How to plan and track writing your book

Hi there,

I live in the UK and write crime and thriller novels, (available from Amazon) and I’ve found that while writing can be a solitary business, there can also be a surprising number of distractions. So motivation and focus are key. In this blog I’d like to talk about my approach to keeping to a plan, meeting deadlines and achieving a goal – by using time tracking.

How to plan and track writing your book  

I’m in the fortunate position of writing full-time – well, nearly – so I created a plan to write my latest novel. In fact, I created a great plan to complete my novel in six months. This was the same process I used for my previous six books. However, at the back of my mind was the annoying thought that each book I wrote took longer than the six months (26 weeks) I thought it would. More and more stuff was getting in the way of my writing.

First, let’s have a look at my writing plan for each book? Here’s how I saw my 26-week plan roll out. (btw it isn’t a strict chronology – there’s a lot of jumping back and forth)

Week 1         Write rough notes, pare down to story core or nugget – 50 words

Week 2         Write novel outline – 2-4 pages

Week 3          Write character profiles

Week 4         Write main scene heads

Weeks 5- 20         Write first draft (scene by scene)

Weeks 21-25        Polish/edit

Weeks 26          Publish

So, how did my plan work out?

Weeks 1-4, no problems. In four weeks, I wrote an outline, character profiles, even outline scene headings, did most research, established settings. Next, off I went to write those scenes.

That’s when things went wrong. Why did I not stay on track?

Well, for Weeks 5-20, I had 2 goals:

(a) Write for three hours per day, Monday to Friday

(b) Write a minimum of 1,000 words a day.

Think about it like this.

If I got my 1,000 words completed early I had a choice – do other stuff or press on writing for the full 3 hours. An 80,000-word novel at 1,000 words a day equals 80 writing days. Being realistic and treating writing as a job, I planned for a 5-day week of Monday to Friday, leaving weekends free.

So that’s 80,000 words, divided by 5,000 words a week equals 16 weeks writing (weeks 5-20 in plan above). Then another 6 weeks for polishing, editing and indie publishing.

6 months, easy right?

No, wrong!

Yes, after 4 weeks I had written the nugget, outline, characters and scene heads.

Good so far. Next the first draft. That’s when things went wrong.

After another four weeks (weeks 5-8) I’d written only 8,000 words, not the ‘planned’ 20,000. That’s when I asked myself what’s going wrong? I think I knew in my heart, but I needed hard information.  Enter time tracking.

There are many apps you can download to keep track of your time. I’m not going to argue here the merits of one versus another. Suffice to say I wanted something simple. I didn’t need complex trackers that show ‘billing’ and ‘team delegation’ features. I just needed to see how I was doing against my targets.

How does my time tracking app work? Each time I start writing I ‘clock in’ and when I finish I ‘clock out’. That soon showed I was hitting only about 5 hours a week working (writing), not my planned 15. Way, way off target.

Yet my plan was great. I had it set up on my Google calendar, a schedule of time slots (hey, in different pretty colours for each task all scheduled throughout the week!), plus a chart showing target words written and a cumulative total. But I was doing something wrong, right?

With the time tracker, it didn’t take long to figure out what. I’d sort of guessed it. But it was only when I started using a time tracker that I couldn’t hide away from the clear evidence. No, startling evidence. So, what had gone wrong and why had it taken me so long to pin point that?

When I used my time tracker calendar the problem hit me in the chops. I could see how much time I really spent doing what. You see, I would look at my plan on that pretty-coloured Google calendar and feel accomplished. Sure, you need a plan, but a plan is useless unless you compare your plan with your results.

Quite simply, I was shirking – distractions, procrastination, too much time on the internet, going off and doing stuff that could wait, letting the ‘urgent’ push out the ‘important,’ doing things that weren’t even needed!

But now I had the numbers.

Listen, I used to work in HR. If I was still in that line of work and I’d got a staff member in front of me with my record, I’d be consulting my ‘Fire’ protocol. Getting that novel first draft written is where you must put in the work, the hours.

I wasn’t.

You see, I was confusing “planning” with “doing”.

