I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, writing a post with this title. While I can be quite good (at times) at getting things done, and getting them done fast, I am even better at not getting them done. *ehem*Rogue Sorcery’s third draft*cough* I am hopeful that things are about to change, though.
As I’ve probably mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Rachel Aaron’s blog, and in a recent entry either she or her husband mentioned managing your time as a writer and/or freelancer. I cannot remember the exact topic or title, because I had an epiphany halfway through and started googling “project management for writers” and similar variations instead. And then I realised I needed a plan for getting through all my translations as well, and continued my search the day after. I plowed through websites and forum posts and software and whatnot, and here I am, with a brand new plan and a brand new strategy. Here are some of the things I realised.
First, you need to treat your writing as a job even if it technically isn’t yet. I’m not thinking about how seriously you take it, or how much time you dedicate to it, but treating it like you would a huge task at work. For example, when we host our two-day AGMs at work, we can’t just figure out what to do as we go along, or we’ll end up with the wrong amount of gifts, too little control over registration and participant lists, and so on. We need to write down every single thing that needs to be done, when it needs to be done (for example, the papers must be sent to the delegates a certain amount of days in advance), which tasks are most important/urgent and who is responsible for doing each. It’s not enough to know what week or days you’ll work on it, but I often feel like that’s what I’m doing with my writing or painting. I focus less on what I’m going to achieve, and more on just getting the quantity down. You can do a whole lot of writing without getting anywhere.
Because of that, you really need a plan. I’m not necessarily talking about outlining or knowing what you need to edit – those should be a given – but making a reasonable estimate of when you will be finished, while making sure you can fit your writing and your goal into your daily life.
For me, that has entailed making similar plans not only for my writing, but for my other projects. I’m not willing to sacrifice everything else to get my novel done, but I’m not willing to wait for years before it’s finished or to burn myself out (again) either. Since I’ve had quite a bit of translation work lately, I’ve needed to factor that in as well.
Point one on my agenda was to find project management software that could work for a freelancer/writer who is only one person. It needed to be free, it needed to be able to group tasks into different projects/groups, and preferrably have subtasks as well, the possibility to set repeating tasks, and a calendar. I ended up with Asana, which does all the above, but there were several good candidates.
I have made each story a separate project, and I also have projects for pretty much every other major thing I do that’s not related to work or just daily life. I have projects for organising my photography, revising the website, for my translation, for my conlangs, and a Project Flexibility for my dancing. Most of these have specific end goals and specific deadlines, and those that don’t, are projects I haven’t quite managed to fit in with the others yet, such as my conlang projects.
The first thing I did was to make a list over every step I needed to do to reach my goal, which was finishing the main project goal. The first goal for the Sorcery Duology project is to finish my third draft, which is broken down into one subtask per chapter. The next task is to give the draft to Cicilie, and so on. I listed every single thing I could think of, but of course there’s always something you haven’t thought of. Perhaps it will need an additional round of revision, and then I need to adjust the project for that. No biggie.
The other thing I did was to make sure that every task/subtask was manageable. It’s impossible to tackle the whole iceberg at once if you only have an icepick. Take off one piece at a time. Make sure that you don’t, when seeing the task in your calendar, dread starting it. Make it small enough that it won’t feel impossible to do; after all you can do tomorrow’s task early if you finish quickly and haven’t run out of steam.
Third, I set due dates for everything, at least for those things I know I’ll focus on now. One of the principles for good project management is apparently to work with a sense of urgency, according to a website I just read. What incentive do you have to write if you might as well do it tomorrow? I think that’s part of the reason why NaNoWriMo works so incredibly well for me. You also reduce the amount of time you spend deciding what you’ll focus on today, because you have already planned it and set due dates for it.
The only functionality I wish existed was to make one task’s due date dependant on the completion of another task. For example, that the “edit chapter 2” task’s deadline would automatically be set to the day after I ticked off “edit chapter 1”. But that’s a minor thing, I think.
Only time will tell whether or not this will work. I am optimistic, though, and I think it will work far better than the “write this much on those days” approach I used to (try to) follow. Perhaps I’ll write a second post when I’ve followed this for a while and know how well it has worked. It has certainly had one benefit: I have finally updated the blog again (yes, that’s also a project).