The art of project management

Time to kick it up a notch.

I find that I work best when I am busy. I have a natural tendency to cruise, which is all very nice, but unless I’m flat out it means that everything takes longer than I intend, simply because I haven’t got the pedal to the metal. The first draft of a novel should, in theory, take two months to write. Ludmila, My Love is only halfway done and it’s already taken about three.

And Ludmila is not the only project I am working on. I need to edit the book before, Empire State, so I can get it out to beta readers. The beta readers will need time to read it, and then I need to allocate another block of editing time for when they all send the book back with their thoughts/critiques. My plan with Empire State is simple enough – get the manuscript in shape so I can start shopping it around by October this year. At the moment, October sounds like a long way off, but once I programme in the three required timeblocks (edit, beta reading, edit), it suddenly looks like a much shorter timeframe.

Another project which requires some hours right now is The Gospel of the Godless Stars. This is shaping up to be the next novel after Ludmila, My Love and my first collaboration. Wyoming-based author and poet Kate Sherrod is co-writing this weird Lovecraftian horror Western with me, and so far we’re having a ball getting the story together. I’ll blog about this properly soon, but the first step is to mesh our two outlines together into a single cohesive story in time for Balticon, which Kate is attending, so she can show it to some folk. Actually, meshing the outlines is the second step – the first step is to get my outline done! Balticon is held over the last weekend in May, which means I need to get the outline out to Kate in the next few days.

So busy, and busy is good, right? Yes, it would be, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m still stuck in cruise mode. A couple of weeks ago I had a night or two where I didn’t get much sleep for whatever reason, which threw out my early morning writing routine as I got up too late. And hey presto, the morning routine has been out of whack since then. Add to that a hefty workload from the day gig – including weekend work – and suddenly I’ve done hardly any writing, zero editing, and only a little outlining.

The worst part about it is that there is no-one else to blame but myself. I control when I get up and when I go to bed. Also, I’m in the very fortunate position of being able to control how much day gig work I do. More than most people, I think, I have control over the hours of my day and what I use them for.

But the only way is up, or forward, or however the song goes. Is that even a song? The solution is simple – get up early and re-establish the writing routine; watch the among of day gig work I take on; schedule schedule schedule writing projects.

I’m a routinised person. I love lists. I love calendars and dates and deadlines. So over the next few days I’m going to do some proper planning and scheduling for my writing projects. To this end, I’ve added some little progress bars to the front page of this blog, over on the right there. Wordcount is an easy metric to measure, and while I keep my own detailed spreadsheets on progress, perhaps seeing (and regularly updating) these public trackers will provide just a little more impetus to get things done. Editing Empire State is harder to measure, but will be done by page and date – I’ll put up a tracker for that as soon as I’ve worked out the best method and deadline. Incidentally, the 68 words on Gospel are actual words rather than outline (outlining being even harder to measure than editing), but I don’t expect that number to change significantly until the first draft of Ludmila, My Love is done and dusted.

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  • “The first draft of a novel should, in theory, take two months to write.” I love that! I won't tell you how long I've been working on mine. Too long. I like the progress bars, perhaps I need something like that. However, whenever I try to focus on word count I just find myself deflated at not making it go up quickly enough. It's seems like a race I cannot win. Obviously we are very different in our approach.

    Do you ever find it difficult to change your focus between projects?

  • Well, I like word count. I've had people ask me how I can be so mathematical about writing, when writing is an art, but that's missing the point. By using a wordcount, it doesn't mean I suddenly stop, job done, at 100,000 words. My three completed drafts are each over that by a bit. But 100k is about what a debut novel should be, and by setting that as a target, it lets me work out a schedule. At 2,000 words a day, it should therefore take 50 days to write a first draft. Of course the problem is I don't stick to that schedule – I write 3,000 words a day for a week, then something happens and my routine is thrown off.

    The fact is that you must finish what you start, or you'll never get anywhere. So for me, seeing that 100,000 word milestone approach is a great motivator.

    As for changing focus between projects, yes, I do find it very difficult. I actually started editing Empire State a while ago but had to stop as I found it 'disturbed' (for want of a better descriptor) my writing on Ludmila. However, with a deadline fast approaching for the Gospel outline, and with time ticking on towards my October goal for Empire State, I really, really need to suck it up and start multitasking. That's life!

  • I am more or less a routine person, but I have yet to learn self-control and the utilization of my time in a manner, which will allow me to complete a draft in two months for instance. And yes, although I try to assign a wordcount, I always underwrite. I sense that the draft will be standing at 70 000 words, while the edited version before the beta readers will most likely stand around 100,000 or perhaps more. These are things I can't exactly control.

    But I agree that I need to grip the schedule and not let go of the horns.