Below is a version of my own daily plan schedule on my Google calendar. I’ve left out a lot of ‘tasks’ as they’re personal stuff and you don’t need to see them, but they must be fitted in somehow, so you will need to break your rhythm, take time out to get the pesky – and not so pesky – tasks done each day.

Most important, while your writing is of significance to you – the people around you, family, friends, those you love and love you and care for, they must command your attention, time given, and rightly so, too. Make sure that time is given to the important people in your life. And take time out to relax, have fun. Balance is essential.

Right. Here’s my own planned schedule, Monday to Friday.

9.00 – 9.30 Daily Plan  BTT – As part of your Daily Plan define your BTT, the one Big Thing Today you will focus on, your ‘must do!’ Deal with emails, update your task list, schedule what day or time to do tasks in your calendar, complete small to-do’s. Half-hour max.

 

9.30 – 12.30 Write novel – Take short breaks, accept there will be interruptions

12.30 – 1.00 Workout – At home, don’t waste time travelling to a gym – try HIIT

1.00 – 2.00 Lunch – Eat healthy !

2.00 – 3.00 Other tasks – Do one of “SBRTW’s”  each day. Prioritise between Submissions, Blogs, Reviews (getting), Talks (giving, attending, conferences), your Website.

3.00 onward – Life! (And maybe more writing)

Your day-to-day schedule will look different to mine. And for some, no day-to-day is the same, meaning sometimes ‘urgent’ tasks take over and it gets harder to stick to a schedule.

You can still take things day-by-day – but just decide your BTT (Big Thing Today) the night before. Say you have no hours available to write today. Choose something you can do in 30 minutes. Or in 10 minutes. That’s your BTT today. Just decide each night before what you need to get done – whether it’s with Google Calendar, using an app, or just keeping a notebook to track your progress.

Now – back to time tracker! Ask yourself what really happened today?

Compare the time tracker calendar (What you did) with your normal calendar (What you planned to do).  Put right what’s gone wrong!

Say thank you to time tracking.

I’d very much like to hear from other authors about how they keep to a schedule and meet (self-imposed) deadlines. I can be contacted via my website “tombrysonwriter” or on twitter “@TomBryson2” or email “tombryson1@yahoo.com”.

Happy reading, good luck with your writing.

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Latest Birmingham cop novel published

NO WAY OUT

Tom Bryson’s latest crime novel ‘NO WAY OUT’ is the third in the Birmingham based cop DCI Matt Proctor series. Set in ‘Peaky Blinders’ country but in present-day times, the story puts Matt Proctor in yet greater jeopardy as he investigates people trafficking and a brainwashing cult in the West Midlands of England. Proctor also has personal relationship issues with police colleague Inspector Azzra Mukherjee. Aside from the DCI Matt Proctor series, Tom’s other books include SARCOPHAGUS – a gripping story set in England and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in Ukraine and THE ZEPPELIN OF KINVER EDGE – a photo illustrated story based on local folklore about a young Kinver man in peril when he spots a Zeppelin airship land on Kinver Edge during WW1.

Here’s how you can get a Tom Bryson book. Click title link above. All books are available in print and eBook from Amazon. For more information contact the writer/publisher. Email tombryson1@yahoo.com

Great Festival event – Evesham

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What a lovely group of people at the Evesham Festival of Words, 2017. When a writer attends an event at an unfamiliar venue there are always some nerves jangling. Will they be a friendly lot? Welcoming smiles or fiercely crossed arms and legs? Will there be ANYONE?
I need have had no such concerns for this Evesham Festival – a great variety of events held in a truly friendly atmosphere. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Festival Bookshop launch in the Almonry (a superb historical building in the centre of the town, once a 14th Century home to the Almoner of the Benedictine Abbey that was founded at Evesham in the 8th Century) where I read from my first DCI Matt Proctor novel “Too Smart to Die” to a packed audience.
Festival Chair Sue Ablett and her excellent team devised a varied programme of authors reading from their works, namely; Andrea Darby, Sue Johnson, James Bacon, Hilary Orme, Paige Elizabeth Turner/aka Nigel Barnard, Pershore Young writers and yours truly; readings well chaired by Ashleigh Jayes.
Afterwards, writers and attendees mingled and chatted over nibbles and drinks – and took the opportunity to buy signed copies of books and tickets for other festival event. (I’m sure a few dads and mums were ‘persuaded’ by teenage offspring to buy my book when they heard me refer to ‘cybercrime’!).
A most enjoyable experience – this writer for one will definitely be back next year.

