Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Writer's Desk: Making Plans, Changing Plans

Yesterday I went on an odyssey to create a writing schedule. Oh, I’d written a couple of schedules over the last ten months or so, but after grinding out the nicely formatted Word or Excel document and saving it to my writing folder, they've languished, never to be referred to again.

However, after spending a great deal of time wasting time this weekend, it occurred to me that, while my compass may be set, the navigation is still a bit rough. I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to get there - “there” being a published story of some sort. Thinking on this, I began to feel this tightness in my solar plexus and tingling in my legs. Maybe I was having some sort of fit, but it felt an awful lot like I needed to take action.

I’m not entirely sure where this came from. Why now, and what would be different with this schedule scheme? Can’t say for sure, but I have a hunch. I’ve been swinging widely around this new writer identity (in case you haven’t read my first few posts), but the motion is slowing, the arc is shortening, and I’m feeling more focused every day. Maybe I just wasn’t ready before, or more likely, the small daily victories, the experiences of butte-in-chair (BIC) have allowed that tiny spark of a dream to crystallize into a conviction. Who knows? Probably I’m over-thinking the whole thing. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if you were to accuse me of such.

Meh, back to schedules.

I went through the wondrous Internet and found some links on creating a schedule, even links specific to a writer’s schedule. After gathering some tips, wrestling with Word tables, and a few cups of coffee, I emerged from my office with a new schedule. Three shiny, new schedules, actually. One, a weekly schedule, breaks down my day into one-hour blocks and allows me to pencil in everything. The second is a novel planner. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I put the next eight-teen months as column headers and each row is a work-in-progress (WIP). I guess I wanted to see how I would work on a couple of novels at the same time and how long it would take to finish my projects. The third is a high-level look at all of my projects (short stories, flash fiction, blogging, contest writing, etc.), by month, for the rest of this year. What can I say? I am a Virgo, and I’m very good at it.

A few tips from the Internet and my own brain:
  • Be realistic. Can you really write, edit, rewrite and submit an entire novel in a month? "Be realistic" is advice I’ve been given many times over, ignored at my own peril, and learned for myself-the hard way. I’m stubborn.
  • Measurable goals. I think every link I visited gave this advice. Don’t have “I wanna be a writer” as your goal, but rather “I want to write a short story a week”, for example.
  • Print your schedule and refer to it often. Mine is on my desk, right in front of my computer. Sometimes I can be taught.
  • Be flexible. I’ve only written one novel to completion -and that is only a complete first draft- so, I have no idea how long it will take me to get a novel to submission. I’ve made some wild guesses, and I’ll adjust my plan as I learn more about my process and how long it takes. It’s an experiment as much as a plan.
  • Schedule free time. It makes the schedule less daunting when there is a reassuring coffee/sanity break or two. Schedule early afternoons on Friday or a morning to sleep in. 

If nothing else, a clearly defined schedule or plan will bring you clarity. After scheduling out my three WIPs in my novel planner, I decided that I was out of my mind. I had this idea that I could write one novel to a certain stage (i.e., first draft, second draft, out-to-betas, etc.) and then start the next stage of the second. When I let it play out in a schedule, it was a complete nightmare. It would take forever to get any one novel to submission-to-market stage, and at one point, I had myself juggling three novels and was about to add a fourth.
Go ahead, laugh. I do get ahead of myself, then run off through the streets, madly screaming, “Look, I’m going to write four novels at once! I have a schedule.” Thankfully, I realized that my novel planner doc had become pure BS and thought better of it. I scrapped the whole damned thing. And I changed my plans.

About face! Good-bye sparkly, new novel project, I am no longer working on WIP2. Two-and-a-half weeks from today (which will be six weeks exactly since I finished writing it), I start the edit of my WIP1 first draft.

In case you suspect that you are yourself mad (or you find yourself wondering how time gets away from you and your writing) and want to make a plan, here are a few links I found useful:

  •  5 Tips for Creating a Writing Schedule. Another blog that isn't frequently updated, but it has some nice posts on writing. This article is short and gives you succinct advice on creating a schedule. 

  • Master Class: How to Schedule Your Writing Like a Professional Writer. This was written by a student, for students trying to build better study habits. The student found interviews from ten professional writers, extracted the bits where they talked about their writing habits, and did an analysis to glean a few tips. Unfortunately, the links to her charts (where she graphs their responses) are no longer valid, but it was a fun read and insightful. Guess it was my day to find links from 2008.

As for creating the plan itself, if you use Office, there are loads of useful, eye-catching templates on-line. I make my own, but you can save yourself some time and heartache using someone else’s pre-made design.

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.  

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