Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sweet Sacrifice: The Sky's the Limit

If I said you could, would you believe me? Not one or two projects, but every last dream and desire. Would you entertain the notion, just for a moment?

All problems can be broken down into smaller tasks, and if you do a little each day, you’ll eventually finish that 10,000-line poem or 200,000-word epic. Working to a plan, even a loose one, can help you chart your course through the wilderness of the unknown, and keep you honest each day. Nudging forward, even at a crawl, will help you realize your goal in a few months time. There’s little magic to it: stick to the plan, be consistent, and you’ll arrive. Guaranteed.

Certainly you don’t plan to write just one book. Besides, what fun would that be? Take a fresh sheet of paper (that horrifying blank slate that sends shivers down the spines of wary authors, and prompts them to run for the hills) and write down all the books that you’re planning to write. Some may not have names yet, so give a mock title or short description for each one. Keep jotting them down until you’re grasping at straws, trying to determine if you’ve overlooked any. Hopefully you’ll have no trouble filling the page, if not several (some of us are too ambitious for our own good).

Now that you have your list, grade it. For novels that absolutely must be written (as in you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and only have a few months to live), give them an A. Books that can wait until you clear out your inventory deserve a B. For all those books that would be fun to write if you have the time, give them a C.

I would hope that you would strike any item from your list that would earn a D or an F. Typically these begin as good ideas, but are quickly abandoned or shelved as one digs deeper. Eventually you may discover how to fix them; so don’t discard them entirely. For now ignore them, and focus on your best ideas first.

At a glance you can see what’s important, and what’s a few years off. Pour over your list, and select your top three, marking them with an A+. This will give you a good idea of what you’re in for, and it may surprise you what’s snuck into the top of your list.

Now comes the hard part: number your projects in the order that you intend to write them. If you’re writing several books in a series this might be easy, except if you’re having trouble picking the right series.

While numbering your list, consider the following:

  • What has the best chance of succeeding?
  • What’s vivid in your mind right now?
  • What books are dependent on others?
  • Are there any holidays you can take advantage of for your release window?
  • Is it better to get shorter books out of the way first before burying yourself in an epic?
  • Are any projects similar? Would it be beneficial to mix things up?
  • What are you really dying to work on?

Next, determine the desired length for each novel, where 1 page = 250 words. If you’re writing a 50,000-word novel (which many consider the minimum length for a novel), you will produce approximately 200 pages.

If you’re not sure what category your book falls into, consider this chart (these are the guidelines I use, and are not necessarily official):

Page Count
Word Count
400+ pages
100,000+ words
200 – 399 pages
50,000 – 99,999 words
80 – 199 pages
20,000 – 49,999 words
40 – 79 pages
10,000 – 19,999 words
Short Story
4 – 39 pages
1,000 – 9,999 words
Flash Fiction
< 4 pages
< 1,000 words

Now that you have an estimate for all of your works, determine how long each will take to write. Do this by dividing the total length by your daily goal. For example, if you intend to write 1,000 words a day until your 50,000-word novel is completed, it will take approximately 50 days:

50,000 / 1,000 = 50

Keep in mind that this number only takes into account the initial draft. You may find that it takes multiple drafts until you are pleased with the result. Let’s assume that you’ll need two more drafts: a rewrite and a polish. If you keep the same daily goal for editing, it will take a total of 150 days or 5 months before you have something publishable.

With this information in hand, iterate through your list and determine how long each will take. Are there any advantages to putting shorter works first? Take another look at your list and reevaluate.

Now it’s time to schedule each of your books. Start with this year and plan accordingly. If there are only four months left, is it possible to squeeze in a novel? Perhaps you can write more than 1,000 words a day, or shorten your novel—only you know what’s realistic.

If writing is your full time job, you should challenge yourself to write more than just 1,000 words a day. By doubling this amount, you could write a book every 75 days, more than enough time to write a novel and a few short stories before the end of the year. And if you can sustain this rate, you could easily write four novels a year. Insane, right? Can I really write four books a year? Yes, you can.

Once you’ve filled up this year and the next, keep going until you’ve filled up the next three (keep going if you like, but your plans are more likely to change the further out you get). Don’t forget to schedule breaks in between; it’s not realistic that you can maintain this level of productivity without getting burned out. Give yourself a week off in between to recover and sharpen your mind.

Remember, all of this goes back to what you think is sustainable on a daily basis. If you’re not sure that you can recover in time for your next writing session, do a trial run. Work earnestly for a week or two, and keep a running tally of your daily output. If it’s too much, scale back. Live to write another day.

In addition to daily goals, you may want to add weekly goals to encourage yourself to produce more. If your objective is to write 50,000 words a month, then you need to write at least 12,500 words per week (slightly less than 2,000 words a day) with two additional days left over for make up sessions. If you find yourself struggling to write 1,000 words consistently, you may want to set a more realistic goal.

So how do you feel about your roadmap to success? Excited? Intimidated? Or perhaps you think you would be better off without all these long-winded estimates?

If schedules aren’t your thing, look over your list, select one, and dive in. Give yourself a deadline for each project, incorporate lessons learned, and cram in as many as you can until you’ve crossed off every item on your list or you run out of time. This may inspire you to do more rather than knowing that you have x-amount of time to complete a task. Ultimately, the goal is to get as much done as possible before the year runs out. Find out what works for you and go with it.

Whatever you decide, be honest with yourself. Maintain your roadmap and keep your goals in sight. When people ask you how you get so much done, tell them:

I declare what I want and I get it. That’s the secret to drawing the things that we want into our lives.

Get a few successes under your belt, up the ante, and challenge yourself further, and the sky’s the limit to what you can accomplish.

No comments:

Post a Comment