Project management is just what it sounds like; managing a project from beginning to end. Every title published is a project. If you write and sell multiple titles per year, you will have multiple projects to manage, and their milestones will overlap.
Right in your contract, you have your project and milestone dates defined for you. When the book is due, how long you have to complete and return your edits, how long you have to complete and return your proofs, your publication date, and when your next proposal is due. Each of these stages: complete manuscript handed in, completed edits handed in, proofed and corrected galleys returned, and next proposal written and handed in, and title’s publication are milestones. And they are usually tied in some way to the next advance payment, hence providing incentive to get the work done.
Things get tricky if you write for multiple publishers or do multiple releases with the same publisher, because that’s when milestones and projects begin to overlap. So having some way of keeping it all straight will help minimize the confusion. I use a calendar on my computer that synchronizes with my Palm and this worked really well until Leap Year made it lose its electronic mind. I also use desktop electronic post-it notes that help me keep track of what’s going on each month.
Just remember that no matter what you do, there will be long periods of time with nothing due followed by times when three milestones are due in the same month (or the same week), but keeping track will still help you cope. And take advantage of those open periods to get ahead whenever possible.
Start by noting due dates or how much time is allowed for each milestone. This will save you paging through your contract trying to look it up later. And utilize your broken-down goals to work towards each milestone with daily action. You already know how to write a book. You use the same approach to break down working through revisions, proofing, or working on the next proposal into daily actions you can take to stay on track. Example: you have 10 days to revise and return your 400 pg novel. 400 divided by 10 = 40 but add a margin of safety and aim for 50 pgs a day to be done on time.
Know that things will go wrong. You’ll get sick, your kid will get sick, the water heater will break and the house will flood, and it will all happen at the worst possible time. Just get back on track as quickly as you can when these things happen.
From a creative perspective, when you shift from project to project, you have to learn to be flexible and shift gears. This isn’t always easy. There’s an inevitable loss of momentum when you change direction. Just accept that and try to find ways to work with your creative needs to make the transition as smoothly as possible.
My favorite trick is creating a playlist for each project and listening to it before beginning my work session or in between sessions. This keeps the project working in my subconscious. When I have to drop the book I’m writing to work on revisions of the previous book, switching the playlist helps me make the change in mindset. Novelist Susan Wiggs uses collages to help her quickly get into the project at hand. Experiment with different things and do what works for you.
Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
How will you make time to write, to send out query letters, and to promote your writing? Forget about waiting until you have the time, it’ll never happen. You have to make the time, and that means analyzing how you’re currently spending time to see where you can make different choices that better reflect your goals and priorities.
Maybe you spend a lot of time waiting for kids. That time could be spent writing, if you brought along a notebook, a portable writing device like an Alphasmart, or something you can dictate into. Maybe you spend a lot of time checking email. You can set two times a day to check email, and the rest of the time keep it closed. Saving those interruptions may free up enough time to write a couple of pages. Maybe you spend a lot of time doing activities you don’t really have to do that you really don’t love and don’t find as important as writing. Let them go.
Go through a typical day or week and think about how you’re spending your time. Are you doing the actions now that will reflect the person you want to be and the life you want to live? Would a successful novelist spend an entire day washing the outside windows with a bucket, or would she buy a spray attachment for the hose and get the job done in half an hour so she could get back to the book? (You can buy a Windex spray attachment for this purpose, and it works just fine.)
Maybe there are things you have to do, but you could do them more efficiently, or less often. I made a lot of changes in my life to accommodate writing. If you’re serious about your writing, you can, too. Even if you can only free up fifteen minutes, if you use that time to write, you’re moving towards your goals.
It’s the beginning of RWA’s National conference, and I’m not there. I registered. I paid. We booked a hotel and made travel arrangements. Then things began to go wrong. “But the conference fee is non-refundable,” I said. “And I’ve told people I’d be there. I’ve made plans.” Despite the warning signs, I determined to make it work.
