I've been thinking a lot lately about revision, and about how many drafts my novels go through before I start sending them out. Every writer is different, so it's difficult to get one surefire answer about how many drafts a novel should go through before being submission ready. And just like every writer is different, every novel is different.
So let's talk actual numbers. Typically, my novels go through four drafts before I start sending them out. I've read about other writers doing five, or seven, or even thirteen. The problem is compounded when you add in other novels. For example, after finishing draft 1 of novel A, I typically go on to draft 1 of novel B. But when to come back to draft 2 of novel A? And draft 2 of novel B? And where does draft 1 of novel C come in (not to mention novels D, E, & F)?
I've never actually sat down to figure this out. Often I've just written, a few times even starting multiple novels around the same time. I fit in editing when I realize I haven't touched novel A in a year and I really need to start revising it.
My problem at the moment is I have five novels in various stages of revision, and I'm writing a first draft of a sixth. It's starting to feel a little overwhelming, figuring out a schedule to actually complete all of these. Which led to the question: how many drafts should I do for each of these before they're really complete? Is four really enough, or should I be doing more?
I'm leaning toward more. One of the five novels I'm editing is actually one I had considered complete and was starting to submit. But I went ahead and started a fifth draft and realized something surprising: I'm finding lots of things to change, and the changes are making the novel better overall.
It's been several months since I last looked at this book, and the intervening time has opened my eyes to new ideas, new opportunities to make this book the best it can be. But it also confirmed my suspicion: I should be doing a fifth draft.
This changes everything in regards to my writing/editing schedule for the year.
My original plan was to write the first drafts of at least three novels this year (four if I were lucky). I don't remember my original editing schedule. I've changed it several times (which is further proof that I don't have a solid editing system down yet). But now that I'm aware of the problem, I can fix it. I just have to decide on the best way to do that.
I checked my output from last year and the year before and noticed that I've been getting the first drafts of two novels done every year (apparently I was super hopeful when scheduling my books for this year and going with three). So I'm going to aim for two again.
The editing schedule is still up in the air. Do I try to finish the remaining drafts for all five novels this year? Split them up between this year and next year? Should I focus on one or two and alternate between them until they are done before moving on to the rest?
It doesn't seem to me that other writers have this problem. Or at least if they do, they don't really talk about it. It always appears as if they have one novel that eats at them and they go from one draft to the next until they are done, and then move on to the next book. Maybe that's the best way to go about it in the long run.
I'm not able to do that quite yet. Not unless I want to focus on just one of the five that need editing and put everything else aside until it's done. Then move on to the next, and the next. Rinse and repeat. I don't feel quite right about that unless I continue writing this sixth novel at the same time. I started this novel back in 2016, and have since restarted it twice. This time around has been going really well, and I'm feeling really connected to it in a way I didn't quite before. And if I stop working on it to focus on editing a different novel, I worry I'll lose that again. So whatever I decide, I'll have to figure out how to both work on the first draft of it while revising another, and give both books all the care and attention they need.
My long term goal is to always be writing one novel and editing another anyway, so I'm off to a good start there. But because my To-Be-Edited pile has backed up, I'll have to focus even more on editing to get it back to a reasonable number.
I don't know what the best answer to solving this problem right now is, but for the moment I'll focus on the first draft of this sixth novel and the fifth draft of the other novel. What will I jump to after that? Probably another draft of one of the four remaining To-Be-Edited novels, but there's also this seventh book that I had hoped to write this year...
If you have any insights or suggestions on the best way to handle all of these, I would love to hear your thoughts. At the moment I'm simply trying different things, trying to figure out what works.