Month: March 2010

“Drama, instead of telling us the whole of a man’s life, must place him in such a situation, tie such a knot, that when it is untied, the whole man is visible.”

~~Leo Tolstoy

Hi all! Today we embark on Part Four of my four part post series based on my experience with military planning called Conquering the Page: Creating Your Own Fiction Writer’s Battle Plan.

In Part One, the Drill Sergeant yelled at us for a few minutes, gave us the overview and an inspirational movie. Part Two kicked off the process of defining your writing mission and identifying associated goals. Part Three assisted us in identifying all the other associated writing tasks that will be part of the Battle Plan–BP for short–and also helped each of us decide if we were a General of a Foot Soldier.

As we embark on Part Four, here’s what you’ll need:

1) Your writing goals (up to three).
2) Your BP worksheet with writing tasks divided into strategic or tactical level categories.
3) A calendar or scheduling program (like MS Outlook or Google Calendar)–a paper calendar works fine too–your preference.

Building Your Battle Plan.  The question before us is this: how do we take the writing task list we’ve already created and convert it to a BP?

The answer relates to one ingredient in our writing process we have not yet discussed: time.  Time is such a critical part of a BP–in fact it is the one ingredient that makes a task list into a plan–that I now give you not one, not two, but three quotes on time to get us started (you know I love those quotes):

“You may delay, but time will not.”    ~~Benjamin Franklin

“Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”    ~~John Archibald Wheeler

“Time is an equal opportunity employer.  Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day.  Rich people can’t buy more hours.  Scientists can’t invent new minutes.  And you can’t save time to spend it on another day.”    ~~Denis Waitely

Time is the only element of the BP that is not negotiable.  Each of us gets no more or less per day than any other, so a big part of devising the BP is choosing the best use of our hours, days and weeks to accomplish goals in a way that fits our lifestyle.

The single worst enemy of your writing is real life–all the other things you have to do on a daily basis that decrease the time you available to perfect your craft.  It is therefore extremely important to understand how long the different tasks in our writing routine take; how long do I need to draft a query letter?  How much time should I spend commenting on blogs?  The road to publishing is made up of tens, maybe hundreds of smaller tasks, and organizing these tasks in a meaningful way will make the trip more efficient and less stressful.  Thus, the next step in constructing a BP is to arrange writing tasks over time in an organized way to best meet our writing goals.

Time Budgeting.  If you’re like me, your list of writing tasks is extremely long–so long, in fact, that it should be pretty obvious at first blush that you can’t do them all at the same time–or even during the same week.  The trick then is to come up with a way to organize all these varied activities over time.

The first step is to work out some time budgeting.  This process is a lot like balancing the checkbook or calorie counting for you fitness gurus out there.  Take a look at your list of tactical tasks.  For each task on our list, estimate the amount of time you believe you’ll need to accomplish it, then write that number down beside your task.  You might write “read 25 pages of fiction–30 minutes”.  Keep it simple: fifteen minute increments should work fine.  

Some of your tasks will be easy to budget.  You probably have a pretty good idea how long 500 words of first draft writing takes, for example.  Others may be more difficult, like plotting and scene development.  Jot down your best guess.  If you think it takes you six hours to develop a query letter, then so be it.   As you sketch out these times, don’t get hung up on getting it exactly right.  Remember, a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.  We’ll talk later about how to refine these numbers.

Stages.  Once you’ve assigned times to your tactical level tasks, the next step is to begin to organize them into a schedule on a calendar.  As I said before, you likely can’t do all the tasks in the same day or same week even, so we need to begin to focus our efforts on the tasks that need doing now in a way that makes sense.

Here’s where your strategic tasks and your goals become important.  Ask yourself: “Where am I in my writing process?”  I’ll use myself as an example.  I am currently in the skills development stage (I recently came of a multi-year hiatus from writing), and my plan calls for starting the initial draft of a first novel in April.  You could look at the two periods I’ve described (“skills development” and “first draft development”) as stages, and when you do that, you can see that certain tactical level tasks immediately align with the stages in question, and other tasks don’t belong.

So, during my skills development stage (note: this is what I am calling the stage.  Name your stages in a way that works for you), I am doing a lot of fiction reading for craft, reading how-to books, conducting fiction exercises, etc.  Other tasks such a query letter development and plotting and scene development don’t really fit this stage–so I do not currently do them, but I will put them into future stages when their accomplishment is appropriate.

In this way, we can identify the tasks we should be working on now and those we will accomplish at a later date.  Once we’ve identified the “now” tasks, and since we know how long each task should take, we can begin to fit them into our days and weeks in a common sense way. 

