Putting the “Professional” in Professional Writer
Do you plan your WIPs out? I don’t mean “do you outline” or know what you’re writing tomorrow. I mean, do you know your schedule for the next two years?
Yep. I said years.
I’m trying something a little different this year. I’ve been a “writer” for many years now, and I’ve always just written what I feel like writing when I feel like doing it (and for clarity’s sake, I’m including editing, revising, outlining, etc. in that word “writing”). And in following that process, I’ve written half a dozen novels, and polished one novel and three short stories.
But, as I’ve written about on this blog before, I have many full-length manuscripts written. Those are first or second, sometimes third plus drafts. Most are first drafts. And I’ve shelved them for various reasons, but it mostly comes down to the fact that after completing the first draft, I got distracted by another story idea and pursued that. Then when I finished that story, I moved on to the next, and again and again. What happened is that I end up in the situation I’m in now: a half dozen rough draft novels and few semi-polished ones.
Let’s get something out of the way: writers will always have more ideas than they have time to write.
It’s really the curse of being a creative being. All humans will have more thoughts and ideas than they can act upon in their life.
This is a good thing. Most of the ideas we have are not worth pursuing, and so we dismiss them and forget about them. Or maybe they just aren’t worth pursuing right now, so we write them down for later, or make a deliberate choice to remember them later, when we have the time and the knowledge and whatever else we need to make that idea worth pursuing. And still other ideas we waste our time upon, get to a near-end point and realize that this idea isn’t going to go anywhere. (For example, a permanently shelved novel.)
But let’s get back to my purpose in rambling here. I have several first draft manuscripts that, simply because I’ve been distracted by other works, have been put aside and forgotten. That’s really quite unacceptable. I need to pull them off that shelf and dust them off, put in the work to polish them up, and publish them.
So over this past week, I’ve been sitting down with the projects I’ve written and a few I want to write (finishing out my fairy tale series mostly), and I’ve been attempting to estimate the time it’s going to take me to finish these projects and get them from written to publication.
time: from 1-2 weeks, up to 2 months
So the first step I’m facing is an outlining phase. I’m not a pantser anymore. (I used to be, but I don’t have the time to take that approach anymore.) But I’m also not a gigantic, strict outliner, as I always deviate from whatever I outline.
So I am giving myself 1-2 weeks to roughly outline and/or prepare for my story. This will give me opportunity to brainstorm all sorts of situations for my characters and develop the plot, and research whatever needs to be researched. As well as to evaluate it in terms of if it’s worth my time in the current market.
That’s actually a pretty short amount of time, and depending the project, could vary widely. With my fairy tale series, I already know the plot and have my characters developed, so I don’t need to spend a lot of time on this stage anymore.
time: 12-16 weeks
Obviously, writing the manuscript is the next step. So I move forth from the outline right away into the writing phase. For me, this lasts about 12-16 weeks. If I write only 1K words a day, that gives me 112,000-116,000 words for one manuscript.
Now, since I have multiple projects in the works, I won’t be just writing during those 3-4 months. Instead, I’ll be editing other projects, revising them, and even formatting them or publishing them.
time: 1-4 weeks
The next step is a 1-4 week rest period, depending on my timeline and other works, responsiblities, etc. It may depend on what else I have going on in my life, or what I have coming up that I need to prepare for, etc. This is a somewhat flexible time, and I plan on using it as such.
But really, the longer it rests, the clearer I will be in coming back to it.
time: 1 week
When you spent 3-4 months writing something, it’s easy to forget what you actually wrote, so after the rest period, I perform a quick read through and take down any large item notes I need to address. This is more like continuity issues or having the wrong eye color for a character, etc., those little things that I notice now while reading but in the throes of editing I might not notice or remember. At this point, ignore all the bad grammar and typos that your spell check will catch. That’s not the purpose of this read through.
time: 1 week
So if the draft is relatively solid (a fact I’ll most likely know after completing the first draft), then I might skip this step and just go straight into editing, using my list of notes from my read through.
Generally though, I will reevaluate my notes, and prioritize them or make a firm decision on what I’ve scribbled down. Sometimes my muse makes a late appearance and comes up with something great during the reread phase, and this is the point where I would try to work that in and see if it’s possible.
