Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keeping It All Together - Organizational Tips for Writers

One of the most difficult things that I have had to contend with since becoming a ‘nearly’ published author is juggling both my careers, dealing with a college aged daughter, a mate, a pubescent young man, and all of this blogging/tweeting/Facebooking/marketing madness is finding the time to fit it all in.  I sat down last month to think about creating a successful career as an author, and the implications that would-be success would have on my daily life.  Realistically, I don’t think that I will be able to walk away my day job anytime soon.  With the ever-changing world of publishing and your prosperity as an author depending on how much positive ‘noise’ can be generated about the project and the sheer strength of your backlist, lots of time and work must be dedicated to the promotion of your author brand.  That means that I will have to continue this hectic merry-go-round of marketing, blogging, social networking, and of course, writing if I ever hope to one day become the next Nora Roberts or J.R. Ward.
What does that mean for me, and more importantly, you?  It means that we will have to become more organized as authors, carefully planning our days so that we can attain a positive work/life balance and maximize efficiency.  With two kids, two jobs and all the ups, downs and changes that accompany them – we have to learn how to work smarter.  Sounds cliché, I know, but truer words have never been spoken.
Fortunately, I have worked on many a project during my day job and along the way have picked up a thing or three.  To help explain and provide realistic tips that can be easily employed in daily tasks, I have broken this out into three sections: Initiation, Planning, and Execution.  Whether you set up an Excel worksheet, utilize a notes organization system or simply set up a Word document to keep track of all these items is completely up to you.  Just make sure that it is a system that you will refer to often. When I say often I mean daily – hourly – and if needed, every thirty minutes. That may be a slight exxageration, but you have no idea how much of a procrastinator that I can be.
Step 1: Initiation
Let us look at building a house.  Any contractor will tell you that a new house is only as good as its foundation.  Why would anything else be different? We prepare for everything in the world that is important to us, and you have to take your novel just as seriously.
Start by writing your storyline.  I am aware that some of you may be a pantser vs. a plotter but you can still note the general theme of your story, the main characters, what’s important to them as a character and the location of your story.  For you plotters, this is right up your alley.  Take your time and really explore your character.  Maybe do an interview with them from the standpoint of a therapist (someone gave me that really great idea and it helped a lot in character development).
Next, determine how long story to be, in terms of word count.  If you don’t know, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a fictitious goal.  One of the things that I like to do is figure out what publishing house I am submitting to and read their current submission calls.  Even if I don’t end up submitting to that publisher, this practice gives me a good starting point.
Make a list of all the agents and publishers that you are interested in submitting your MS to for consideration.  Also, add any editors that you know of who work at each publishing house, so that you may address them directly when submitting.
You should also draft out a timeline for completion of the project.  This is directly dependent on whether you have a time imposed by a third party or if you are simply working towards your own specific drop dead date.  For instance, if I want to finish a 65K word work by December 31st and I am starting this project on July 1st, I will need to complete a total of 2709 words a week (65000/24 weeks = 2708.3333).  These timelines will serve as your project goals, with the deliverable being a finished novel.
Be sure to add in the important milestones for your project.  Perhaps you want to review your work during week 12, which would be the halfway mark in the aforementioned timeline. Maybe you want to query an editor or agent with a book proposal during that time, since you would know by that time whether or not the story still fits the needs of the originally targeted publisher or agent.  Perhaps you want to begin editing at week 18 or forward your work to your critique group.  These milestones are a good way to determine if you will meet your goals or if the project is in jeopardy.
When thinking of your overall project goals, be sure that all of them are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.  I’ll go a little more in-depth on each of these.  Each task or goal should be specific – meaning that you should not say “I am going to write 10 books by the end of the year.” Instead, you would want to figure out exactly what types of books you are interested in writing for the year – “I will write 1 paranormal romance, full length and 1 short story by 12/31…” and work exclusively on those.  Measurable goals, meaning that you should be able to measure your progress made towards completion of each project.  This should be easy since we all seem to track our word count.  Your goals should be Attainable – don’t tell plan to write Gone With The Wind in two weeks, if you know that it takes you four months to write a blog post.  Set Realistic goals; don’t add unnecessary stress in your life. Don’t overdo it with tasks and milestones that are outside of your capabilities and will only serve to make you feel overwhelmed.  Finally, time bound goals give you something to shoot for in the grand scheme of things.  Give yourself enough time to complete your goals, and the project as a whole, without adding undue pressure.
To recap, the initiation stage of your project should entail drafting the following:
·         Working Title,
·         Character(s) and any tool to develop those characters,
·         Prospective Editors/Agents that would be interested in this work,
·         Project Timeline, and
·         Project Milestones
For those of you who currently work in or have worked in Corporate America, you may recognize this as the beginning phase of a project plan. 
Please watch for Wednesday’s post, which will contain Steps 2 (Planning) and 3 (Execution).
Feel free to ask me questions either here or on Twitter.
Thanks and see you tomorrow!

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