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?
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.
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 “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
Happy reading, good luck with your writing.