 

 

 

Libraries – we need them.

Support your local community library.

Read to see

In many parts of the UK cash-strapped local authorities have to make drastic cuts in services to save money. My own local library, Kinver, since the beginning of this year (2017) is staffed entirely by volunteers. We owe a debt of gratitude to them – by their efforts we continue to have a library that provides such an essential service to young and old (and those in-between!) and serves as a community hub.

To support the library, I have agreed to give a free session in the form of a talk/workshop on ‘Writing and Publishing your Book’. This may be followed by support sessions for those who want to pursue writing their book. Here’s my press release.

Writing and Publishing know-how for budding authors”

What do you want to write?

  • Memoir 
  • Novel
  • Short stories anthology
  • Poetry collection
  • Children’s story

Local Kinver crime and thriller writer, Tom Bryson, will explain how would-be authors can write and publish their own books at minimal cost. His talk at Kinver Community Library is on Thursday, 9th March at 7.30 pm.

He says, ‘Ever thought of writing your personal or family memoir – not an autobiography but a ‘slices of life’ story? Sometimes we leave it too late to ask our parents, grandparents about their lives and times. All too soon we’ve lost them and then regret missed opportunities to have known so much more. So how about writing your book for posterity – for your family and descendants. Without getting too pretentious, this could be your much-treasured legacy.

‘Or what about that novel you’ve had at the back of your mind for years – perhaps there’s a draft gathering dust in a drawer somewhere. Why not dig it out, rewrite it in the best way you can, find a good editor and see your book in print and as an e-book.

‘Perhaps you have an idea for a children’s book, or a collection of short stories or poems you want to produce in an anthology. All are possible.

‘Won’t all this cost a fortune? Not necessarily, given the advent of digital technology and print-on-demand publishing. The days are gone when you needed to buy a shedful of books to get an economic print run and then traipse the shops and streets to sell them. If you’re prepared to take the learning curve and get to grips with word processing and formatting for internet uploads, you can do it. (Or perhaps there’s a fourteen year old you can collar to help!). If you must incur costs, then a good editor is the most important investment to make.’

Local Kinver author Tom Bryson, who writes crime and thriller novels, will reveal all at the recently launched Kinver Community Library on Thursday, 9th March, 7.30pm, tickets from the library, £2. (All proceeds go the the Community library)

So – dream your dream – come along and hear what Tom has to say.

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Website https://tombrysonwriter.wordpress.com

Books available from amazon here (print and e-book) and author (email tombryson1@yahoo.com  Tel. 01384 872204)


 

Writing a novel

WRITING A NOVEL

4. SCENES

A quick recap.

I’ve already written blogs covering three of ‘Seven Components of Novel Writing’. Below is the fourth. Here’s the FULL list:

  1. CORE– Who is the Main Character, what’s their goal, problem, obstacles, what are the stakes for failure? In 50 words; yes, I keep this to 50 words. Concentrates the mind!
  2. OUTLINE– Two pages max. Written in present tense, with a start, middle and end. Split into key scenes with short headings. Leave room for the story to evolve.
  3. MAIN PLOT– Spine of the story, the heart of the MC’s journey. Sub-plots add complexity and richness. The main plot (and sub-plots) summaries need only be a sentence or two.
  4. SCENES– Scenes are the building blocks of the novel. These are where the action is. As you write scenes you are writing your book.
  5. CHARACTERS– Absolutely critical. The reader must care about these people.
  6. SETTINGS– Give ‘colour’, atmosphere, they complement characterisation, add credibility and context whether real or fictional places.
  7. SYNOPSIS – Comes at the end because a synopsis is a ‘selling’ tool; your book summary. You write a synopsis when you’ve finished your book. (I include it as part of planning because you’ll need it for submissions).

