Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Process, Part III

This is part three of a three-part blog on my writing process. In The Process, Part I, I discussed the origins of my books--how I get ideas and organize them. In The Process, Part II, I discussed how I flesh out those ideas to create a workable plot and characters. Today, I'll cover the nitty gritty: how I schedule my writing and get ideas onto the page.

Once I have my plot notes and have listened to my plot group tapes, I create a rough outline of the story. It always changes as I write--I come up with a lot of twists and turns as I put words on the page--but the basics are set.  At that point, I create a schedule. Early in my career, I used an actual calendar to mark off how many pages I should write each day, then I'd highlight my goal date. However, I once attended a workshop with author Susan Mallery in which she discussed her schedule. Her method resonated with me (thank you, Susan!) so I now use a format similar to hers.

Below is an actual schedule I followed to write one of my young adult novels. The contract called for a book of approximately 50,000 words. I had a three-month window in which to do the writing. At this point, I'd already done the brainstorming and had a good grip on the characters and where I wanted the story to go.

To create this schedule, I worked backward from the due date to figure out how far along I needed to be by certain dates. The number listed on each Sunday is the word count I expected to have complete by that date.

I blocked off the days I knew I would be at a Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference, since little to no writing gets done then, and I blocked off the time I knew my plot group planned to meet. During this period I also had an article due for an RWA publication. I blocked off two Saturdays to work on that article, since I didn't want it to cut into the time I needed for my book.

If you study this schedule, you'll see that I generally write 5 - 6 pages on the days I have blocked for writing. At 250 words per page, that's 1250-1500 words a day. Some writers do less, some do more. I know that this is a comfortable pace for me. When I agree to deadlines, I have this pace in mind. I also build in cushions. Look at the last half of July. By writing to this schedule, I finish the book on July 15. Maybe a day or two before, depending on the length of the book (remember, it's contracted for 50,000 words...I can go a few thousand above or below.) I left myself several completely empty days for reading through the finished manuscript and revising it.

I also am careful to build in Emergency Days. I never know when an emergency will crop up, so I schedule these in and float them. If, for instance, I'm perfectly on schedule on May 30, I'll go ahead and write my May 31 pages that day and continue on. If an emergency crops on on June 6, then I use that Emergency Day.

Similarly, I know from past experience that I need a day or two to catch up on mail/email when I return from a week-long conference. Because I've been away from my manuscript for several days, I also like having a day to reread what I've already written so my head is in the story. I build that time into my schedule. I also include an Emergency Day right before I leave for a long conference so I can pack and run errands if necessary. If it's not necessary, I work ahead to give myself a cushion on the back end of the conference.

I'm a visual person, so I color code my weekends, trips out of town, and deadlines. I consider those non-writing days, though if I get behind, I will write on the weekends.

Knock wood, but I've never missed a deadline. By building in a one- to two-week cushion, plus accounting for potential trips/conferences, and emergencies, I hope I never do.

This isn't a process that's for everyone. As I said in the first part of this series, every writer I know follows a different method for getting from point A to point B. This is what works for me. I'm a planner. I thrive on organization, so I like seeing a schedule that maps out what I need to accomplish each day. Working out the major plot points ahead of time--even if they change as I go along--and then keeping my brain engaged by maintaining a regular writing schedule prevents me from getting stuck. For writers who aren't wired the way I am, a schedule like this might cause more stress than it eliminates.

If you're a writer, I'd love to hear from you. How does your process differ? What works best for you? What have you tried that hasn't worked? Please share in the comments! And readers, please add your this what you envision when you picture a writer's workday? 

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