What I’m about to tell you could get my ‘writer card’ revoked, but I’m going to say it anyway. I love math. I love the elegance of a descriptive equation and the joy of solving a complex problem. And spreadsheets with built-in math functions – you know how I love spreadsheets! So this week as we discuss our Big Plan for writing, we’re going to break it down with some fundamental math. But not to worry if you’re not a math geek. There will be no hard problems, no pop quizzes, and not even spreadsheets (unless you really want them).
In week 1 of the plan, we discussed setting writing goals and aspirations for a year or two or five. (Improving craft and/or publishing? Traditional, self, or hybrid publishing? Novels, novellas, short stories? Series or standalones?) In week 2 of the plan, we started looking at the building blocks necessary to reach those goals and laying them out on a high-level schedule of weeks or months per task, considering all the steps that go into creating a book, the additional steps and time required for self-publishing, and the mysterious black hole that is the timeline for traditional publishing.
At that time, I asked you to think as objectively and critically as you could about your own capabilities in meeting your schedule, and cautioned you to pad that sucker like an Olympic fencer. This week, let’s take a look at a week-by-week approach to writing, apply our metrics, and figure out if the math works. Sounds like fun, right? Trust me, it won’t be as painful as you think.
Now I’m going to turn to that old writing adage of show, don’t tell by demonstrating this approach with my own numbers. I’ve laid out a plan for two years, but for planning purposes, focused on one year at a time. My year 1 runs from September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2017. By that end date, my plan is to finish writing the first draft of all the books of my Harrow’s Finest Five Victorian Romance series, have novella 1 (the prequel, if you will) and novels 1 and 2 written, critiqued, revised, edited, proofread, formatted, ‘covered’, and available for sale. Phew! But that’s not all. To keep up with my planned publishing schedule, novels 3 and 4 need to be in the editing and revision phases, respectively. Is that possible? Do those numbers even work?
Let’s start with the sheer word count necessary to reach those goals. The good news for my schedule is that novella 1 and novel 1 are written. There are words on the page, and they are not too far over my target word count (I always overwrite by about 10% and prune in the first, pre-critique revision). Novella 1 is almost ready to move to critique partners and novel 1 will be ready for that by mid-autumn. So for word count, I can remove them from my calculation. That leaves novels 2-5, and the second (wrap-up) novella. My target word count for each novel is 80k. For the novellas, it’s 20k. That means 340k words of writing alone. And that overwriting thing I mentioned? That means I know I’m going to get closer to 374k. In 12 months. Just 52 weeks. Except…not really.
This is where reality sets in. I’m going to start with 52 weeks, but I know I’ll want to take a week during the holiday season to focus on family. I also know that either this fall or next spring, I will be taking a 3-week vacation/research trip to Denmark (squee!), and while I would love to say I’ll write during those weeks or at least on the plane rides, I know me, and that’s probably not going to happen. Now I’m down to 48 weeks.
But wait, there’s more! I’m having one of those big birthdays next August. You know the ones – they end in a 5 or a 0, and require lots of wine and friends to get through. Bring on the wine train! I am planning a week-long trip to California wine country. I am not even going to pretend for one minute that any writing will happen during that week. Oh, and there’s one more thing happening in the next year. My daughter, my only child, my baby, is getting married! I’m going to give myself a week for final preparations, the big day, and recovery from all the crying.
If you’ve been keeping track at home, you know I’m now down to 46 weeks. Allowing some padding for illnesses, unforeseen crises, and other life events, I’m going to knock off another 3 weeks. So, can I write roughly 374k words in 43 weeks? And have enough time left for revision, critique and editing recovery, formatting/uploading, and marketing?
Based on my past history, I know I can work 6-day weeks pretty comfortably, even in jobs that I’ve enjoyed much less than writing. I’ve made some life changes that mean for the next year or so, writing will be my only job, so I have 6 days a week to devote to it. (If you have any non-writing job, including – or maybe even especially – child-rearing, you know you can’t commit 6 or 5 or maybe even 2 days every week to writing. Cut yourself some slack. Take your own schedule into account and be as brutally honest as possible about it.)
Because I know I’ll have lots of tasks to complete in addition to getting words on the page, I’ve determined that I can devote 3 days a week to new words on the page, 1 day a week to all things marketing (this will increase to 2-3 days a week just prior to and post book launch for each of the books), and the remaining 2 days a week to revision, editing, working with formatters/cover artists, etc. So, I have 3 days a week for 43 weeks where I plan to write new words.
There’s only one variable left in our equation – how many words per day can I reasonably expect to write? Again, you will have a better baseline for this if you’ve been writing and tracking your own progress for a long period of time. If not, you’ll have to give your best guesstimate. In my case, I know I can write approximately 3,000 words per day for 3 or 4 days per week without getting terribly overwhelmed. However, it’s important to note that I’ve never had the luxury of time to do that for more than a month at a time, so keeping it up for a whole year might prove to be impossible. (This is where we can apply the corporate world terminology of stretch goals, as this goal might very well stretch me to my limit and cause me do dissolve into a puddle of tears around month 3 or 4, at which time I will reassess my goals and adjust my schedule accordingly).
I’m going to cut that word count down to 2,500 per writing day (again, padding), so 7,500 per week. I’ll do the math for you: it comes to 322, 500 words per year. That’s significantly below my target of 374k. I have some tricks up my sleeve – a few long weekend writing retreats and one week-long writing ‘camp’, all of which will probably boost my word count. But that will be gravy, or potentially make up for some less productive weeks. All of which means, my plan was unrealistic, even from the standpoint of significantly stretching myself. So I’m going to remove half of novel 5 and all of the final novella from my Sep 16 – Aug 17 schedule.
Next time, I’ll wrap up our discussion of the Big Plan with some linkety-links and writerly resources to help you further plan your own schedule and gauge your own productivity. In the meantime, how is your planning going? Does the math in your own schedule work for you?