How to Create Writing Deadlines: Making Art Match Reality
When art is your business, you may experience some contradictions. You need to create something from your heart, but you have to determine what about your work will appeal to an audience. You need to allow your creativity to flow unimpeded, but you have to make sure it results in a product that people understand. The artist in you wants a timeless masterpiece. The entrepreneur in you wants the book to come out before you starve.
Last week, I talked about the importance of a writing sanctuary. I joined a local co-op and have made it my base of operations for all things fiction. I created a goal to write three serialized fiction novels over the next few months. The goal was the easy part. This morning, I worked on writing the much more difficult plan of action. It was painful.
For some reason, I had an idea that each book would take me about a month to write and complete. The wide-eyed, optimistic businessman in me assumed I'd have all three books ready to go by the end of June. I based that plan on assumptions that I could be prolific in a short period of time. I didn't use assumptions to create my writing deadlines. I used data.
After spending just a week on the first of three writing projects, I had a much better idea of how long these books would take. My original assumption also failed to take non-writing tasks like beta reading, editing and marketing into account. When I sat down for an hour with a calendar by my side, I came up with the more reasonable deadline to finish the projects by mid-fall.
How to Create Writing Deadlines
Start with a blank sheet of paper or a blank printout of a calendar for the next few months. There are several phases you need to plan for. I didn't have to do any research for my current project, but you may have to block out some time to research yours. Be reasonable and don't assume you'll be able to pull some kind of all-nighter to get all the info you'll need. Next, you'll want to plan the outlining stage. I'd never outlined a novel until this project. I assumed it would take two days, but it's going to be closer to two weeks. The good thing about spending more time on the outline is that it will help you to speed up your writing time. The more detailed the outline, the less you'll have to delay when it comes to getting the first draft on paper.
And now the first draft stage. Countless first drafts have been written about writing first drafts. Here are a few things I've picked up over the years:
Never assume perfection.
Plan for average productivity and schedule in contingencies.
Don't make a deadline during a holiday or a vacation.
With all of that in mind, assess the approximate length of your book and the number of words you're likely to write per day. Divide the estimated word count of your book by your average daily word count to get an estimated number of days it will take. Add a day or two in case you get slowed down or if the book ends up slightly longer than you guessed. Be prepared to change the plan on the fly if the book becomes significantly larger than you previously imagined.
Editing is a difficult beast to plan for. Unless you decide to edit yourself, which might keep your book from reaching its highest potential, you're going to need to get other people involved. That could mean developmental editors, beta readers, proofreaders and friends. When other people enter the fray, scheduling can become difficult. Tasks always seem to take longer when you're dependent on someone else to finish them.
Creating deadlines for the editing phase of your book requires that you be reasonable and firm. It's unreasonable to assume that a person editing your book can finish in 24 hours, even if you're paying them the big bucks. It's also unreasonable to assume your book will be perfect on the first pass, which is why getting multiple eyes on your work is so important. You also need to be firm. Set specific dates by which you need your book to be read and edited. Set goals for your editors or beta readers. Don't just tell them to look it over. Ask them to look just at grammar, story, character or whatever it is you need to solidify. You can even ask different readers to look at different aspects of your book. Be clear in your goals, both content and time-wise, and your readers will be more prompt and efficient.
My marketing plan for these projects is in the early stages. All I have so far is the creation of a new blog for my fiction writing. After I start the blog this Wednesday, I plan to write a new blog post every week. If that lasts through mid-October, that's about 25 posts. It's a decent amount of content to have up for a first-time novelist. I'll need to plan out more than the blog alone if I want to get the kind of response I'm looking for. I may do contests, social media events and more to fill in the cracks.
It's smart to plan how you're going to get the word out for your book project. A mistake many authors make is thinking about the promotion only after the book is written. Plan your marketing right alongside the creation of your content. Involving your readers in the creation of your book, using book excerpts, cover reveals and beta reading, may be the best (and cheapest) promotional tools you have. The only way to fit these events into your schedule is to pencil them in along with your writing deadlines.
Man with the Plan
I'm new to planning out my books. I've been a panster through and through for years. I've finished most of my projects, but the ones that crashed and burned were the result of poor planning. With my new methods for creating writing deadlines, I'm certain I'll up my completion percentage. But what works for me might not work for you.
You need to create a planning method that fits with your life and your brain. Think back to the most productive time of your life. How were you making sure you got your work done? Maybe it was in high school or college or during your first job. Try to adapt that planning method to your next book project. If a method worked once or multiple times for you, it's a good fit for your personality. Keep using it over and over again and you're likely to become an expert. And if that method fails, come back and try mine on for size. Happy planning.
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.