Managing your writing like a project

So to preface, this may be a bit long and is going to be a brief look at the concepts of project management. Some might balk and ask why they should look at project management when it’s just them, but, often, it’s not and there’s still benefit to be found.

Even if you’re half-way through your current WIP, it may not be a bad idea to step back and go through the process anyways, either for an overview or to find some new ways of organizing.

Generally speaking, the first step ought to be establishing realistic expectations for when you intend to publish and your budget. A full-time novelist with an established team and a few books under their belt may be able to turn out a novel every nine months, but for the person who must settle for writing part-time and is alone, a year and a half to two years may be a better estimate. Of course, this holds to certain genre conventions, like that romance novels typically don’t take as long to write since they tend to be plot-light and feature a smaller cast of characters.

Thus, it’s up to the author to determine what reasonable is, and for a first-timer, there’s going to be some pretty broad estimates. But hey, it’s a learning process, the internet can provide some good information, and even experienced project managers/authors can get their estimates wrong.

So, let’s say we’ve given ourselves 18 months to take a novel from concept to finished, published product. Now what?

Now we figure out what we need to do to achieve that finished product. There’s the writing, of course, but that can be broken down into segments. We have our first draft, our revisions, a rough draft suitable for handing out to ‘final’ beta readers, more revisions, and a final draft. Each of those pieces can further be broken down into pieces we can assign a date range to.

Also, as you might expect from the words “Project Management,” yes, there are charts to be found! Unfortunately I lack any specific PM software, so I’m using Excel. First off, we have a very basic flowchart.

I’ve given us 40 weeks to create our first draft, 20 weeks for revisions/editing, two weeks to find an editor who’ll touch our slop, and so on. These are just random numbers I pulled out of my ass as each project is going to require its own schedule. I’m working on my own charts and schedules for my next novel, actually, and they should be ready in another two or three weeks once I nail down some realistic timelines. Research is key!

Anyways, you can see certain things are contingent on others being completed–no sense in hiring a cover designer when we don’t have a final manuscript for things like spine thickness. Though if you’re doing ebook only, then, realistically, you can have the cover done whenever you feel like. Interior layout is much the same–no point in it if you’re working with an ebook only.

As well, this is quite the abstract, like ‘revision process’ is quite in-depth, but limited to a single block here. Don’t want our happy little flowchart getting too messy, after all.

Another useful chart is something called a Gantt chart, which looks like so:

Yay, Excel skills shining through.

Here I’ve broken out some of the most abstract concepts like ‘revision process.’ You can see the number of weeks each task is assigned and how it’s broken down. Orange blocks are ‘milestones,’ or checkpoints that must be reached before the next stage can progress. In theory, anyways.

Now, you may be wondering why this is all needed and what the point is. Well, the point is these things can help an author stay on schedule, on task, and ensure that they’ve thought ahead for everything they need. There are many little things that go into each task that one might not think about until they really think about it. For example, in the cover design process, if you’re doing a print book, you might need to provide an ISBN or have your publishing platform provide one for you. There are considerations to both (namely, cost vs having amazon as your publisher) but it’s not something that eats time. Still, it’s another task that must be done before you can reach that final milestone of book launch.

Same goes for the nebulous ‘revision’ process. How, exactly, do you want to go about it? How long do you want to give yourself? Be wary of statements like “When it’s done,” because those never end well. Setting up schedules and tasks and workflows can aid you in both establishing and getting accustomed to deadlines, which will lead to you producing a novel in less time and with less ambiguity and, maybe, stress. Plus, when (or if) you ever talk to an agent, they’ll (likely) appreciate the fact you’re someone with a project mindset.

Spending two or three days writing down a list of everything you need to do to publish your book, and I mean everything, then assigning it a realistic schedule, is a great step towards achieving a measure of professionalism. So far it’s been a boon to me to think of things in this nature, and I really do wish I’d thought of it during my first novel. Probably wouldn’t have launched like such a flop.

Second novel will discover if this is all just bullshit or maybe it’ll have some merit. Time will tell!

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