We left on Sunday, did a stop-over in Reno, and arrived in San Fransisco on Monday. The trip was full of beautiful scenery. When we arrived, more things went wrong. Most notably the hotel. “It’s safe,” the manager assured us. Although he himself wouldn’t stay past five. The parking lot attendant added, “Don’t go anywhere at night. Take a cab.”
We looked around at the people on the streets and thought, well, maybe the inside security is good…
No. Flimsy locks, an outside security gate you could reach a hand into and open, discarded mattresses littering the hallway (from the last shooting? I couldn’t help wondering) and those are the major points. Won’t trouble you with the minor. Bottom line, not safe even in daytime.
We discussed options. Get another hotel? Except all the hotel rooms close to the conference location were booked for those dates and those that weren’t were astronomically expensive. We knew this, because we’d tried them before we booked this place. Stay and risk it? No. In fact, adding up all the things that went wrong before and after leaving, we decided it was not meant to be. We took the kids to Golden Gate Park, which was the one thing they cared passionately about, and headed back home.
Now, for years I’ve been reading about other people’s conference experiences, feeling left out, hearing how important it was for my career and how much I was missing out on by not going. I wanted to do something good for my career. I wanted to experience a national conference. I knew it was expensive, but this one was close enough it looked doable. Nothing else in upcoming years will be. I fell for the hype. I felt I had to do this to be Serious. Then I stuck with my decision despite warning signs because of that non-refundable fee. But if I’d been going on a feng shui approach, I would have seen very early on that this decision needed to be re-thought.
I wasn’t going to have meetings with my agent or editors. I wasn’t going to participate in the literacy signing. All because I signed up in June, instead of May and everybody was scheduled to the eyeballs by the time I said I was going and I missed the literacy deadline. Payments didn’t appear on time, making the expense stressful. And the closer the date came, the more I realized how badly I needed an actual vacation, and this was the closest I’d get. Unfortunate, because four days of “working vacation” wouldn’t really relax and recharge me. Not to mention the hours of travel.
If I’d asked myself, “Forget what I thought I needed six weeks ago, what do I need now to support myself?” I’d have cancelled before we got in the car and slept for a week. So I truly have no regrets about how it all worked out. I’m left behind, and I really AM loving it. This is where I want to be, not in a big, strange city. We have a nice house, and I much prefer it to a scary hotel. There are plenty of things to do right here and we’re doing them. Making masks with the kids, going for walks, visiting the Discovery Center and Botanical Gardens, all without fear of being mugged.
The whole experience has made me step back and think about conferences and writer’s organizations, too. I think the time has come for me to gaffiate. For those who have never been part of the science fiction/fantasy realm, to gaffiate is to get away from it all. I need quiet space to think about where I want to go from here and how I’m going to get there. No writer’s organization is going to help me with that. Moreover, the last thing I need is to be bombarded by industry news and the dire warnings that what I want to do is impractical, doomed, and causes blindness in laboratory rats.
I’ve noticed a trend since getting published that the news I read in organization newsletters I already knew months earlier from reading blogs. The articles aren’t helpful. They aren’t geared towards my needs or my career stage. And then there’s the fact that I actually considered spending $100-$150 on makeup I’d wear for four days to look “professional” at a conference, when I am not a make-up wearing person. If I have to look like somebody I’m not to fit in to an organization, perhaps it is not the org for me.
So, I’m gaffiating and at the end of this year, I may not renew any of my memberships. This is my networking and support system, right here in the blogosphere. I’m giving a workshop here and attending others and I’m doing it in my shorts with a ponytail in my hair after spending a morning doing crafts involving scissors, glitter glue, pipe cleaners and pom poms. I’m relaxing and having a vacation at home, which I really need to recharge. I’ve written 5 novels, 7 and a half novellas, and ten proposals in the last two years. That doesn’t include children’s books or short stories or articles. I don’t want to go sound smart to strangers. I want to wear my fuzzy slippers and contemplate my garden. I want to load up my Holga with medium format film and do artsy shots and I might even pull out my watercolors and paint a picture.
It’s worth the non-refundable fee to be right here, right now, left behind and truly loving it. The experience has cured me of conference envy, and next year I’ll think of all those people in DC and be glad I’m home.