Swoon Author Maggie Ann Martin's Editing Update: Finding a Drafting Schedule That Works for You
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been given the writing advice “write a little every day.” Hand firmly raised? Mine, too. I thought this is what every writer did while they were working away at a draft. I thought everyone thrived off of being able to watch their progress increase little-by-little each day on a graph (I’m looking at you, NaNoWriMo graph) and that’s how everyone ever wrote a novel.
Everyone, except me.
As hard as I tried to schedule some time every day before I’d go to work, it always seemed like I would just hit my flow before I had to head out the door. And forget about trying to carve out time after work when my brain had been fried for the day. I’d make it a half hour in before I decided that my words were going nowhere.
It came to a point while drafting To Be Honest that I knew I had to find a new system. I decided to host my own personal writing retreat for a weekend, arming myself with enough snacks (mostly chocolate) and an epic, inspiring playlist to last me through the weekend without having to leave my apartment. I told my friends and family that I’d be unavailable for the weekend and put my phone on airplane mode.
And guess what? I wrote 30,000 words that weekend.
I found out quickly that my creative brain works best when I don’t have to keep shifting focus. When I can dedicate an entire day or weekend to writing, I can get a whole lot accomplished.
So, here’s my advice.
Don’t follow anyone else’s rules to drafting. Test out a bunch of different methods until you find what works for you.
To test my theory, I asked the wonderful Swoon Squad about how they go about drafting their manuscripts. As you’ll see below, there’s a HUGE variation in how everyone goes about it.
“My first drafts are mostly just dialogue. That's how I make sure I keep the plot moving. I'll add in a few descriptions but I don't add in lots of details until the second draft.” —Dee Garretson, All Is Fair (January 2019)
“I get hyper focused while drafting. It consumes pretty much all of my time. I even have a notebook I carry around to places I can’t take my laptop (like work) so I can continue writing there and type it up when I get home. I print out every ten chapters or so to read through and make sure everything is going great. It basically becomes my whole life for a very short period of time.” —Tiffany Pitcock, Just Friends (Out Now!)
“I love drafting! I'm drafting almost exclusively during NaNoWriMo so I spend almost a month prepping: creating a playlist, doing research critical to the first draft, that sort of thing. And then I crank out a first draft in 30 days. Sometimes it's a little every day, sometimes it's 6K in one day, sometimes it's Netflix instead of writing.” —Vicky Skinner, How to Breathe Underwater (August 2018)
“I usually give myself a specific deadline for when I want the draft to be finished, and then as long as it gets done by that date, it doesn't matter how much I write a day. I write chronologically, using major plot points to navigate, and I force myself to not edit as I go, otherwise I'd never get through it. I just plow ahead until The End and try to make sense of the chaos afterward.” —Devon Taylor, The Soul Keepers (August 2018)
“I much prefer drafting to revising! I have to write every day and it has to take me less than two months to crank out the first draft. If I'm not entrenched in the book, I leave too many details out! And that hasn't changed from manuscript one, which I wrote ten years ago.” —Nikki Katz, The Midnight Dance (Out Now!) & The King’s Questioner (Winter 2020)
“I vastly prefer revising over drafting so I have to trick myself into drafting. I do that by breaking up my word count goal into short 15 minute sprints. Writing for 15 minutes isn't too daunting! I aim for 4-6 throughout the day and it yields approximately 2k words per day. Additionally, I report my daily goal and then my progress to my critique partner because having to tell someone my progress holds me accountable. Also, I dangle the scenes I'm most excited for (mostly the ones that involve kissing!) as carrots and work on those last.” —Shana Silver, Mind Games (August 2019)
“Drafting is my favorite. Seriously, when I'm drafting a new story I fall into a total honeymoon phase. It's all butterflies and excitement and swoony eyes. Editing on the other hand... I won't go there, but it's the complete opposite (read: torture). My drafting style is pretty swift—I usually can't get the words/story out fast enough. The quickest novel I've ever cranked out took me about three weeks. Usually I'll take three months depending on what's going on and in 3-4 hour chunks, but I've been known to draft for up to 6 hours straight if things are really flowing.” —Jessika Fleck, Beware the Night (March 2019)
“I just put my head down and write. I try very, very hard not to go back and reread and edit—that's for later. I do make a point to reread the last few pages written when I start writing the next day so I can get my head back into it. I also keep writing until it's done. If I don't power through, I'll get side-tracked too easily.” —L.E. DeLano, Traveler & Dreamer (Out Now!)
“Drafting is my least favorite part of the writing process—I'm not so good at making something of nothing. 😊 When I'm drafting, I like to start during NaNoWriMo, so I have set word counts to meet, along with community accountability. I've found that I'm much more likely to reach The End if I set a public goal and make a point to draft every single day.” —Katy Upperman, Kissing Max Holden (Out Now!) & The Impossibility of Us (July 2018)
“I’m in the midst of a pretty difficult draft with a lot of emotions going on but if I remove myself from this particular instance, drafting is my favorite! Editing sometimes overwhelms me but with drafting it’s a blank slate! I don’t outline so it’s all new to me as I go, which keeps it interesting. I usually write at night, in a few-several 30 minute sprints, and when I close it out for the night, I hit a few sentences down about what happens next. I try not to leave it at a place I was feeling stuck, but to power through even if it means writing crap because if I’m stuck when I stop, it’s hard to get writing again.” —Lydia Albano, Finding You (Out Now!)