Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Project Management for Writers - Part One

For 2012, I want to be more productive as a writer.  After reading so many blog posts about writing goals for the new year, I am certain I'm not alone. 

I am one of those people that need goals to move forward; if I plan on writing only one novel this year, I'm not going to do more than that. On the other hand, if I think for one second I can write ten novels this year, I'm not going to be happy with myself because it's just not possible with the time I have available. 

To be a happy and motivated writer, I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish, which is not an easy thing to do.

When I was working a normal job, I had to meet deadlines with multiple concurrent projects. If I didn't meet the deadlines, I had to work overtime, which wasn't going to work for me as a single mom. So I got very good at setting realistic timelines for projects.

When I set my writing goals for this year, I used project management techniques from my previous work experience.  I know, I'm a big nerd breaking out the PM when I don't have to, but the plan I came up with feels good to me. I think it's reasonable.  If I stick to it, I will be able to accomplish a lot without neglecting my family or becoming that guy from The Shining.

Project management seems like an awful lot of common sense to me, but people in the workplace have a very difficult time of it. I'm guessing most writers out there trudging away at their manuscripts haven't had the pleasure of being immersed in the world of project management, so I thought I would share some tips I think writers can use. 

But I don't want to put everyone to sleep, so I'll do this as a series, one tip at a time.

1. Know your pace.
I think the key to setting realistic goals for writing over an extended time period is to know your habits. I don't know if it's possible to accurately estimate how much you can write in a year if you don't have an idea of how many words you typically write in an hour.

I've noticed that I write first drafts at about the same rate. The first hour is fast, the next consecutive hour is slower, and I need more breaks the longer I write. Also, if I go nuts and write for more than two hours in one day, I need a few days off. 

Editing takes me two to three times longer than writing, and I tend to take several passes at one manuscript. Writing one thousand words might take me an hour if I'm typing with no interruptions (two if I'm writing with a pen), but it will take me three hours to edit that same one thousand words. But I can edit for hours at a time, day after day, without getting burnt out.

Everyone's writing habits are different.  My critique partner writes slower than me, but takes care with every word she commits to a first draft.  I'm confident it will take her profoundly less time to edit her novel than it takes me.

The bottom line is that you can't really come up with a plan if you don't know your pace.

More later....


  1. I like this project-management approach to writing.
    But I can't help laughing at "that guy in The Shining."

  2. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." LOL. I loved "The Shining." Great movie.

    I love even more your take on pace. It's good to set goals, but setting unrealistic ones just sets one up for a huge disappointment later. The writing life is a hard one. Why make it more difficult than it already is?

  3. We get messed up when we start comparing our pace to others. When I participated in NaNo 2010, one of my buddies crossed 50,000 in less than five days. Five days! I just kept slow and steady and hit it on day twenty-eight.

  4. Rachel - Too much pressure can be a bad thing.

    Bryce - Disappointment sucks the fun out of it. How's your ms going?

    Alex - You are absolutely right! I didn't at all mean to imply we should make comparisons with other people. Sorry if it came off that way.

    The point I meant to make was that everyone writes and edits differently. To plan, you have to be aware of your own pace (that's true in other occupations too).

    I'm not even suggesting we try to speed up our pace or change it in any way. I think you have to find a pace that works for you and go with it. I completely failed at NaNoWriMo because I was trying to write at a pace that didn't work for me.

  5. Realistic goals are indeed very important. I'm not great at setting them so look forward to reading the rest of your tips.

  6. It's so true that everyone writes and edit on a different time table. Finding out what works best for you is the way to go.

  7. Patsy - Great. I hope I say something that's helpful. :)

    Nicole - The important part is that you finish. :)

  8. wow, looks like our writing habits are similar. I definitely need goals too.

  9. You are such a terrific multi-tasker that I think you'll defintitely reach your goals! I agree that pace is very important, and something that's a work in progress for me. Julie

  10. Thanks for sharing this. My first drafts go faster, too. But it's just about getting the ideas down. The second draft is what takes the most time--where it goes from crapola to a readable, polished draft. That one goes to crit partners. The next draft, polish on top of polish, usually goes much faster than #2.

    With each novel/novelette/novella I write, the process gets refined and seems to go faster. Great series, Tonja.

  11. Lynda - I love the feeling of achieving goals - it's like a runner's high - even small ones.

    Julie - Thank you! Mommies have to multi-task or babies get lost. :)

    M Pax - That's awesome you have your process so polished! I can't wait to see how many pieces you finish this year.

  12. Knowing myself is great. I too think it's hard to write 10 novels in a year. But I've seen folks churn out 400,000 words in a month. Surely most of the suck, but still, that's a pace I can never match, ever. I'll enjoy these tips I'm sure.

  13. Rusty - I'd love to get to the point that I can consistently write 20 hours a week. Right now, I know I can't do that pace, so I just need to go with what I can do.

  14. Love this. One I definitely need! I know my pace very well. But that doesn't ever stop me from thinking that THIS TIME, it will be different. THIS TIME, I will be so much faster!

    Seriously. I believe this time really will be faster. :)