Think of it like an assembly line for a tank or jeep.  Certain of the parts have a set manufacturing time.  Once the manufacturing is complete, then they must be shipped to the construction site, which also takes time.  Then the parts need to be bolted and welded together, until we have the basic chassis sitting there in front of us.  Slap on a coat of paint.  Fuel her up.  Provide ammo and food supplies for her crew.  Take her for a test drive.  Tweak her until she’s running like a Swiss watch.  All these processes take time, and they have to be done in a certain order–can’t start painting right off the bat, for example.

Only after putting our writing tasks in proper order and after summing the time required for each activity together will we know the total investment in time needed before we can be published.   

Homework.  Here’s where we get down to brass tacks: actually building your BP.  Today we’ll set up the general structure; Parts Five and Six will discuss the process of judging how well our BP works. 

For starters, today we’re only going to worry about two stages–the one you’re in and the one that comes next; eventually you’ll want to build the plan as far out into the future as you can manage, with as many stages as you require to reach your most distant goals.  Here’s what you do:

  • Get out a piece of paper (or do it on the computer if you prefer) and make two headings: one for the stage that you think you’re in, and one for the next stage.
  • Under the current stage heading, copy down all the tasks you believe apply to that stage, with associated times.
  • Do the same for the next stage.
  • Now break out your calendar (or calendar program–I use Google Calendar) and start placing tasks as necessary for each day and week.  Do this for all activities until complete.
  • So, for example, if we want to write a 100,000 word first draft and we write 500 words an hour, then it will take us 200 hours to complete.  If we are able to write two hours a day, six days a week, then we should be able to complete a first draft in a little less than 17 weeks, or around four months.  So we would place a two hour block on our calendar for each of our writing days until we cover the allotted time.  Next, we’d pencil in time for research, for example.
  • As an aside, it is also helpful to put many of our other routine non-writing tasks on the Calendar which allows us to see the various time conflicts we have in our schedule.  If we have to make an early morning run to the airport and we write in the mornings, for example, we will have to move our writing slot or account for the lost production.  Keeping track of how our schedule conforms to reality will be extremely important when we discuss improvising and assessing our BP in the last two posts.
  • Once you’ve done that for each of your tasks you can begin to get a feel for when this stage will end and when the next stage will begin.  Using the above example, if the first draft writing was the longest task in terms of calendar time, then one could begin to think about the next stage (revising, for example) in about four months.
  • Also, if you begin to plug all your tasks in over the week, you can see that it can fill up pretty quick.  This is why I compare this process to balancing a checkbook.  You will likely have a sense of “where do I get the time I need to do all this stuff?”  This is when you need to get creative.  Maybe one kind of task gets done on Mondays.  Maybe we accomplish a different task the next day.  Maybe what you build is more like a two week cycle than a one week cycle–keep playing with it until you figure out what looks right for you.  The key is to schedule all current stage tasks and then reach some conclusions about how long it will take in daily, weekly, and monthly time to get to the next gate.
  • After you’ve completed this process for the current stage, take a walk through the next stage as well.

Once you’re done, give yourself a round of applause.  You now have a true BP in your hands and, I hope, some sense of how your writing process will go in the future.  But our work isn’t done yet.  Next week, we’ll discuss how to manage the plan “in the wild” once you’ve built it–these last two posts will perhaps be most critical to the future success of your BP. 

Next Wednesday will be Part Five: Improvising For Battle Plan Success.  Make sure to check back, and thanks for stopping by.

“There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as do exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft.”

~~Jessamyn West

Today this Blogpost, tomorrow the World!–but first, these messages!

Seriously, I hope you chocked up an awesome weekend–one for the books!–you’re ready to hit this fourth week in March running and you have plenty of fun-filled and entertaining adventures lined up.  We certainly do have some fun in store here at WSMG.

A few highlights:

  • Fiction Writer’s Battle Plan Part Four.  Yes, that’s RIGHT!  Wednesday I’ll post the fourth in my six part series on how to devise a Fiction Writer’s Battle Plan to absolutely conquer any and all writing challenges, and to set yourself on a path for writing success in the future.  If you missed the first three parts, you can check them on the sidebar to the right.  We’ll knock out Part Five and Part Six in the next couple weeks.
  • Book Reviews and Discussions.  In the last thirty days I finished reading Lehane’s “Shutter Island”, Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” and Meyer’s “Twilight”.  This gives me plenty to talk about so I’ll have posts/reviews on each of these texts in the next couple weeks.  I also owe you a second post relating to issues from “A Separate Peace” (check my original review here, if you like).
  • Craft Posts.  I am working on several more writing craft posts–which I’m really excited about!–including a discussion of some description and sentence structure techniques I’ve learned recently that I think you might find helpful.
  • Blog Redecorating.  Finally, a new blog template with my very own URL is in the works, so stand by for that unveiling soon.

And now the World Domination part!  I have recently received two more awards!  I can’t believe my good luck at being able to use my powers of mind control to convince other bloggers that I deserve awards but it appears to be working.  Maybe it’s all those subliminal [give me all your money] messages I’ve been inserting into [yes, I take checks but I would prefer cash] every sentence I write.

