Project Manage Your Novel to Done

PM imageI recently had the good fortune (trying to keep it positive) to find myself without a job. After the shock of being unemployed was over, I became grateful for the time off. I decided to take the summer and work on my novel. I did a happy dance. I settled into writing.

Except I didn’t. I pissed away my time on email, Facebook, and anywhere the Internet would take me. Then I’d take the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood or run in the park or a chat on the couch (It happens. I’ve been working from home for years.) Suddenly more than half the day was gone. I wiled away the hours as you are supposed to do in the summer, but not in the manner I had planned. I did manage to keep to my writing schedule in the morning—something I’ve done for years—but only because this writing occurred in a coffee shop a half-mile from my house. Clearly, I needed structure or a job to buy coffee to pay for the hours I’d need at that coffee shop table.

Enter my friend, mentor, and project manager extraordinaire Kelly Ford. (Yes, we are both named Kelly.) I’m not exactly sure how it came about, but at some point, she offered to help. As she said in her post last month, we were likely drunk on Prosecco and cupcakes when the offer was made and accepted. Kelly is versed in getting shit done. It’s a trait I’m in awe of frankly since my ability to get shit done is limited.

She offered to project manage my novel to completion. She came over, bearing Prosecco and cupcakes (this is a theme with us), and sat me down at the kitchen table. And she was stone cold serious. Pen and paper in her hands, open calendar in mine, no smile on her face. We went through all of my goals, my novel and those things that that would take me away from my writing. We even prioritized them! I’m not sure I’ve ever prioritized my goals. Novel was number one on the list, obviously. The essays I hoped to crank out were removed from the list. (“Not necessary right now,” she said.) I did not mention to her the non-fiction project that’s been brewing in my brain for months now. Had I mentioned it, it would have died.

Then we did a remarkable thing (any organizational suggestion, item, or tool is remarkable to me. My brain seems to be unable to come up with these things on its own.) We literally scheduled every day through December 31, 2015. My entire calendar is built out for the rest of the year. We started with the day I wanted to finish my novel and worked backwards, including writing, revision, breaks, and read-throughs. Having my calendar full is proving not only beneficial in helping to get my writing done, but it’s also helping immensely with keeping me focused during the day. Without a job and not accountable to anyone for anything, time became a bit fluffy. The allure of all that unstructured time ended quickly. It starts to get annoying. Sticking to my already completed calendar makes me feel like I’m getting shit done. Two hours spent writing? Check. Lunch? Check. Research how to run a trailer park? Check. Run to the grocery store? Check. If it’s on the calendar and I did it, I have been productive. Success! The project management thing is working.

If you can’t find your own project manager, I can suggest the following things that might help:

  1. Make a list of goals. Show that goal list to someone who knows you and how you work. Ask if the list seems reasonable. Remove the things that have lesser importance.
  2. Schedule your time for months in advance. I no longer have to decide what to do next and hence get sucked into a social media vortex while deciding. I just follow my calendar.
  3. Stick to your schedule. Do not question the schedule. Don’t think about questioning the schedule.
  4. Find someone who respects you and whose opinion of you you value. Ask if you can send emails to this person to be accountable to someone. I emailed Kelly to tell her I’d share my calendar with by a specific date. I was anxiety ridden until I got it to her.
  5. Be realistic.

To be honest I’m still struggling over number three. Life is filled with distractions, and it’s up to me to figure out how to work around those distractions, but each week I get better, and as I get better, I get closer to the end of the next draft of my novel.

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