year. That's fantastic progress! But if you're working on two massive epics at a slower rate, you'll find it difficult to get through your cycle in a single year, meaning your cycle won't be very productive.
Taking the time to create a cycle that works for you is imperative. If you create a cycle that you can't complete once in a year, you're going to run into problems. I recommend making sure that you're able to revisit a manuscript at least every six months, if not every three. Any more time away and you'll simply lose too much awareness of the steps you need to take to complete your projects.
Be smart about your cycle setup, and you will succeed at writing like a pro.
3. Don't feel pressured to work on two novels. While I encourage every writer to put some form of the Drafting Cycle into place, don't feel pressured to work on two novels if you're only in love with one.
For three years, I didn't have a single extra story idea worth pursuing. My sole focus lay on writing my first fantasy novel. I spent years building the world, developing the characters, exploring the cultures, and finding the heart of the story amidst all of my crazy pre-writing.
After months of planning, I finally began to write and rewrite and rewrite again. It took me almost three years to finally get the first draft down on paper (which is definitely a story for another day and not something I'd recommend). Because I had written parts of the first draft months before, I wasted no time in jumping straight into edits.
Flash forward four months and I'm now finishing up the second draft of my novel, which means that my first true break from the manuscript is about to begin. Thankfully, I recently came up with a new story idea that has fully captured my attention, so I'll have something to work on during my break between drafts.
In fact, I'll be using the rest of October to pre-write this second story idea, and then I will attempt to draft the entire thing during this year's NaNoWriMo. This means that I'll finally be nudging my first Drafting Cycle into motion. Hurray!
If you're in the same boat with your writing process, don't feel pressured to scrape up some new novel idea to add to your cycle. Instead, use the breaks between drafts to focus on improving your writing skills. My favorite method (aside from developing new projects) is to work through a writing prompt book, such as 642 Things to Write About or A Writer's Book of Days.
4. Have a strong reference guide in place. Unless you're one of those writer ninjas I mentioned earlier, you'll probably spend more than two weeks away from your manuscripts at a time. To avoid forgetting the details of your projects, make sure you have a strong reference guide in place.
A reference guide is a series of organized notes that cover the major elements of a writing project. This includes notes on the novel's plot, characters, settings, research, worldbuilding, and anything other elements that apply.
The easiest way to create this reference guide - or story bible, as I like to call it - is to pre-write your novel before beginning the first draft. It took me years to realize just how valuable such a resource would be for keeping my novel organized, which is one of the many reasons why it took me three years to finally finish that first draft.
But my novel's story bible actually became even more useful as I dug into the second draft. I used it to hone my characters' voices, work out plot holes, fix setting errors, and so much more!
Figuring out how to set up your own story bible can be tricky, which is why I created a special digital workbook just for you. The Pre-Write Project is a 50-page resource full of insights and worksheets to help you build a comprehensive story bible for each of your projects.
Even if you consider yourself a Panster, taking the time to complete a bit of pre-writing for each of your projects is incredibly important to writing a spectacular manuscript. If you're not convinced it's worth your time, check out this guest post from Kaitlin Hillerich of Ink and Quills. It might just change your mindset!
Before I close out for today, I'd like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who emailed me about how to work on multiple projects at once or how to handle all the distracting plot bunnies that keep coming your way. If it wasn't for you, this post wouldn't have seen the light of day.
So keep your questions coming, folks. I may just turn them into full-blown blog posts!
So, what do you say? Will you give the Drafting Cycle a shot at transforming your writing life?
Feel free to leave any questions you might have in the comments below, and don't forget to tell me about how you plan to use this technique to write like the pros. Happy drafting, my friend!
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Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!