Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Planning a Writing Project

Writers are creative people; we work when the muse visits us. We don’t have to worry about working to timetables or plans like people with ‘proper’ jobs. Right? Wrong! Whether we are writing an article that has been commissioned for a particular edition of a magazine; a short story for a competition; or a blog posting that’s due on a Monday (!), we all work to deadlines most of the time. Even those of us who are writing our first novel, without the pressure of a contract and an agent breathing down our necks (and wouldn’t that be a nice pressure to have to deal with?) will probably have a milestone we are working towards.

So we all need plans at one time or another, especially if we know the time we have is limited. I use simple Gantt charts for my planning, starting at the end and working backwards.
Let’s imagine we’ve been commissioned to write a book about how WWI impacted on our home town/village. The original author is no longer available and we’ve been asked to step in at this late hour. There is a clear deadline for publication: 28th July 2014. There will be no negotiation on that date; it’s been set in stone for 100 years. We need to work out how long we can spend on research and how long on writing. So let’s start by running through the stages of the project and working out which ones are fixed and beyond our control:

·        Research; photos & maps; interviews

·        Drafting

·        Writing

·        Editing & proofing

·        Copy deadline

·        Printing

·        Cover design

·        Pre-publicity and marketing
We know that printing will take one month; so the copy deadline is fixed at the end of June. If we allow 2 months for editing and proofing, that takes us back to the end of April. So we know we have six months for all the research, drafting and writing. How we plan those six months depends on our style of writing. Some writers can do the two activities in parallel; others need to have all their notes and research in place before they start. Personally, I’m in the latter group and would probably devote three months to research and plan to start writing at the start of February.

The last two activities are shared with other people and can be done simultaneously with the main project.

So our Gantt chart would look like this:
You can buy commercial software packages that do this for you, but I find a simple spreadsheet works just as well.
This is how I plan many of my projects. What sort of planning methods or tools do you use?

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