Using a Novel Drafting Log

It’s time to draft. Thus enters a tracking log for drafting. This log can be a spreadsheet or notebook or whatever, something you can comfortably use.

Using a Novel Drafting Log

Even if schedules don’t really work for you, it’s worth it to at least track your progress. Perhaps you’ve brainstormed and planned out your book for ages. But you know it’s finally time to draft — and I mean really draft. Not just writing the opening and going back over it a thousand times without ever moving on.

It’s too easy to get lost in that limbo of feeling like you’ve done work on your novel without actually getting anywhere with the draft itself. So there’s a very easy and free solution to combat that uncertain haze: data.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I one hundred percent support that thinking time is writing time. In fact, the way creativity works in your brain requires that unfocused time for inspiration to occur. 


You have to balance the unstructured time with the act of… well… getting things done. 

Thus enters a tracking log for drafting. This log can be a spreadsheet or a designated notebook or whatever, but it has to be something you can comfortably use for each writing session. 

As with my current book coaching clients who are in the drafting stage, you’ll find ways to make such a drafting log your own and track what’s most important to you according to your goals. You can compare your plan to reality. You can track word count over time. Or, if word count goals feel toxic to you, you can only track time and measure progress by scenes or beats.

Like my drafting clients, you may find that such a log helps you note what’s working and what’s not. It lets you see your patterns with objectivity rather than vague feelings such as “I’ve been thinking about this for hours… I got a lot done, didn’t I?”

Plus, a drafting log can be used as a way to catch yourself when you find yourself ruminating in overwhelm or inadequacy. It can help to bring you back when you catch yourself procrastinating in the name of drafting by diving into research. 

Instead, with a drafting log helping to hold you accountable, you can notice those feelings or distractions and acknowledge them. Then you can let them go and move on!

This is especially true when moving from planning to drafting feels overwhelming at the start as you begin to realize how much may still not be figured out. And you know what? It would be strange if it didn't! Moving from one stage to the next means you are switching gears from all the planning to actually writing this thing out.

Using a drafting log doesn’t mean you’ll never struggle through this stage of the writing process. But it can help you figure out what’s going on when you do have those moments. You can look back and see what might be causing the anxiety. Even if you can’t figure it out, you can look back through your log at patterns that do work so you can adjust and continue stronger for it.

But I want you to understand that there's not a right or wrong way to draft. Yes, it's helpful, generally, to keep moving forward. Yes, you can make note of things you know you need to change so you can move on. Or... yes! You can simply move on! You'll correct as needed in another layer—another iteration.

This is all such a layered process. 

What? Even after all that planning, not everything is figured out yet? Of course not! 

I don't mean for any of this to undermine the real hurdles the not knowing, or switching gears, or navigating all the layers of the process creates for you. I certainly don’t intend to invalidate the rough spots and feelings that often come with it. It's an ENTIRELY frustrating part of the process. 

I know. I'm in it with you! My current outlines/drafts are likely a lot tinier for my series-in-progress, but seriously. I outline first in generalities with a few of the specifics I know. But I too have to keep telling myself that more of it will come together in the next layer. 

And, eventually, when I allow the creative process to do its thing while simultaneously working on strengthening my drafting muscle with the habit of it, it does come together. It’s a balance of using the scientific process of creativity with the tracking of data and analysis. But they work together, benefiting each other.

Creating a drafting habit is essential for me. It involves consistently logging my sessions and making observations. By dedicating time to diligently work on my draft, I am not only strengthening my writing habit but also engaging in deep thinking. This process challenges me to articulate my thoughts on paper and find creative solutions to the "problem" of needing to express my story idea in a fleshed-out draft. (Note: the “problem” can be as commonplace and general as trying to render the scene from my outline into drafted prose. The “solution” can be as simple as being able to move forward and write out that scene.) This is all necessary in order to get my brain firing in all the focused ways I think might offer solutions. 

But it usually doesn’t. At least not good solutions. Not yet.

So then I need to let the inspiration stage of the creative process take over. I’ve thought long and hard in the writing session I made myself keep. I tried to put some crappy words on paper (and likely succeeded in that, at least). Now I can do something else and let the “problem” of my draft go for a bit. My brain will keep tinkering with it in the background, but now I’m not so focused on it. Other possibilities are allowed inside that problem-mulling in a way that they weren’t before. They had been shut out by all the focus.

Finally, something gels. Something that might even be good as a solution. 

Then I can rely on my drafting log sessions to hold me accountable and get me back to the working stage. I can play with and test my new, creative solution to pound out that tricky scene or work out the details that hadn’t been necessary at the outlining stage. And then I can continue forward…

Until I get tripped up by the next drafting problem. ;) And repeat! 

But I’ll get further each time. And I can look back at my log and see that specific progress. It’s more tangible than if I merely note that the word or page count has increased from last time (perhaps not even remembering what the actual count was). Plus, I can note any patterns that helped or hindered and course correct accordingly.

So if you’d like to get started with your own tracking log for drafting, here are a few components I recommend including in that log:

  • A session label for date, time, or whatever works best for you.

  • A goal, whether that’s a word count, page count, time allotment, scene progress, outline section, or similar.

  • Notes for what’s working and what’s not working, or something similar to prompt you to reflect on your session.

  • Your progress for the session, which might look like a word/page/scene count, or similar notation. I don’t recommend noting time as progress, generally—it’s not as helpful for seeing how much tangible work you actually accomplished.

  • Whether you completed your goal. This one might be more optional, but if giving yourself a gold star is a good motivator, this is one for you! If it’s going to make you feel defeated and send you into a self-punishing spiral whenever you don’t reach your goal, you might be better off leaving this one off. Or consider replacing it with a note about something you’re proud of from the session.

  • Schedule breaks into your log so they feel intentional and restful—which is the whole point! Are you going to take weekends off? Or pick one day each week to do things unrelated to writing? By actually placing these in the log (or structuring your log not to include weekends or something like that), you won’t look back and berate yourself for missing a session. The break is purposeful. And most writers find they’re necessary.

Other possibilities might include summaries of your story progress or notes about where you left off so you can easily jump in at the next session. Or perhaps you’d like to have a weekly or monthly breakdown of goals as well. The beauty of creating your own drafting log is that you can make it what you need it to be. But hopefully now you understand not only how a drafting log works but why it works because of the creative process and creation of habits. And you’ll have some solid starting points for crafting one of your own.

Happy writing!

Categories: novel planning, writer mindset, novel drafting

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Hello! I'm Gina Kammer, The Inky Bookwyrm — an author, editor, and book coach. I give science fiction and fantasy authors direction in exploring their creativity and use brain science hacks to show them how to get their stories on the page or ready for readers. 

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