To start, there’s the official definition:
Project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints. Wikipedia
That sounds a lot like corporate-speak, so let’s translate.
Project management is everything to do with making a project happen. It includes assessing what’s needed and what’s doable, making a plan, staying on top of actions taken to achieve the goal, and then assessing how the project went. Ideally a project should be finished within its proposed timeline, and within the proposed budget. There are other pieces as well, but this is the gist.
Writers have plenty of projects. Each manuscript is a project. Submission is a project. Marketing is a project. Self-publishing each book is a project. And if we think of them as projects, rather than as art with all its whims, we can learn strategies for making them happen more efficiently.
How can you apply project management principles to your writing?
Assessing the Goals & Requirements
Project management for writers begins with your end goals. You need to define what counts as success, and what would be a negative outcome. It helps for these things to be measurable. At the end of the project you want to know if you met your goals.
If your goal is to write a novel (just a complete draft, not a publishable one, necessarily), then your requirements might be:
- Goal: Finish a manuscript
- Length between 70,000-90,000 words (depending on genre and age category)
- Tells one story, not a bunch of short stories or episodes
- Suitable for my genre and age category
- Has a satisfying romance (depending on genre, etc.)
If you want to get nitty-gritty you can also throw in the language it needs to be written in, if it’s a novel in verse or prose, etc.
Making a Plan
Next you want to figure out how best to achieve your goals. What are the necessary steps you have to take to get there?
To write a novel you have to:
- Have an idea
- Develop the idea to the point that you can start writing
- May include an outline, character bios, etc.
- Complete a draft
- Can be broken up into smaller chunks, like chapters or scenes
Those are very broad strokes, because everyone writes differently. Maybe you use the snowflake method, in which case your list looks more like this:
- Write 1-sentence idea
- Write 3-sentence paragraph
- Write 3-paragraph summary
- Write 3-page summary
And so on, growing until you have a full novel.
When you have your initial list of tasks, look at each individually and determine what you need to do in order to complete that one task.
If your task is to know your protagonist’s goal, motivation & conflict, you might list each of those as a separate sub-task.
- Profile Protagonist
- Profile Antagonist
You may discover that some tasks can only be completed after other things have been finished. That can help you arrange a timeline. If you want to get fancy, you can estimate how much time each step will take and plot it out on a calendar.
Staying on Track
Once you know what you have to do you need a way of making sure you actually do it. There are lots of tools for this!
You’ll want to investigate:
- Project management tools (these tend to be expensive, or limited in their free version)
- Kanban boards
- To-do lists
- Task reminders
- Time logs
I like and recommend:
- Teamwork Projects – Free tier only allows 2 projects, but you can have as many task lists within a project as you need
- Google Calendar
- Bullet journals
- Hearthbreathings HB90
Whatever system you use, make sure it’s something you can stick with. Don’t pick something so complex that it gives you hives just thinking about it. An abandoned project management system is basically no project management system.
The key to staying on track is reminders and notifications. You may be good at checking your to-do list every day, but you won’t forget to look at it if you get a 9am notification to do so.
Assessing the Final Product
When you’ve completed all your tasks it’s time to debrief. The first important question is, does the work you did meet all your requirements? If not, maybe you need to keep working. Maybe your requirements have changed over the life of the project. Just because you didn’t meet all the requirements that doesn’t mean you have to keep working. It may be time to call it quits. In which case, move to the next step.
Ask yourself these three questions.
- Is this the outcome I wanted?
- What did I learn from this project?
- What can I do better next time?
In the corporate world, a project that doesn’t meet all its requirements is a failure. But in writing, such a project is always and forever a valuable learning opportunity. There is no such thing as wasted writing. You may even create something that isn’t at all what you expected, but it’s amazing anyway. That’s the art part coming into play. Art is never a failure.
How will you plan your next writing project?
I’ll be using my Bullet Journal NaNoPrep Planner course materials to prepare to draft in November. Lots of work to do! How about you?
Use the power of bullet journals to prepare for NaNoWriMo
This course provides everything you need to prepare to write a novel–not just any novel, but a winning National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) draft!
- Identify HOW you should prepare
- Choose WHAT you want to do from 13 Tasks
- Estimate how much TIME you really have
- Set weekly GOALS
- Have a flexible PLAN OF ACTION
- Draft with CONFIDENCE
This is a one-time fee that will give you open access to the course. Use the materials over and over again!
Get help from a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner who always does prep work. Give yourself the best possible chance of winning NaNoWriMo this year!