In our last discussion of the Writing Plan, we discussed the big picture. Big pictures are wonderful. They are big. They cover lots of stuff. They let you see your plan for the next year or two or five in all its aspirational glory. Having a good time? Enjoying the view? Great. Now it’s time to blow it apart, break it down, and build it back up again.
Think of your big picture plan as an elephant. An elephant you have to eat. And we all know how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. Now let’s move away from the elephant metaphor, because I quite like them and they’re endangered and we don’t really eat them. But an eating metaphor is a good one, because it’s something we’ve all done and therefore understand. So, before we get to bites, let’s talk about meals. Meals are all the elements that go into accomplishing each large goal of our big picture. In addition to being the next step of planning, this is the opportunity for us, as sometimes overly ambitious writers, to do a reality check.
Think about a goal, let’s say writing a 100k book. What will it take to complete that work of genius? At a minimum, you’ll need time for:
-Critiques, Content edit, beta reads, or some combination thereof
Is one of your goals to attain traditional publishing* for a work or works (for unpubbed writers)? Then add to the list:
-Rejections and resubmissions
-Contract offers and negotiations
-Revision letters and revisions
Are you planning or at least considering self-publishing** your work? Then you’ll need to build in:
The ‘How Long’
Once you have determined what belongs on your list, you’ll need to estimate how long each item of your list will take. If you’ve written a lot in the past or have already published books, you’ll have a good baseline from your own experience to use. Otherwise, you’ll need to assess your standard working pace, do some research about the time needed for things you haven’t done in the past, come up with realistic time estimates, and pad them. DO NOT underestimate the importance of padding your schedule. Life happens. Schedules slip. Prepare yourself for this frustrating truth ahead of time.
And don’t just pad your own writing time. Allow slack in the schedule for your critique partners, beta readers, professional editors, etc. Negotiate fair and realistic timelines with critique partners and beta readers when you are setting up your relationships with them, but be sure to revisit and agree upon a due date for feedback with each project. If you’re self-publishing (or taking the extra step of professional editing and polishing before submitting to traditional agents and editors), make a list of professionals whose services you’re considering and contact them now regarding their standard timelines for editing or proofreading books of the type and approximate length yours will be. (As you get closer to manuscript completion, be sure to contact professionals you’ve chosen to get a ‘final’ time estimate and to reserve a place on their calendars.)
Now that you’ve assessed timeframes against each of the steps toward your goals, it’s time to build your own timeline. In the business world, we use the term project schedule. I’ve adopted that terminology and some of the business world’s tools, including spreadsheets (come on, you knew I’d have spreadsheets!). There are also true project management tools like MS Project, but those tend to be expensive and if you haven’t used them before, you will have to overcome a learning curve. For the more tactile among us, you can make great use of a white board (or any board) with a timeline of weeks or months drawn across the top, and some sticky notes. I recommend color-coding sticky notes to denote different projects (books), and then further coding, e.g., lighter to darker shades of the same color, for different phases such as writing, revision, professional editing, etc. You could even use large dry erase monthly calendars and multiple colors of dry erase pens.
Regardless of the tool or tools you choose, the goal is to get a visual of this ambitious plan you are creating. This is your chance to really think about your approach to writing each WIP. Especially important to consider is how much overlap your projects will have. Will you focus on one project from beginning to end? Or will you start discovery or writing of the next project while the first WIP is with your critique partners, beta readers, and editors? Will you be able to handle an ambitious marketing plan while writing something new, or will you need to build in a month of non-writing time for each book launch? Again, if any parts of this process are new to you, these will be, for the time being, estimates. In three months or six months or a year, you’ll have more experiences and data and can adjust your project schedule accordingly.
As you work on your schedule, it’s time for another frustrating truth. If you are considering traditional publishing, you don’t own that part of the process. If you are a control freak Type A personality slightly impatient person like I am, this will make you want to take up kickboxing just so you can punch and kick things. That’s okay (and not a bad workout!). Just take a lot of deep breaths and mentally prepare yourself. While you are seeking agent representation or a publishing contract, your schedule for those particular works will most likely stop at submissions, which you might divide into multiple rounds or additional tiers (submit to your ‘top 5’ agents in month 1, the next 5 in month 2, etc.). It could take a month, several months, even a year to hear back from agents/editors. It might never happen. If and when it does, you will be able to work with your agent and editor to adjust your timeline to the new realities of traditional publishing, but until then, proceed with other parts of your plan.
The Reality Check
Now it’s time to really look at your timeline from beginning to end. After much work and possibly some rework, it should give you a good indication of how much time you are allowing yourself to write first drafts, revise WIPs, and address critique or beta comments. Are the timeframes you’ve set for yourself realistic? We’ll discuss more about how to gauge that in our next installment two weeks from now.
In the meantime, for those of you setting up a plan, how is it going? What tools are you using to build your timelines and project schedules? Is your plan making you feel more confident that you know what you want and (vaguely) how to get there?