Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Planning Is Not A Dirty Word

By Susan Sleeman

I’m one of those organized people who plan ahead. There I’ve said it. Please don’t throw things at me. If it helps, I’m married to a slightly, ahem, very disorganized person. My hubby whom I love dearly claims he knows exactly where everything is and can find it when he needs it. Yet, he asks me all the time when and where we are doing things because he knows I put every event on my calendar.

I simply cannot relax unless I’m on top of everything I need to do. And I really can’t live without planning and manage to write five books a year, as I’ll do this year. Not to mention find time to engage in all the promotional things that goes along with book publishing plus complete the tasks needed to run

So what does this have to do with your writing you ask? Other writers often ask me how I can complete so many books in one year, and I attribute some of the ability to do so to planning. That and fast typing, lol. AND, I’m a fulltime writer. This is my occupation so I don’t have to go to another job. You may have to work and can’t possibly write this many books in a year or you are a slower writer than I am. In either event, you can plan ahead to increase your productivity.

So I thought I’d share my top five tips that can help you get more words on paper, no matter your writing status.

1. See yourself as a professional writer – not related to planning but to the attitude that underlies it all
Attitude is critical for success. If you believe you are a writer, you will do the things necessary to become a published writer. Set up a dedicated writing space. Even if it’s an orange crate and a chair. Then write, write, write. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you’re turning out award winning prose or garbage. Write. Why? You’ve heard the old saying practice makes perfect. I don’t know about perfect, but writing on a regular basis grows your skills. So think of yourself as a writer. Park yourself behind your computer and write. A lot. All the time. Daily if possible.

2. Set a Goal and stick to it
Decide which days of the week you are going to write and set word goals. To keep up my publishing pace, I must write at least 2500 words 5 days a week. Do I always want to write 2500 words. “No,” I scream loudly. But by setting a word goal, it allows me to see at a glance when a rough draft will be finished and contract other books accordingly. It gives me time to fine tune and edit the books. It gives me time to come up with new books and write proposals.

So for example, I knew when I contracted all five books in my new Justice Agency series how long it would take me to complete the books, and I was able to add two cozy mystery contracts in between them. As a result, I have two Justice Agency books, Double Exposure and Dead Wrong, along with A Deadly Stitch, the first in the Creative Woman’s Mysteries. This year, two more Justice Agency books and another Creative Woman Mystery will release as well. But I’m not stopping here. I’ve submitted a proposal for another series that will hopefully be picked up, too. If I didn’t know how long it takes me to complete a book, and how many words I can write a day, this would never be possible.

3. Don’t let distractions get in the way.
Easier said than done right? Especially when there’s email and social media at our fingertips. So how do you avoid spending too much time on them? I set a daily schedule and allot myself the first hour of the day as I am coming awake with my coffee to read email, Facebook, Twitter, etc and again as I eat lunch. When time’s up, I have a calendar program that reminds me to quit. A good computer calendar program to give you reminders is invaluable in so many areas of a writing career. And you don’t have to spend any money on one. I use Mozilla Sunbird, which is a FREE program. I put deadlines and other events on the calendar and set appropriate reminders. For example, if I have a blog post or interview due, I set the due date and the calendar tells me when I should be working on it. Until then, I can put it out of my mind and concentrate on writing.

4. Set a book deadline whether the book you are working on is contracted or not
Any published author will tell you that a deadline will make you do super human things to complete a book on time. But you don’t have to have a contracted novel to do the same thing. Give yourself a deadline. Treat it as if an editor was waiting for your manuscript and stick to it. This will not only enable you to write more words, but it will be great practice for when you begin contracting novels. It will also show you how long it takes to complete a novel so when that three book contract comes your way, you will know how to schedule these books.

5. Plan out your novels – okay I know this is going to start a seat-of-the-pants writer versus plotter argument, but read on anyway as I can see this point from both perspectives
When I first started writing, I didn’t plan a word. I didn’t even know where the book was going or how it was going to end. No structure at all. I’d see a scene in my head the night before and put it on paper the next day. If I felt like writing that is. If I wasn’t in the mood, I didn’t write. But then, I was able to contract with a publisher on proposal only—the first three chapters and a synopsis. “What?” I said. “Write a synopsis before I wrote the book.” I couldn’t do that. I was a pantser all the way, and I could only write the dreaded synopsis after I finished the book.

As in shock as I was, if I didn’t want to complete entire manuscripts and have an editor say they didn’t like them, I had to learn to plan my books in advance. And that’s what I did. I took the high concept, figured out character conflicts and the main story conflict as I had always done then expanded it to create a list of scenes that fit the book. Learning how to do go from pantser to plotter would take a whole series of blog posts, but I bring it up for two reasons.
1. If you want to stay on the schedule you set, I believe you have to know where you’re going. If not, you’ll write, rewrite, and cut many words that will then put you behind schedule. 
2. If you can’t plan ahead, you will never be able to sell on proposal and that means writing books that may or may not sell.

Well, there you have it. My five tips to being more productive as a writer. So what do you think? Can any of these tips help you get more words on paper?
SUSAN SLEEMAN is a best-selling author of inspirational romantic suspense and mystery novels. Her first romantic suspense title, High-Stakes Inheritance earned a spot on the ECPA bestseller list and her Garden Gate Mystery series, which features Nipped in the Bud, and Read Between the Tines has enjoyed time on Amazon bestseller lists as well. And The Christmas Witness was named a finalist in the 2011 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. In addition to writing, Susan hosts the popular internet website TheSuspenseZone.comShe currently lives in Florida, but has had the pleasure of living in nine states. Her husband is a church music director and they have two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law, and an adorable grandson. 
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Romantic Suspense-The Justice Agency Series - Double Exposure, Dead Wrong, No Way Out, May/2013, Dangerous Alliance, Fall/2013, and Desperate Measures, 2014
The Morgan Brothers Series - High-Stakes Inheritance, Behind the Badge and The Christmas Witness
Cozy Mysteries -Garden Gate Mystery Series - Nipped in the Bud and Read Between the Tines

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