 

SCENES

In this FOURTH  blog in the series, I’ll focus on my fourth COMPONENT in WRITING A NOVEL, namely writing SCENES. 

 

What is a scene?  

Scenes are the building blocks of the novel. These are where the action is. As you write scenes you are writing your book.

I find that I need a scene plan to give me prompts to flesh out the scene. When I am writing the scene I follow the plan but not as if it were a ‘tablet of stone’ – no, I let the writing flow and don’t permit the plan to be a strait-jacket, more a rough track that becomes a defined path as the writing progresses. To give completeness to a scene I use a checklist – I call it my ‘Easyview Scene Planner’. Here it is and I’ll go through how it works.

I write my first draft using Microsoft One Note – it’s free and having experimented with other writing tools including Scrivener – a great tool by the way that many writers swear by- but one I found over-complicated. (I’m a simple soul who likes things simple).

 

EASYVIEW SCENE PLANNER (Enter here brief scene description, scene number, word count)

FOR EACH SCENES ASK; WRITE THIS SCENE PLAN BELOW – REVISE DURING WRITING
Why? PURPOSE: Show viewpoint character – who? Chasing goal which is?
What? ACTION: Through the main plot/sub-plots? Which in this scene are?
Who? VIEWPOINT CHARACTER is? Show traits, develop character. Other characters?
How? CONFLICT: What are the Internal/External obstacles to the main character’s goal?
Where? SETTING: Where are we? Define early in scene. Create atmosphere?
When? TIMELINE: Day, night, season, time since last scene?? Define early
Hook HOOK: Why read on? Entice, intrigue, engage  – dazzle reader
 

 

 

KEEP WRITING FOCUS ON:

·        PROTAGONIST’S PROBLEMS, FIGHTING OBSTACLES AND FINAL GOAL

·        Use external action-character reaction units (instinctive, dilemma, decision)

·        Use active verbs, min adverbs/adjectives, pace sentences, concrete not abstract words use senses, show-don’t tell, eke info, intrigue, balance action/description/dialogue.

·        Use the senses, sight, sound, taste, touch, smell

·        Explore emotions – anger, fear, elation, sadness, love,hate, disgust, happiness, etc.

 

I fully expect some will say this is far too detailed and will inhibit creativity. I understand that view although I think this grid can be adapted and modified to suit individual tastes.

I tried a few more basic approaches such as this: it works.


Scene heading:  


Viewpoint character


Goal, obstacles, conflict?


What happens?


Using this tool, I can write a scene plan in a couple of minutes – I don’t write a plan for every scene at the outset, but get the key scenes planned and written first, then fill in the rest. My key scenes are the opening scene, the inciting incident or ‘spark’ that gets the story going, turning points where the main character hits the buffers and has to change tack, tough it out, tastes success, faces despair, and of course the climax – where good triumphs over evil – or maybe vice versa!

Here’s the scene plan for the opening scene in my cop Matt Proctor novel ‘IN IT FOR THE MONEY’. (See below)

EASYVIEW SCENE PLANNER

  1. 1. Bookmaker Harry McGeady’s murder in Birmingham betting shop

 

FOR EACH SCENES ASK; WRITE THIS SCENE PLAN BELOW – REVISE DURING WRITING
Why? PURPOSE: Show viewpoint character – who? Chasing goal which is? Grab attention, introduce cop Matt Proctor (likes a bet), start spine story, introduce problem for MP (McGeady’s murder), set tone, atmosphere.
What? ACTION: Through the main plot/sub-plots? Which in this scene are? Proctor collects winning bet, shop raided, cash handed over to two  balacala’d bikers, McGeady shot dead in face.

