Tracking Your Progress While Outlining and Revising
Hi all! Julie here. Recently I blogged about How to Finish Your Book, focusing on tips on how to get to The End when writing a first draft. In the comments, I was asked a great question about tracking progress during the outlining and revising stages of the writing process.
The reason I think this is such a great question is because tracking outlining and revising is definitely trickier than tracking drafting. When getting a draft down on paper, for the most part, a daily wordcount goal is all you need. But if you (like me) are obsessed with measuring and tracking your progress, you’re going to want to track everything. Things get a little more subtle and nuanced when you are in the pre-writing and outlining stage, and again at the end of the draft when you enter the revising stage, so setting up a system to track your progress definitely requires more flexibility and reflection when setting goals and expectations.
Once I have an idea for a story, I start creating the story world and brainstorming plot points. For the earliest stages of this process, I find it difficult to set hard deadlines because I feel the idea needs to breathe and grow organically. Eventually, as things take shape, I start adding structure to my tasks.
I generally work on the world first. In the beginning, I might have a single world-building document that explains the world in broad strokes. But as the story world takes shape, specific questions arise, such as “What is the political history of these two nations?” or “How are spiritual leaders chosen?” As I identify these questions, I set a goal to create a document addressing each one.
Here’s an example of an Excel sheet I use to track my progress during the world-building stage.
Once I have the skeleton of the story worked out on paper (or even as a note on my phone,) I try to set an expectation of a certain number of chapters outlined per day. This can still be pretty loose, though, because very early in the process the story can fall apart and need to be rebuilt, or it can still require lots of daydreaming to take shape, and I worry that demanding too much too soon will restrict the process and hurt the story in the long run. I still enter my progress into the Excel sheet, but more to have as a reference to look back on later than to make sure I’m hitting goals.
That said, once the story begins to firm up, I do set expectations. In the beginning my goals might be to outline a certain number of chapters per day. I create a very in-depth outline, eventually creating a separate document for each chapter. Once I get to this stage, I generally set wordcount goals for adding words to each chapter every day, until the outline is as fleshed out as it can be and I’m ready to dive into drafting.
Here’s an example of a few lines of an Excel sheet I used while tracking the outlining process of my current WIP. It looks like I started without strict goals, but eventually set a goal of outlining three chapters a day. You can see that I added notes when I didn’t quite make my goal a couple of times.
For revision, because I’m working with an editor, I start the process by digesting and organizing the information in her revision letter. I find it helpful to deconstruct her edit letter and then rearrange the points into something that makes sense with my process. This approach would also work with notes from a CP or even your own revision plan.
I give myself deadlines for big picture type issues, like “figure out the intersection of the two main subplots” or “untangle and clarify the character arc for Character X.” Then I set a pace for revising the individual chapters, trying to balance a sense of urgency with a respect for the time it takes to do a chapter justice.
Here’s an excerpt of the spreadsheet I used to track the first round revision of Ivory and Bone. You can see that I started by setting goals to work on big picture questions, creating several documents to use as guides during the revision. Most of these came from questions my editor had about the world that she felt needed to be clarified. By creating documents that answered these questions, it made it easier for me to weave these details into the story. I made faster progress later because I took the time to create these tools.
And here's an excerpt of the final lines of the same sheet. You can see that eventually I had to use the "Revised Due Date" column when I fell off the pace.
Though every book is different, this is a general overview of my personal method of tracking my progress during the world-building, outlining, and revising processes. Even if everything falls apart and I need to start over, these sheets are very helpful for me because I can see forward momentum, even when it feels like I’m not making any progress at all.
Do you track your progress during the different stages of writing? Do you have a method that works for you that you would like to share? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!