The minute the clock struck midnight on June 1, 2015, I failed. I had set a deadline for Heart Stone to be completed by that point and instead of the first draft being done and ready to rest over the summer I had a half-done novel and a sinking feeling that it might stay that way for awhile.
So, the first thing to do – a post-mortem (#4, mentioned in my deadline post). Let’s ask some hard questions and figure out how to avoid my mistake in the future.
1. Does/Did this project have a plot/plot points/general plan?
I mentioned before that I had used Alexandra Sokoloff’s book Screenwriting Tricks for Author’s to plan this novel. I also mentioned that I am a bit of a plantser (cross between plotter and pantser). What this means is that I plotted out all of the major points in the story, but left the movement in between these points open. My challenge as a writer is to move the characters between the major plot points in a believeable way.
That being said, I grossly underestimated how much work it is to get characters from point A to point B without turning them into paper dolls and forcing them to just do what I say already! Their movements and decisions have to be believable, or all my work is for nothing.
I think this is a rookie mistake. Bottom line – I need to give myself more of a map or more time. I think which I choose depends on the project. If the deadline is external, then the map becomes necessary. If I have the luxury of time, them great. I can skimp a bit on the map.
2. Does/Did this project have main characters in place?
I also mentioned that I used Chuck Wendig’s method of developing characters to assist in that. I answered the questions for each of my main characters. Secondary characters don’t get that treatment and often I just name them randomly and move on. I may go back and fill in info for them if they turn into more than a one-off kind of character.
3. Does/Did this project have a word count goal (measurable & achievable)?
50,000 words (this was a goal and probably will end up longer). Measurable and achievable are important here as you set goals. This count was both. I still missed it, but I’ll get to that in a second.
4. Does/Did this project have checkpoints (smaller goals)?
Here’s where I think I went wrong. I had an overall word count goal of 50,000 words. I was able to figure out what I needed to write every day to meet that goal. For me, that meant writing 834 words every weekday for about 12 weeks. It’s completely do-able on paper.
But, my schedule can be weird at times. Some days I may be able to squeeze in a couple of hours or more to write and I may knock out 3,000+ words in a day. Other days I may get no time to write. Zero word days are not abnormal around here. I just shrugged them off. No biggie, I’ll make up the words on another day. Only, because I was only doing daily tracking I didn’t necessarily make up the words. And I didn’t realize how far behind I was until it was too late.
Solution: Weekly and monthly goals and tracking in addition to daily tracking.
Zero word days are going to be a reality, but I have to have a way to make sure that I make up the count and stay on track. By adding a weekly word goal and a monthly word goal I’ll be able to catch deficiencies faster, before they become too overwhelming.
5. What role did/do distractions play in missing this goal?
Let’s be honest for a second. This was a problem too. There’s a million things competing for my attention online that can be way more fun than pushing through a sticky mess in my book.
Solution: I have Scrivener set to full-screen mode. Nothing else shows, although notifications will still pop up. This helps once I choose to open it! So, instead of mindlessly walking away from computer at the end of the day I plan to leave Scrivener open so that when I get on my computer the next day, my novel is what I see first thing. The idea here is to write first, browse later. I know I can’t write for 8 hours straight. I have to break that up, but I can handle an hour or two and in that time I should be able to meet my daily goal. Then I can browse Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
The second part of that solution is to list everything that I need to do, daily, weekly, and monthly. If I want to tweet 20 times per month, then I can schedule some tweets in advance and meet that goal. If I am aiming for 3 blog posts per week then I need an editorial calendar and to work ahead – time that needs to be calendared separate from writing time. And so on.
Now that I’ve taken the time to evaluate what went wrong I can set new goals and plan accordingly.
Deadline 2.0 – October 31, 2015
Daily word goal – 417
Weekly – 2,085
August – 6,255 words (total count 33,790)
September – 8,340 words (total count 42,130)
October – 7,870 words (total count 50,000)
Meeting this goal means setting the book aside here, assuming that the plot has played out. If it has I will break from this and focus on book two for NaNoWriMo (means I have to pull double-duty in October – planning book 2 while writing book 1). If I need to continue working on this book, that will be my NaNo goal – finishing this work completely.
Editing commences in mid-January, with a goal of getting outside input in March. Would love to have it query ready by June 1, 2016. We’ll see.
Please note: I’m an unpublished, kinda newbie at this. All of this post is just based on my own personal experience and journey. It’s helpful to me to break things down like this in an attempt to do better going forward. The only advice I can offer if you miss an external deadline with you publisher, editor, agent, etc. would be to pick up the phone and call them. Better to come clean and develop a plan than to make them chase you down.