Senses: Red blood, salty, loud gunshot, tv blast, bike roars, cigarette smells,  p/mint gum, sphincter gone, cold floor, hot outside

Who? VIEWPOINT CHARACTER is? Show traits, develop character. Other characters?  DCI Matt Proctor
How? CONFLICT: What are the Internal/External obstacles to the main character’s goal? MP versus  gang, MP versus teller, MP v ‘demons’
Where? SETTING: Where are we? Define early in scene. Create atmosphere? Int. bookies, tv’s on, newspapers on wall, tinny speakers, tawdry
When? TIMELINE: Day, night, season, time since last scene?? Define early  June, summer, hot and sunny
Hook HOOK: Why read on? Entice, intrigue, engage  – dazzle reader MP’s good mood shattered, jolted, injured, angry, his snout murdered.
KEEP WRITING FOCUS ON:

·        PROTAGONIST’S PROBLEMS, FIGHTING OBSTACLES AND FINAL GOAL

·        Use external action-character reaction units (instinctive, dilemma, decision)

·        Use active verbs, min adverbs/adjectives, pace sentences, concrete not abstract words use senses, show-don’t tell, eke info, intrigue, balance action/description/dialogue.

·        Use the senses, sight, sound, taste, touch, smell

·        Explore emotions – anger, fear, elation, sadness, love,hate, disgust, happiness, etc.

 

I intend pulling these blogs together into a compact ‘how-to’ book provisionally called ‘The Quick Novel Writer’ and publish it later this year – possibly as a free giveaway. Website header collage straightPicMonkeyThanks and keep looking in, folks!

Focus, focus, focus…

Sometimes I read an article or blog that truly resonates. The advice below from Victoria Gray certainly hit the spot for me. While it applies to life in general, it is also  highly relevant to productive writing. When you settle down to write, turn off your phone, park your email, get rid of alerts and any other interruptions – focus on the job in hand, your writing and meet your scheduled time allocation, word count or whatever you use to track progress.
Work smarter not harder.
Tom Bryson

Advice and techniques to improve productivity at work.

And it’s not “work harder.”

It happened yet again last week. I sent someone a short email, about five sentences long with four dates and times I was available to meet with them. They replied, choosing a morning on one of the dates I had included. The problem was, all the options I had provided were afternoons. So, I wrote back, advising I couldn’t meet then but was free that afternoon and they sent another email confirming that worked for them. Now, this isn’t a huge deal but our exchange ended up being two emails longer than it needed to be because of a small missed detail.

I find this type of thing happens all the time, in both written and spoken conversations. People asking questions that have already been answered. People repeating the same thing multiple times. People mixing up information. And when you measure the impact of this over the countless emails, telephone and in-person conversations we have, it adds up to a lot of time wasted. But I have a solution for this persistent, frustrating and, ultimately, unproductive trend — pay attention.

This advice applies whether you’re reading something or listening to someone. When we don’t pay attention, we make mistakes which results in more work. When we do pay attention, we get things right the first time more often which improves our productivity. If this makes sense to you, I offer up three suggestions to help you pay attention.

1. Slow Down

We think by moving faster, we will get more done but we don’t. We miss things, hear or read things incorrectly, and then we make mistakes, based on that misinformation, which lead to more work. Slowing down is surprisingly a way to speed up. So, take a little extra time to read what you are writing to make sure it’s clear. Carefully read what someone else has written and think for a moment before you reply. Do the same when listening to someone. A little more time spent in the moment can save a lot of time spent later.

2. Stop Multitasking

We like to think we can successfully multitask but, the truth is, we are horrible at it. Multitasking is code for doing many things poorly. It’s better to do one thing at a time and do it well. Most of the time, our multitasking involves technology of some sort. We might be searching for something online while talking on the phone or writing an email while listening to a presentation. But our brain is not capable of processing both activities at once so one of those tasks ends up winning over the other. So, do what you need to do to focus on one thing at a time. Put your phone away, close your email, shut your laptop — whatever will allow you to give the one most important thing in that moment your full attention.

3. Get Out of Your Head

Research has shown we retain a mere 20–25% of what we hear. That’s largely because of the thoughts and opinions running through our brains when we are listening to someone else. This inner monologue comes from our tendency to make judgements, jump to conclusions and look for evidence to support our pre-existing beliefs, value or perceptions. Typically, we are listening with a goal of replying instead of listening with a goal of understanding. As a result, we have troubling hearing each other in the first place. Learning active or effective listening skills helps us get out of our own heads so we can hear, understand and remember what others are trying to tell us.

