Thursday, 3 December 2015

T is for Time Management by Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of every month, Novelista Annie Burrows has been sharing a very personal view of what it is like to be a writer.  And is dealing with themes in alphabetical order.  This month, she's reached she'll be talking about how she manages her time.

I'm supposed to write two books a year, at 75,000 words each.  Every time I get a new deadline, one of the first things I do is to sit down and work out a timetable which will ensure I get my story in on time.

My last one went something like this:

Due August 31st.
75,000 at 10k per week (or 2 chapters per week) for 1st draft.  = 2k per day.  Will take 7 and a half weeks.
If start 4th March, should be done by April 30th.

2nd draft - revise 3 chapters per week = 8 weeks (assuming 15 chapters)
should take until June 17th

That should have given me a full two and a half months to do a third draft, which is when I usually have only a few little tweaks to iron out.  I was hoping I would be able to get the commissioned story finished, and then spend some time on a book I'd like to self-publish.

But what happened?  Well, to start with, my first draft was over 30,000 words short.  I'd written all the story I could think of, and the only way I could have put in anything else would have been shameless padding.

Fortunately, the Novelistas helped me with some brainstorming, during which we came up with a new ending.  So that my second draft, with a completely new ending, which I managed to finish on June 29th, came in at 64,000 words.  Still a bit short, but not too far off for that stage of my drafts, so I was reasonably happy.  I still had a full two months before the deadline, although I was by then two weeks behind where I wanted to be.

However, I was going to the Romance Writers of America conference at the end of July, which would mean two weeks off, plus any time necessary to recover from jet lag which always turns my brain to mush.  So I thought it would be a good idea to get my 3rd draft done before I flew out.

But then I had an unexpected visitor, who stayed a week.  And a teacher husband at home for school holidays underfoot.  So by the time I flew out I had achieved practically nothing.

My next entry in my "progress with wip" file reads:
returned to work on August 10th.
Have until 31st to deadline = 3 weeks.
Need to revise 13 chapters = min 1 chapter per day.

I finally submitted the book on September 4th, having spent the previous week hunched over my laptop feverishly typing.  And ended up with back spasm, followed by a migraine.

So what had gone wrong with my brilliant plan?  Ok - I knew there would be a couple of weeks out at the end of July for the trip to New York, but I shouldn't have had to end up frantically trying to finish by the deadline.  I'd worked out that I'd have plenty of free time - I'd even hoped I could work on that self-published book that has been on the back burner for what feels like forever.  And this isn't the first time it's happened either.  The last few books I have produced have all gone the same way.  I've started off with a brilliant timetable, which appears to give me plenty of time, and end up begging my editor for an extension.  And given myself a migraine getting it finished.  I'm on my 21st book at the moment, so you'd think by now I would have learned how to write a bit faster than I did to start off with.

So this time, on the recommendation of a blog I read that suggested I should be able to write 10,000 words a day if I followed their advice (cue hollow laughter) I kept a writing diary.  To see if I could pick out patterns.  Which would show me where I was going wrong.  Wasn't I spending enough time at my laptop?  I certainly felt as if I was working as hard as I could.  So perhaps I was taking too many days off to gallivant - although time spent with the Novelistas wouldn't count, I promised myself.  I frequently need their input.  (And the home-made cake).

Anyway, what I discovered when I read through my writing diary was this deadly phrase:
Revisions landed.

And everything made sense.  Because, when I counted how much time I'd spent on revisions to my previous book, when I should have been ploughing forward with my next one, it came to a shocking total of 6 weeks.

The revisions came in two rounds, the first of which took me four weeks, and the second, two.

Even when I did get back to my wip, I found phrases in my writing diary like:
Spent an hour in afternoon just trying to get my head round chapter 10 again

So, it's revisions that are the culprit.  If I hadn't had those revisions, my book would have been submitted in plenty of time, and I could have worked on my own personal project.

So, clearly, when I'm making my timetable for my next book, I'm going to have to factor in those 6 weeks for revisions. And next time, hopefully my writing diary won't have comments like:

Change of plan -

All went to hell in a handcart coz of revisions.  Now need to re date all these targets

So now I am officially only 1 week behind revised schedule.

Wow.  It's going to be tight.

 Annie's 20th book, "The Captain's Christmas Bride" is on sale now. 

She has just finished the second round of revisions for her 21st book, and is off for a lie-down in a darkened room. 

When she recovers, you can find her on facebook or twitter @NovelistaAnnie, and her website is here.


  1. Loved this post! I spend so much of my time blogging and networking that it cuts into my writing (books) time. I love the idea of a writing diary to keep track. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Really good analysis of writing-time management. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Wow 21 books! No wonder you have such a carefully thought out process for time management. Thanks for sharing & good luck with the revised schedule.

    1. thanks Elaina - I hope my revised schedule works better now I know I need to add time for revisions. x


We love to hear from you, so don't be shy . . .