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

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