Seriously, I am really honored by all this attention.  It’s just little old me here doing my thing so it makes me feel truly stoked to hear that folks enjoy what I’m putting up.  And of course, it is great to see how talented and supportive everyone else is out there–like we’re one big happy family.  Couldn’t be better IMHO.

So first up is the Sugar Doll Award–yes I’ve earned it once already but that doesn’t matter!  An award is an award, right?!

Sarah, who puts up some great material over at The Wit and Wisdom of Another Sarah gave this one to me (thanks Sarah!).  I think the rules dictate that I should pass this onto a few other groovy folks, so here goes:

1.  Emily’s emcogNEATO!
2.  Jenn’s Every Day I Lie A Little
3.  Amalia’s Good To Begin Well, Better To End Well

And Mia, who has a ton of fun at her place–Literary Jam & Toast–gave me the “From Me To You” Award (I think that’s what it’s called) where I share seven truths and give the award to seven folks.

Someone time me with their wristwatch.  Ready.  Set.  Go!

1.  Our dog Stormy was named after a triple coincidence: 1) the day we picked him up, there was an unseasonable thunderstorm that literally came out of nowhere, flash-flooded the roads and made a general mess, 2) “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors played on the radio when we pulled up at the gate at the breeder’s place and 3) we had decided on him the day before–they say your pet picks you and in this case it certainly was true–but the breeder warned us when we picked him up that he was the most rambunctious of the lot and might be a handful.  The breeder was right–and the name stuck.

2.  I have climbed three volcanoes in my life–Mount Fuji in Japan, Mount Etna in Sicily and Diamondhead in Hawaii.  I brought back volcanic rocks from the first two that now sit on my writing desk (as the third is a National Park, I declined to bring one home).

3.  If I stayed airborne continuously for a period equal to the total flight time I have accrued in my 18 year Navy career (I’m a pilot by day), I would be in the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly 15 weeks.

4.  When I was a young single guy, I decided that naming a star for a girl was a pretty good gift idea.  It was unique and goofy and romantical and a little bit crazy–exactly what I usually went for.  I named five stars for girls; this was long before the internet and before it was common knowledge that the whole thing is basically a hoax.  Since I eventually broke up with all of them, I don’t feel so bad that it wasn’t legit, and I am relieved that the wreckage of my love life is not strewn among the night skies like so much detritus on a fallow tide.

5.  My two favorite poems are Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Renascence and T. S. Eliot’s Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Yeah, I know.  It makes no sense.

6.  The first time I got drunk, I was one.  It was at a party my folks threw, and when they adjourned to the other room, I managed to climb up on the chairs and drink the dregs from all the guests glasses.

7.  I’m dating myself here, but I wrote my first computer-based fiction story on an Atari 400–cutting edge technology in 1985.  This was back in the stone age when each alphanumeric character was about 1k and roughly a page and half of text would fit on a 5 and 1/2 inch floppy disk (512K).  The story I wrote took nine disks.  If my math is right, then my 500 GB hard drive would hold 113,975,000 such stories.  Talk about coming a long way!

And now, the following seven blogs are hereby awarded this rewarding award, if that makes sense:

1.  Liza’s Middle Passages
2.  Postie’s The Sententious Vaunter
3.  Scott’s A Writer’s Blog
4.  Carol’s Carol’s Prints
5.  Summer’s …And This Time Concentrate
6.  Bone’s Cruising Altitude
7.  Dawn’s Dawn Hullender’s Southern Musings

All ten of these folks write world class material week in, week out, so I strongly suggest you make a tour and see them all.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

That’s it for now.  Check back on Wednesday for the Battle Plan.  Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for being patient with me over the last couple weeks as I get my wits about me after my return from overseas.  I promise to up the ante from here on out and get back to a more regular blogging routine–and that means more fun for all!

Weekends are exciting and I am happy we have come to the end of another week here at WSMG. 

I hope today finds you well, and all is right with you and your world.  Wednesday we had the Drunk At First Sight Blogfest–a total blast!  Everyone put up great fiction and fun was had by all.  I find myself again blown away by the level of talent and commitment out there, and want to thank everyone–contributors and readers alike–for making the day such a great success.

I am having a profound blast visiting some friends and family here in San Antonio this weekend and posting this one from the road, so have no time to get down a joke.  Sorry.  Go ahead.  Slap my hand.  A pox upon me for a clumsy lout–should have banked one, but, well, there you have it.  Instead, if you think you can handle it, I give you pure unadulterated Link Love:

I want every single one of you to pledge to stay groovy and thanks for stopping by!  To finish the week on an up note, here’s U2 performing “Beautiful Day.”  Enjoy and have a great weekend!