At first, these three strategies may seem counterintuitive but they work. And over time, they will improve your ability to pay attention to the verbal and written communications in your workplace. Not only will this improve your productivity, but it will also help you build better relationships. Whether it’s a colleague, a customer or your boss, everyone wants to be heard and understood. So, pay attention and watch your productivity and relationships grow.

Originally published at www.livinglessdistracted.com.

Start your novel – opportunity for writers, free event

crabby boss womanHaving trouble starting your novel? Well, help’s on the way.

EVESHAM FESTIVAL OF WORDS SAT. 9TH DEC,  10.30 am – 3.30 pm

Come along to Evesham and hear writers read and talk about their books. AND join me (Tom Bryson) for a half hour mini workshop “Getting started on your novel” (2.00 pm). Forget your fear of the blank page, the overwhelming horror of the task ahead of writing some 80,000words. Learn a simple way to build your story and have the confidence to start – and finish it.

Where? Almonry Museum and Heritage Centre, Evesham . Meet authors and poets for advice and chat, talks , readings and mini-workshops – and check out books – crime, thrillers, westerns, regency, children, family drama.

https://eveshamfestivalofwords.org/programme/

“Getting started on your novel” with Tom Bryson 2.00pm – 2.30pm

“Planner” or “Pantser”? What’s your preference?

Something to aim at, a blank sheet of paper, or a bit of both?

There’s no one right way – find what works for you

COME ALONG – YOU’RE WELCOME

 

WRITERS – WHO’S YOUR BOSS?

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WRITER – MUSE OR BOSS?

“Please! Don’t yell at me. I’m a writer. I await my muse!”

crabby boss woman

ways to track your writing progress

For many writers, keeping track of progress and improving productivity are big headaches.

Advice from the writing ‘gurus’ often comes down to a choice between options 1 and 2 below.

1 Time Trackers.

There are many apps to choose from and download but essentially they amount to traditional ‘clocking in’ and ‘clocking out’. More sophisticated tools enable you to show your scheduled time against actual time spent on different projects or tasks. Client billing is available if you run a business and visual aids like pie charts can help you to see the proportion of time spent on different activities.

TIP:  CUT BACK ON SOCIAL MEDIA TIME AND ADMIN.  SPEND MORE TIME WRITING AND MARKETING (SELLING YOUR BOOKS).

2 Word Count.

For many writers, word count is often the preferred choice. 500 words a day, 1000 for the fast, perhaps even more for the “Usain Bolts” of this world. Show your progress using a graph or a calendar pinned to a wall or board right in front of your eyes. No hiding place!

TIP: DON’T SET YOURSELF UP TO FAIL. START LOW THEN CHALLENGE YOURSELF

3 Hybrid.

This is my preferred approach. I appreciate this will not be for everyone but it works for me. I write novels and I think, especially for fiction, it is necessary to adapt your method of checking progress according to what stage you’re at. For example, writing your first draft is basically about getting words on paper (screen). This is the stage where quantity matters – quality comes later as you rewrite and edit. So yes, I use word count and target 1000 words a day when writing my first draft. However, at the same time I track time spent (fact is I do this for every stage) – and set a target schedule of time each day. Keeping track of my ‘bum on seat’ time is important for me. This is particularly true for those stages in writing a novel where word count is not the main goal. For example the planning, rewriting and editing stages require a focus on quality and attention to detail – no mad rushing here, just getting it right. But putting in the hours is important.

So, that’s my approach – always track your actual writing time; make sure you work your scheduled daily hours. Drive yourself at the first draft writing stage, let your creative juices flow but get your raw material down on the page as fast as possible. Put your critic’s head in place for the later stages.

TIP:  DO A HALF HOUR REVIEW OF YOUR PROGRESS AT THE END OF THE WEEK. PLAN NEXT WEEK.

How do you check your productivity, keep your writing on track? Be really interested to hear. Thanks,

Tom