If this was a really rough first draft, I might complete a new outline, diving really deep into the story so that I don’t drop any threads that I introduced and so I can make sure that the book reads smoothly in the end and I perform as few revisions as possible.
The preparation phase is quite important for me in order to keep tabs on all the plots, subplots, and threads going on in my story.
time: 4-5 weeks
After all that work, it’s not even half done. Revisions can take years–but it’s my goal to streamline these this time and go from first draft to published book a lot quicker.
This means that I plan on giving myself about 4-5 weeks to get through edits on a full length novel. That’s pretty quick, depending on how extensive my revisions are. But it’s my hope that I can revise this quickly, and it’s something that I’ll have to play around with if I cannot.
time: 2-3 weeks
By editing here I mean typos, spelling, grammar, character descriptions (make sure they don’t change throughout the book), all those pesky little things a professional editor might be hired to do.
I want my manuscript as clean as I can make it on my own before I send it to someone else–even a beta reader. This allows them to focus on the story instead of being distracted by the wrong word or a rough sentence that takes them too long to figure out.
time: 6-8 weeks (can run concurrently with final edits)
It’s only at this point that I want outside feedback on my book. Honest. I know a lot of people value feedback on a first draft, but I’m not one of those writers. I prefer to get my story as polished as I can, then hand it over. This helps me avoid embarrassment for stupid mistakes but also to avoid giving someone a 120K tome full of rabbit trails, rather than a trim, enticing story.
I’ve found that most beta readers only want to read a manuscript once. I don’t want to squander their willingness to read my work by giving them a poorly edited, bloated book.
I anticipate using both online forums where I can obtain chapter by chapter feedback, and also beta readers who are willing to take the entire manuscript in one go and give me overall feedback. I hope to obtain all my feedback within about 6 weeks.
time: 2-3 weeks
After I get my feedback, I’ll evaluate the comments and work in any revisions that I deem necessary at that point. I hope this will be a pretty easy step, not much to do, but it will vary from project to project.
time: 1-2 weeks; if professional employed, varies (usually months)
This is a second edit to smooth out any additions made, anything else that’s been caught or pointed out in the feedback stage, etc. Make sure I have all my t’s crossed and i’s dotted, etc.
At this point, depending on my level of stress and other responsibilities and financial position, I might hire a copyeditor to take a pass over what will probably be a pretty clean manuscript at this point.
If I do this myself, I plan on 1-2 weeks.
time: 2 weeks; if professional employed, varies (usually months)
I hope I’ll just need the two edits, and if that’s the case, then it’s proofreading next. I’ll probably do this myself, either having the computer or iPhone read it aloud to me, or else go through very carefully, mostly reading aloud so that my mind doesn’t accidentally fill in the missing words, etc.
If it all possible, it’s best to get someone else to proofread for you (a professional), as you tend to automatically correct the mistake of a missing word or miss a misspelled word on a work of your own.
time: 1-2 weeks
At this stage, there should be nothing to do but format my book and get it ready for readers. I’ll have to then uploaded to KDP, Createspace, etc. and make it available for preorder.
time: 1 day
The day I’ve been working toward! Yes, all my hard work complete.
staggering other works
I mentioned earlier that I’m planning out my next couple of years. And this means I’m working on several projects. Right now I have a short story half written, an old, first-draft manuscript I need to get in shape for publishing (evaluate whether it’s worth publishing), my 4-book fairy tale series, and other projects that might come up.
My goal is to be only actively writing the first draft of one novel and one short story at the same time, as that’s one of the most intensive parts of a project, creatively and time wise, for me. But that’s only about 3-4 months of the year for active writing. After I finish a project, a little rest time is nice, but then I can feasibly throw in a new, full-length project and a short story. And so the process for one project might start in January, getting me to publishing state by September. That means by March or April, I’m not working on a first draft anymore, and I can divide my attention onto a new project. So this makes it feasible to work on two or three projects in a year and work each towards publication.
So while the above may (or may not–I’ll let you know!) work for me, it might not be your solution. You might be a super fast writer and editor. Or you might be super slow. That’s okay. It’s your writing, your pace, your process. Find what works for you!