Fixed deadline? Go flexible on the plot

Plot chunks

So my full plan for writing a book by Christmas is now in place. And guess what, it looks like a load of neatly arranged boxes!

I’ll try to explain how this will fit together, at the very least so I can refer to it at the end and reflect how the project went. If you can follow how it works from my description, brilliant, well played you! Leave me a comment to let me know what you think about it.

I explained in a previous post that I will write the book by linking a beginning and an end and then writing as much middle as I can in the time allows. The trick is to ensure that the story makes sense, regardless of the length of the book. The downside of this is working out how to plan the plot to cope with any amount of chapters in between a beginning and end.

A plan of the plan

So, here’s what’s going to happen. The bulk of the story will be split into five separate and specific time periods, called eras. These will operate independently of each other and I’ll be able to pick any number of these to finish the book. Ideally, a minimum of three eras would be enough to describe a good chain of events and deliver a book of a reasonable length.

The eras will be further split between three families of characters, although I could probably cut one of these if it looks like I will overrun. There will also be a main character whose story will intertwine with these families.

This format provides a 2-D grid of available stories – 3 families multiplied across five different eras. Each of these stories can be written independently of each other – there will be minimal interaction between them all. In fact, apart from at the beginning and the end, it is only really the main character that draws everyone together. If I run out of time halfway through a story, I can simply drop that section and finish the book without it.

I have a couple of other storylines which can be linked to the families in the same way as the main character. These are very much nice-to-haves and can also be cut if there’s a shortage of time.

So this leaves me with the following todo list:

  • Start section, kicking off all the main storylines.
  • Somewhere between 6 and 15 middle sections* which will incorporate the main character and other sub stories where possible.
  • An end section, wrapping up all the themes and completing the book.

Simple! This means I have defined an absolute minimum to achieve before publishing – with less than 6 middle sections, I haven’t got a book. How long these sections are still needs to be established, but the main worry now is how long it will take to write each of these to a high standard and whether the minimum can be completed before Christmas.

I drew up a picture to describe the above, but it ended up looking like the Dulux colour chart so I’ve decided not to share it now. I’ll put some work in and post the update hopefully early next week.

I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on my approach, especially if you’ve used something similar yourself.

* 6 middle sections is made up of 2 families x 3 eras; 15 middle sections is made up of 3 families x 5 eras.

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An Introduction to the World of Indie Publishing

A Project Update

I put a countdown on my blog to keep my ever impending deadline in mind. However, after a couple of days I had to move it down the page so now it doesn’t appear on my laptop screen when I go onto my blog. No one needs to see their deadlines all the time.

So far, the Lost Dabs project is a mere 13 days old. So much has happened in the last couple of weeks of Foundations: I’ve decided on how the book will be published, the timescales for writing and editing, some of the characters details and an outline of the plot. I’ve created a method for capturing all my data around each character and the background facts of the world and developed a method for incrementally writing about each.

However, I’ve also learnt about something that I knew nothing of when I started. All I wanted to do was to publish a book myself using an established outlet. In my mind this was the Kindle Store – it seemed like the obvious choice as it has a large market share, the Amazon Store is something I already know about and, possibly most importantly, I already own a Kindle, an iPad with the Kindle App, an iPhone with the Kindle App… it’s all pretty accessible.

Doing It Yourself

But them I started reading about a whole world of Indie Authors. People who make a living doing what I’m trying to do. I realised that I am in massive danger of making light something that other people have spent years of their lives working on. I realised that I can’t produce any old crap and call myself an Indie Author. I realised I have to be a signed up member of the Indie movement.

This is the best news I’ve had since starting this project – the number of people who are all writing and independently publishing are all part of a great community. There’s massive competition in this market but I don’t want to see it. I want to embrace what other people are doing. I want to eschew the books I’ve bought on my shelves and start reading Indie Authors. I want to see what other people in my position are doing. I want to explore different genres and engage with people who are writing.

It’s the only way the Indie community can function: if I want people to read my book, I need to read and engage with those writing their own books.

As an unpublished Indie Author I don’t feel I can call myself fully part of this wonderful community yet, but I feel strongly enough to make it only a matter of time. Watch out world, the Huscin is coming! The countdown is ticking… maybe I should move it back to the top of my blog?!

How do you know when to stop?

