In my last post I wrote about my achievable plan for writing my book. In my view, a good plan is essential for any project and a book is no exception. So, how did I go about creating a plan for doing something I had never done before – writing a book?
This is where my experience of being a project manager was useful. I knew that I needed to decide on some basic objectives and targets before breaking-down the overall project into small, manageable tasks.
Internet research suggested that I should be aiming for a book of 75,000-100,000 words with chapters of 4,000-6,000 words each. On reflection, I thought that I could probably set aside about 60 hours per month which should be sufficient to research/prepare or write one chapter. I needed a target audience: Family Historians, Maritime Historians, Local Historians, Social Historians and those interested in the history of the East India Company or Early Modern London. I intended it to be a serious book aimed at the general history reader but one that is rigorous enough to be of interest to the academic historian. My aim is to educate and inform, hopefully in an entertaining way. With such a wide audience, I cannot assume any detailed knowledge of any topics. I should assume everything needs to be explained but in a non-patronising way.
I started by looking at the tasks I needed to compete before I could start the actual writing: the formatting and cataloguing of the final batch of manuscripts I had recently filmed plus the holiday we had planned for early 2016. Any realistic plan must take all potential interruptions to your writing into account – especially holidays, Christmas and the like.
Next, I made an attempt to decide what my chapter topics would be. I am convinced that as I progress, this list will change but the topics are the obvious way of breaking down the writing into smaller tasks. The majority of the plan is an iteration of preparing to write a chapter then writing it followed by editing it into a first draft. I learned valuable lessons in the editing phase from Gill’s workshops: leave the piece of writing for a week then read it through [I like to do this out loud] and rework it, next ask someone to review your work and make any changes that seem necessary in the light of their feedback.
For me, chapter preparation almost invariably starts with a timeline bringing together all the facts and ordering them. I find that this can help bring clarity if there is any confusion. I include the source references against each of the events on the timeline which saves time when writing.
Throughout the plan, I added time for holidays and Christmas. At the end, I included a month’s additional contingency [having also included time for contingencies within each task] followed by a number of months for a final edit of the text.
At this initial stage, I also decided on the first chapter I would write. It may seem logical to start at the beginning and work through to the end but, for me, this did not seem to be the best approach. I decided to start with the chapter on the incident in Bowrey’s life about which most has been written.
Plans can be presented in many ways. What is most important is that you present your plan in the way that is most meaningful for you. Personally, I work best with some form of visual presentation. Whilst still working, I would use commercial project management software, such as MS Project. This is an excellent tool but very expensive and somewhat overkill with just one worker – you. For my book plan, I looked at free software but all were disappointing compared to MS Project and I decided on a visual presentation using Excel. However you present your plan, it is essential that you update it with your progress [or otherwise] and make appropriate adjustments.
So, I had completed my initial project plan. After a few chapters and in the light of the reading I had been doing about writing, I realised that I had completely forgotten a whole set of necessary tasks relating to the eventual marketing of my book. It is clear that, now, it is essential to have a presence on social media but this was a whole new world to me. It was something I had actively avoided until then. I needed to revisit my plan and add in these marketing tasks – starting with this blog and a Facebook page.
As I write this, my first two chapters were completed ahead of schedule but I started to hit brick walls whilst working on the third. The first problem was that I needed to study further manuscripts at the British Library and The National Archives. I did this and completed the first section before family life intervened. I had to accept that I needed to take a break from writing and deal with other things. Fortunately, I was already ahead of schedule and I should be able to restart and then complete the chapter still within the original timeframe.
So, this is my next test – can I pick up the writing again?