The Under Ground Writing Project

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The Master Calendar

Posted by Jenny Maloney on January 7, 2013 at 8:50 AM

'Tis that time of year again: the beginning of the year. The slate is clean, waiting to be filled. As January 1st rolled around, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do this year: write two full rough drafts of new novels, revise the novel I just finished, and at least start a third book. As I was pondering how I would do this, I came across this little tidbit from Putting Your Passion Into Print by Arielle Ecksut and David Henry Sterry:

"Buy or make yourself a big one-year calendar. You will need to be able to change and modify it. A lot. A big white erasable board and colored erasable markers could be just the ticket. Or maybe a big blackboard with many hues of chalk...Mark your start date and your deadline. Then determine your various interim deadlines...Lay it all out for yourself very clearly. In number of words. In number of pages." ~Putting Your Passion Into Print

This calendar thing - which so obvious, right? - was a brilliant idea. I highly, highly recommend it. 

Three things about the Master Calendar in general, and then I'll tell you about what I did with it.

First, if you're already a published author with deadlines screaming over your head and you've got conferences to go to and marketing things to plan (I have to build a whole website?!!!!) Be sure to put that stuff in first. If you're a working person with a career sure to mark your work days and times. Give real life the priority, so you can make a more realistic timeframe for your work.  

Second, plan your calendar as if you were planning for someone else. This is very important. If you're anything like me or any of the other hundred writers I know, your writer-eyes are bigger than your writing-stomach. I have a nasty habit of overestimating my abilities and then, later, I wonder why the hell I'm so tired and still short of my goal. Burning yourself out is not a good thing. Don't do it.

But, whenever I hear another writer saying "I'll be able to finish X in such-a-such time" I always think to myself - "Oh yeah, bub? Double that time frame and I'll buy into it." Generally I'm right about the other writer's timeline but woefully, woefully, Oh! Full of Woe-ly wrong about my own timeline. With my Master Calendar, I decided to pretend I was an advisor to another writer. 

The third thing to keep in mind with the Master Calendar, is to be sure that you have the whole year in front of you and make sure the marks are eraseable. This is so that, should you miss a writing day, because you're sick, or you have to work the day-job unexpectedly, or a book signing took too long because the crowds were lining up outside the door and you had to stay out all night long signing your way into a handcramp, you can adjust your word count and goal on the back end. You can also see how one day - or a week - will affect your overall goals. 

Now, here's how I determined what I'd do for 2013: 

My Goal #1: Finish rough draft of one novel. After NaNoWriMo, and the subsequently exhausting first three weeks of December - where I was writing an average of 2000 words a day instead of the 1667 per day - I decided I needed to keep the pace more comfortable. 1000 words on the days when the kiddos are in school seems quite doable. 

From that determination, I decided I wanted the novel to be around 100K. A decent size adult book. With that in mind, I blocked out the days that I would write and how many words I would hit. 

Surprise, surprise. It was going to take longer than my original thinking indicated. (Mid-Febraury, right? Yeah. Not so much.) But taking a litte longer to finish is not a bad thing, I've come to realize. These things take as long as they take. When they say "slow and steady" wins the race...they're right.

My Goal #2: Revise the middle-grade novel I just finished last month.  According to my handy-dandy calendar - and factoring in various UGWP schedules - I determined it will take about 8 months for the group to read and mark up the book. That means (since I submitted it starting last month) I will have a fully marked manuscript around late summerish 2013. 

One of my own failings is that I never leave myself enough time to do a good revision. I read somewhere that it's a good idea to match revision time to first-draft time. Meaning, if it took three months to write the first draft, it should take you at least three months to do a good revision. (Sorry, does take longer to write a 200,000 word novel. If it takes a year to write, it'll probably take a year to revise.) 

With both of these figures in mind, I plotted out on my Master Calendary about how long it would take to do a good revision and I gave myself a word count pace (which is trickier with revision because some sections will need two or three days worth of work, another section might only need five minutes). Total: 3 months. 

My Goal #3: Write a rough draft of another new novel. Following my Master Calendar so far, Goals #1 and #2 will be accomplished. But #3 and #4 are kinda hosed. I won't have time (realistically) to finish a second whole novel. If I follow my own advice, I will only be halfway through another 100K novel by December 2013. Which means I won't have time to start a third book.

You might think I'd be bummed about having to throw out two goals - but you'd be incorrect. I now have three very solid goals that I feel more confident about completing: A full rough draft, a full revision, and 50K words into a new project. That's a pretty good project load for one year. And I feel confident about being able to hit those goals, which is much better than feeling overwhelmed before I even put finger-to-keyboard.

Plus, there's always 2014.

How do you guys figure out your projects? Do you just start and see how long it takes you? Do you set goals for yourself? Why or why not? 

Categories: Advice, Writing Process, Revision/Rewriting

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1 Comment

Reply Debbie Meldrum
4:38 PM on January 10, 2013 
I'm on Jenny's calendar!

Usually I just think of a ton of things I want to get done, do an Excel calendar with what i tell myself are doable goals, then get completely frustrated when I don't manage to pull off the impossible.

Maybe I should try something different this year.

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