How Goins’ 5-draft method probably saved my writing and sanity

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January 27, 2017

Not too long ago, a friend asked me to read his book. He’d written a rough draft and wasn’t sure what to do after that. After reading it, I explained how writing a book involves five different drafts. He was surprised to hear that. Most people are.

From How to Write a Book: The 5-Draft Method

Back in July 2016, I thought I had found the perfect method for writing a book with two passes (one for me, one for the reader), grammar checking, handing off to a reader or two, and final tweaks. Then I realized it didn’t take into consideration the difference between one paragraph ideas and those that turn into a couple of pages, if not whole chapters.  So I started my hunt again, looking for something a little more expansive, but still disciplined enough to keep me from infinite draft syndrome.

I stumbled across Jeff Goins’ five drafts method in a link from his How to Not Waste Your Words: The Secret to Writing a Crappy but Usable First Draft article. The 5-draft method is more along the lines of the way I think. It doesn’t compress things too much and has the flexibility to accommodate all the material I already have.  Also, he labels its phases with cool words that actually describe how to treat something.

After reading through Jeff’s article a couple of times to make sure I understand the nuances in its simplicity, I went through all my Scrivener projects and rated every book, chapter, and idea within them along his guidelines with a few additions. I broke out a few more books that could stand on their own while keeping the ones that couldn’t in their respective series incubators, which also contain the characters, series order, timelines, and any other research that I need. Independent books not tied to a series have their own project. Making sure I kept things simplified, I reduced the number of projects on my tablet from the Thanksgiving high where I was away from my desktop down to the four books I’m working on plus their respective incubator projects.

Labels

Scrivener has the ability to give items a label and status. The labels refine the statuses so with one color coded glance I know exactly where I’m at.

  • Idea Only – Simple notes that need expansion
  • Finish Thoughts or Idea – Ideas present, but not completely structured, or past material that needs rewriting. This is also used for books to let me know that I need to work on them.
  • Rewriting – The chapter I’m working on, so I don’t lose track.
  • Low Word Count – Any chapter that falls below my ideal that every chapter needs at least 1,200 words to have the necessary length for impact.
  • High Word Count – Any chapter that is exceeding 2,000 words. Not sure if I’m going to keep this one as I know longer chapters are inevitable.
  • Outline – This for the books instead of the individual chapters. It lets me know that I don’t have enough ideas for a complete book yet.
  • Has gaps –  A chapter with sections of text that need connecting together.
  • Stage Complete – Ready to move on to the next status.

Status

Status is where I use Jeff’s method with my two additions for the book level.

  • To Do – Stuff I have to get to. Mostly for the Idea Only (either book or chapter) and Outline (book) labels.
  • In Progress – I’m working on it.
  • Junk (Draft #1) – This is “vomit draft” as Jeff’s friend Marion calls it. To me, it’s a brain dump, since my head usually feels empty after a very long session of doing this. Not thinking about the logical or structural stuff, it’s all about the flow. “Dream big and swing for the fences,” Jeff offers. “Save your cynicism and self-doubt for later. Here, anything is possible.” I use it for the ideas and the semi-pages that don’t have complete direction.
  • Structure (Draft #2) – For this stage, we are looking at the story flow and its logic. Jeff says its where we need to make the decision to go back to the drawing board, if things are working out. In my mind, this is for the pretty-well formed pieces that don’t require much tweaking before they will be full chapters.
  • Rough (Draft #3) – At this stage, the book is considered a “work in progress.” It needs to start signing (or making sense with their logic fully in tact from the idea level on up.)  This is the highest level I’ve gotten with all my chapters.
  • Surgery (Draft #4) – Although Jeff says authors need to start slicing and dicing the unnecessary details and other distracting things at this stage, I believe it’s the last chance to fill in the gaps missed in Draft #3. It’s also time to switch over from editing like a writer to reading and commenting like reader.
  • Last (Draft #5) – Writers don’t have final drafts. They can always find something wrong with their piece. This is what’s leads to the infinite editing cycle. Time for the final tweaks based on the feedback from the peeps (editors, beta readers, and the rest). It’s also where an author takes care of the little things are bugging them. No more massive rewriters, that should have happened by Draft #3 (a note to myself as much as anyone else.)

During the Surgery and Last stages, Jeff suggests it’s time to get other people involved since the manuscript is at the point of memorization. He reminds us that “All feedback is a gift, if you choose to see it that way.” Personally, I do. Yes, ego, heart, and soul have their place in writing, but how can one improve if they don’t let people offer advice and suggestions? It’s all about accepting criticism with grace.

How everything translates to the website

I’m ranking my WIP’s  based on the average stage of the chapters. Since none of them are complete and all of them need ideas, they have fallen into the Junk stage at this point. I’m not throwing any of them away though. Once they are the listed on the sidebar or any page of this site, I’m committed to them. Although there are more than the four “in progress” at this time, it’s easier to keep the list down to the ones I’m concentrating on.

To accommodate the handoffs to people and grammar checking programs, the site will display the stages reflecting this.

Do you use Scrivener or some other book organizing software?  If so, what are your label and statuses? Leave a note in the comments.

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