How Many Drafts Does it Take to Write a Novel?

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Hello lovelies and welcome back to the blog.

We’ve gone through previous posts talking about the drafting process and specifically about zero drafts and first drafts. If you haven’t by now you’re probably starting to wonder just how many drafts will it take?

As with many things the answer is going to be that it depends on a number of factors. Let’s talk about what some of those factors are right now.

Do you use an outline?

I first heard this idea that made a lot of sense to me by listening to one of Brandon Sanderson’s videos where he’s teaching his class at BYU about plotting and outlining. He talks about this concept of writers who front load their work versus writers who do their work on the back end. I recommend you go look up his writing videos but this concept of frontloading versus backloading your work makes really good tactical sense. How do you personally like to operate?

If you use an outline, you do most of your work on the front end before you get into the book. This often allows you to work out a lot of your plot threads and find out what is and isn’t working before you’re 60,000 words in. The more detailed an outliner you are, and the more you stick to that outline, the less likely you are to have to go through a ton of drafts.

Writers that don’t use an outline do their work on the back end after the book is written. These types of writers don’t truly know the shape of their story until they have that book in their hands and so all their work happens after a draft is finished and will go through multiple drafts as part of their process, further improving their novel with each passing round.

Traditional or indie?

This question has less to do with your choices and more to do with the amount of people that you have backing you. 

If you go the traditional published route, it’s very likely that you are going to end up going through way more drafts than you thought possible. The thing is, by the time you go on submission to agents you’ll have already done your own editing. You’ll have already probably sent it to your own critique group, alpha and beta readers, You may have even hired your own editor and gone through several drafts and several rounds of editing in order to get that manuscript into an agent’s hands.

Your agent may then call for additional revisions and you’re publishing house is going to put your book through it’s paces and work it several more developmental edits.

If you’re an indie author, you of course have the option to put your book through as many or as little revisions as you think is necessary, however, unlike when you have a publishing house behind you, you will have to pay for those rounds of edits out of pocket.

How clean are your drafts? 

You may have other challenges for writing drafts that don’t include developmental problems. For instance do you have a learning disability? Are you writing a book in a language that is not your first? Do you have a physical disability that makes typing hard?

If you are writing a book about your personal trauma, and you are working through that trauma as you are writing the book, each draft might mean you working through that trauma in a different way.

How long have you spent in this world?

Is it your first book in a new world? Is it your 20th book? If you aspire to be that author that writes about characters from one single world, then you might actually have an easier time writing your drafts than somebody who jumps through multiple worlds and series. 

If you live and breathe in one space, like Terry Goodkind did when he wrote his Sword of Truth series, you may find that you spend a lot of time thinking about that world and how the characters interact so much so that you actually write incredibly clean drafts that don’t necessarily have to be edited over and over.

If you would rather have a career more like Brandon Sanderson however, writing multiple series, then you might find that the longer they go on, the harder it is to write stories within them because you end up creating your own canon within those stories and locking yourself into your own canon, which you then have to adhere to with each new book you write.

There are so many reasons why writing a book is hard. And there are challenges beyond plot devices that could mean an extra round or two of drafts. If you’re an indie author your book is done when you feel like you’ve told a complete and satisfying story, and your readers have come back to you and generally agree. If you’re a traditionally published author your book is done when your publishing house says it is.

Click this link to hear this blog post as a podcast with your favorite podcasting app!

Do you do your work on the front end or the back end, and how would you say it affects your writing and productivity? How many drafts have you heard it takes to complete a book? Do you write in one world or across multiple worlds, and how hard or easy is it to draft? Let us all know in the comments below!

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