Project Managing the Writing Process

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Finally, let me share about my writing.  Since getting back to that was the motivation for starting this blog.

I have several books in progress, some more than 20 years.  No excuses that is sad.  It is because writing has been a “someday” after “I have the finances better” or when” I can take time off from work.”  Excuses, Excuses.

One of the skills I use with my work is managing projects and some of them are managed over several months.  So it occurred to me last April, that I need to manage my writing this way.  I am proud to say projects I manage do well even when they have hard deadlines, so why not bring this success to a part of my life that has had very little focus until now.

Successful project management has four distinct features to it:

  1. A solid attainable goal.
  2. Distinct measurable milestones that can be met
  3. Clear process that moves you to each milestone
  4. Accountability

If you start here you can complete anything on a schedule.

For now I am not focusing in the idea of priorities, which for events and software is key. Knowing what can be cut and when it needs to be cut will save a project.  When does a priority warrant a change of a milestone deadline vs. removing that item from the project to keep the schedule?  This is where many projects fail, people are not able to agree to a change and than act on it and they miss deadlines or deliver projects that have an unfinished feel because they rushed at the end, vs removing a task for a later date of just eliminating it.

Our book right now is more about sustainable progress towards a goal that can be moved, but progress must continue.  I have developed a project process that is doing that.

Let me share how I am applying this to completing a piece of children’s fiction.  The book has been in progress for over a decade and is only about 25% done.  I tried the writing group system which helped a lot.  But writting groups too often become friend groups and deadlines and accountability are uncomfortable.  The writing group moved me along, but there was not proper project scope and the accountability was soft.

The writing group moved me along, but there was not proper project scope and the accountability was soft.

Accountability

Lets take the 4th item first, accountability.  It stopped being my book and become our book and is now a family project between my wife and myself.  We have a pen name that will be used on all collaborative work.  The story and the characters are mine, the insight and editing is hers. She questions my assumptions and challenges me. Already in discussions she has initiated, the book is much more interesting with some really fun ideas.  So this is a partnership where we are accountable to each other.  My wife and my daughter are the two people I hate most to let down, so this is perfect.

Attainable Goal

Solid attainable goal is the completion of a first draft by the end of 2011.  By my calculation that is less than one chapter a week.  For this kind of project that is probably enough.  The details are that that the expected length of this book is 25-30 chapters about 2000-2500 words a chapter.

Milestones & Process

You already see that the milestone definition was part of defining what was abtainable.  There are two schedules that work here.  I hand off at least one chapter a week to her for review and editing.  Once I hand off a chapter, I can’t go back.  I have appended new pages in one case but that was handed off  as a new file.  I can not claim to be writing a book by rewriting the same chapter over and over.

Once she is done then once a month we spend an afternoon doing a read-through and final edits for the first draft of the most recent chapters.  Then those chapters are done.  We can make notes about what needs to happen to them as we move along, but we are not going to fall into the endless rewrite until it is perfect trap that paralizes many writers.

What you see here is accountability to for a process that supports the milestones, which in turn supports the goal.

Results

Since April we are a little behind schedule.  Life happens, family and school happen.  But am thrilled  that today I will hand off our 6th chapter and we have had one review afternoon.  Three chapters are locked until the full first draft is completed.  By the end of June we will have seven chapters reviewed and locked into the first draft process.

These small repeating loops will create a full book.

What then?  At that point the first full rewrite will happen. This will use the same process, but doing three chapters a week where story a line continuity and character continuiety will be applied to the first draft.

When that is done it will happen again, but here something exciting happens.  The third pass will be about polish and voice consistency.  When that process has completed its first 5 chapters, we start the process of marketing the book with the idea that we will have that process done in about 8 weeks.  So can make a solid commitment to and agent or publisher to have our final draft to them on a hard deadline.

The major goal of this project is to be marketing our book by he ides-of-March 2012. After that we want to be publishes of course, but that process is a collaboration outside the family partnership where we will share control with others.

Loops within loops will bring us to the realization of our first book.  That is how I am project managing what is the real beginning to creating the life we want, one as a writers and as people who can take some of the proceeds and use them to create good in the world.

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