The Definition of Done

Given a project with a limited timeframe, you can only do so much before you have to finish. That’s fine if you don’t care about the quality, but publishing a book to a world audience without careful vetting would be committing author suicide. So how do you get the most out of what you write without going over the deadline and without writing half a story?

I’ve discussed this at length in a previous post so I don’t want to talk about that again. Instead, I want to discuss the Definition of Done. When is something done? When it’s finished. Obvious. How about: when it’s finished to a predetermined level of quality? Better, perhaps.

I was cutting the grass today. It was only when I’d finished and put the lawnmower away I started noticing all the bits I’d missed – there were small patches of long grass everywhere. I was obviously too close to the grass when I was mowing to see where it was uneven. The grass is pretty much all one colour and it’s difficult to see the bits you’ve missed when you’re right on top of it. You only see the bigger picture when you step back and look at it with fresh eyes.

This got me thinking about writing and my dilemma over identifying something as done.

The finish

In order to get a quality product to a level of satisfaction, you need a cool down period, some time away from your immediate thoughts of it. In the case of the grass, this was going indoors and looking back at it from the window. In the case of writing it means forgetting everything you know about your text and reading it back through the eyes of a new reader. This is the most important step towards quality: disassociation. If you can forget why you wrote something, you can read it and make up your own mind about it. If you can forget all the meta writing and scaffolding you can look at it objectively.

I’ve decided to take steps towards this in my writing. I need to disconnect writing and editing as far as possible. Unfortunately, as this project is time constrained, this gap will not be as much as I’d like. I’m considering a two week closed book on everything written, continually revisiting the text written two weeks ago. This means that the first two weeks writing remains unedited until editing starts alongside with any new writing. The end effect is that I need to finish writing everything two weeks before I can expect it to be fully finished and edited.

It sounds like I just lost two weeks of writing at the end of the project, but if it means an improved product in the long run, I’m all up for it.

Do you have any experience or opinion on how to write a quality product given limited resource? Leave a comment below to discuss.

Momentum: Keeping the writing spirit alive

Motivation

I’ve been away with work all this week and haven’t had a chance to think about writing or my book. I’ve either been travelling (dull), in meetings (various levels of interest depending on who with), in the bar (unwinding, drinking beer and/or eating), or sleeping. It’s been a fairly exhausting week.

I’ve returned home and have tried to pick up where I left off, but with such a break, I’ve lost all the momentum I had last week. I took my notebooks with me but didn’t have a moment to do anything productive. You might think that the time spent drinking beer would have been perfect time to do some writing, develop a character or work on the plot lines, but it never happened. I was tired and just needed downtime.

This is life. We need a balance between the various different parts of our lives or nothing will function properly. So what is the best way to get the right balance?

At the moment, I have a lot of different thoughts going on with my book. I have a rough outline of the plot along with who will be involved in it. I dip in and out of ideas and write as my whim takes me. This is great when I have time to sit and think and write, but what about when I only have the occasional half hour here or there to attend to the book? I need more structure.

Everything I have done to date is at a top level, bird’s eye view of the project as a whole. If I want this to succeed then I need to become more granular about all the aspects of the story. I know that I have a world, but what fills it? There must be hundreds of houses, shops, roads, signposts in a town. The countryside needs fields and trees, hills and valleys, even cliffs and mountains where necessary. There needs to be weather. How do all these things interact with each other?

Going granular

The granular level says that one character must live in one house and go to a series of other locations. These other locations will be owned, run or visited by other people. So why not take the main character and describe where he fits in, concentrating on his detail and bringing in other people and other locations as I go. This means there will be a definite path to complete the structure behind all the different places in the story. In short, I am preparing the scaffolding for the story, but in an organised fashion.

So how does this help my motivation? It doesn’t, I still need to motivate myself to write, even when I’m tired or only have a small window of opportunity. The good news is that I won’t have to think about what I’m going to write about as it will follow on from the last thing that was written.

I read that a good way to bring back the thoughts of a previous writing session is to stop in mid dialog. A conversation is very emotive and it should be easy to pick up what the characters motivations were in the follow up writing session. I think my motivation will come through ending a writing session with the plan of what needs to be described next. That way I will be able to pick up from where I left off, perhaps by writing about a shop the protagonist is about to visit, or about the character that is going to give him his next bag of magic beans.

Leave me a comment below if you have other opinions around how to keep the momentum of writing alive whilst maintaining the balance with everything else going on in your world.