This week: use process goals. How some basic maths, a calendar, & a few tips about word count will carry you to that final champagne moment and all the little champagne moments in between.
|Kickstart your book
1. Defend the project
2. Defend the time
3. Protect your headspace
4. Sit down with your fears
5. Use process goals
6. Get support
Week 5: Use process goals
So far you’ve shown yourself why the book’s a priority, you’re giving it the time it needs, you’re allowing yourself the headspace, and you’ve sat down with any fears that keep it from happening. Now we want to keep this going.
A book can feel like a huge wobbly shapeless project: break it down.
A book is not insanely big
It feels insanely big the first time, but it’s not. One of the most common mistakes with first-time writers is to overestimate how much can fit in a book. As you start going into more detail, you realise you might not be able to get it all in – in fact, you might need to narrow your focus – and oh, look! You have enough material left over for your second book!
Plan your book’s size in word count
An average paperback novel is 80,000 words (slim) to 120,000 words (chunky). A business book that includes graphics can be 60,000 words. (If you want it to feel thicker, you can increase the line spacing a tiny amount and use more generous margins, which gives a lovely spacious feel.) 40,000 is definitely on the slim side for a printed book, but not absurdly so – get the designer to do something cool with it. The publishing & editing world work in word counts, so get used to using them, but as a rule of thumb, an A4 page in Times New Roman single-line spacing is about 600 words. Also, a thorough edit will usually reduce a book’s wordcount by 5-10%.
80,000 words = ± 135 pages
60,000 words = ± 100 pages
40,000 words = ± 67 pages
Choose a length to aim for. Don’t worry if that feels arbitrary right now.
Divide it into sections
Chop your information into chapters or sections, using your book’s organising principle to guide you. (If it doesn’t have one, read the post on What’s your book’s organising principle? for ideas & help.) Again, don’t worry if this feels a bit arbitrary now – you can always shuffle it around later. Map that against your word count. So, if you’re planning 60,000 words and 12 chapters, each chapter is 5000 words. Perfect. So, you think, If I allow two weeks per chapter, then that’s 10 working days per week, so I need to write 500 words a day… Hold on a sec.
Include different kinds of tasks
Before you map your word count onto every day, remember the other stuff that writing includes. Planning. Research. Interviews. And that precious non-thinking time. When I’m writing full-time, I allow one day out of every week just for planning. That’s 1/5 of the time set aside as thinking time & planning time. Actually, I use about half of that day, and spend the rest of it on long walks and house-cleaning and other faffing, during which all those intensely thought-out ideas continue to germinate & sprout roots beneath the soil, whether or not they show their extra leaves yet. I also allow a full month of full-time work at the beginning, for thinking, planning, and research, out of a total of 4-5 months. I find writing a lot easier if I plan well and know where it’s going – for fiction or non-fiction – so it’s faster in the end.
Plan big goal, section goals, chapter goals, day goals…
Your overall goal’s to write the book, so put a time on that. 6 months? A year? Let’s say 10 months, for now. Knock off some time at the front for planning – a month, say. And some time at the end for editing – another month. Okay, 8 months left. That’s about 34 weeks. So if you have 4 sections, that’s about 8 weeks each, keeping 2 weeks aside for emergencies or holiday. Say each section has 3 chapters – that’s 2 weeks a chapter, with 2 weeks over, call it one week to plan the section and one week to revise it. 2 weeks a chapter, so each week you write half a chapter (2500 words) and have 1 day for planning. So Monday you’ll plan, Tues-Fri you’ll write 625 words each day… Map that out into your calendar. That example assumes you’re writing every week day. What if you’re not?
If you’re running your business full-time, you probably have 2 sessions set aside per week maximum. So say you give yourself 3 weeks per chapter. That’s six sessions: 1 to plan, and 5 sessions of 500 words each. That makes 3 chapters take 9 weeks. Plus an extra week at the beginning of each section (2 sessions to plan the section). So each section is 10 weeks. 4 sections is 40 weeks. Plus 4 weeks at the beginning of extra planning time – that’s 44 weeks.
Don’t go insane and push yourself too hard at the beginning: keep it reasonable, keep it sustainable, and then you can keep doing it. Hares don’t write books and they don’t win races. 500 words a session is a reasonable, rational goal. In my experience, professional full-time writers write between 1000-2,500 words a day. So 500 words in an evening is just fine.
As you go on, you’ll be able to estimate more and more accurately how much writing you can get done in a day / a session and use that to revise your goals. At the end of each section, you can recalculate and see how accurate your estimates are. If they’re out, fix the estimates – not yourself!
Do be aware thought that research on managing motivation shows that goals are good for getting us off to a kickstart, but focusing on the process is better in the long term. Read my post about the motivation of concentrating on process. You’re using the goals here to kickstart your book and break it into manageable pieces, but once you’re underway, you need to switch your focus to the process.
I celebrate the end of a book with champagne. But 6 months is a long wait even for red champagne. Celebrate the end of each section as well, with whatever floats your boat. For best results, something you love and don’t usually buy, something you can reserve just for this. Cava? Doesn’t have to be alcohol. A new essential oil? A very short introduction to something interesting? A book? Some paints? These are my favourite things – pick your treats.
This week’s core task: some basic maths and a calendar.
• estimate your book’s total length
• divide that into sections & chapters
• estimate the total length of time to write it
• map that out against a calendar: include planning time, and try to work in whole weeks (extra weeks can be held aside for emergencies, planning, or holiday). Then reverse-calculate to see if that adds up to the same amount of time. Be reasonable and adjust your plans to what you can actually do.
Next: Week 6: Get support