One of the essential things to do when writing a novel or picture book or poem, or any kind of writing, is to give it time to rest between drafts. The great pause. You need to let your manuscript rest after a draft to refresh your ears and eyes and heart and head, so that when you come back to it, you see it anew and can spot what doesn't work.
So what do you do while it rests, apart from fume, fret, fuss and twiddle your thumbs?
I've found it useful to work novels in see-saw. To embark on another novel while a draft of the first one rests. Many writers work on picture books between the drafts of a novel, or other smaller pieces of writing, but I find it works just as well to be plarking on another novel.
Here's the thing though -- for me it doesn't work to have three novels on the go. The see-saw metaphor is more apt than I realized when I tried it. Somehow it was awkward and imbalanced for me to have three novels on the go, even if I approached each one when the others were at rest. Two balance, three don't, not for me. It's okay for me to have two novels and some picture books fermenting and brewing inbetween, but I can't quite seem to have three novels taking up head space, not in stages of actual writing. It feels too full, as though there isn't room enough in my subconscious mind to burble and process away and then come up with new insights which seems to happen when I let my novels rest. Because, in a way, you're writing all the time -- at some level, your mind is processing the work even while at rest.
After I finished my first Dilly book, The Trouble With Dilly I started to plark on a novel That Boy Red, which is inspired by stories my father-in-law told about growing up in rural PEI during the Depression. It was a wonderful counter-balance to Dilly as it was set in a different time period, with a different voice. Then back to The Trouble With Dilly for editing, and once that book was finally off to the printers, I returned to That Boy Red, which will be published by HarperCollins Canada in April 2011.
And now that I'm on the edits for That Boy Red, I'm see-sawing it with the new Dilly novel -- at a different, earlier stage than Red, of course. Once Red is off to the printers, I'll start a new novel (even now brewing and sizzling in the back of my head) to see-saw with the new Dilly.