Project Management: Cleaning the Desk

Hope you’re all having a wonderful New Year!

Today is a day of planning and thinking for me while we watch movies.  (The monsters are watching Forrest Gump yet again – I think I may scream.)  This is the time to look back over the past year, see what projects were finished, what went well and what didn’t, and decide how to proceed into 2010.

Rather like cleaning off my desk and preparing for a new year.

2009 was the year of Revision Hell, including major revisions to the Maya story, Arcana, and Return to Shanhasson.  Arcana didn’t go so well, and I shelved it again (I hit 50K and hadn’t even touched 25% of my outline.  Ooops!)  The Maya story was arguably one of the toughest projects I’ve ever tackled, and I’m hoping for good news on it in 2010.  *crosses fingers, prays, throws salt over shoulder, knocks on wood* 

Return to Shanhasson is in the final stages of submission and will go to Deena in the next few days.  Arcana?  Not sure yet.  I’ve done so much work on that story it would be a crying shame not to finish it in some manner.  I just can’t figure out what to do with it.  It *may* end up in the SFR world of Deathright.  Perhaps.  Possibly.

Along with Arcana, I’ve had a few other projects I had to clear off my desk.  One of the hardest things of project management for me personally is eliminating a project.  I wish I could do everything, but it’s just not humanly possible.  I had planned to write a Christmas novella set at Beulah Land over the summer, and I just couldn’t pull it off.  I wanted to write a short story in December, but just didn’t have time.  I’d love to write something for the erotic fairy tale antho at Samhain, but ditto. 

I *have* to finish Victor’s revisions in January.  I just don’t have time to pull off a 20K novella at the same time.  I had a pretty cool idea for it, though, set in the same SFR world as Deathright.  Perhaps I’ll write it anyway, later in the year.  Victor is my #1 priority in 2010, followed by Deathright.  Anything else will be gravy.

So what are you planning to work on this year?  Any major projects?

Project Management: Evaluating Your Progress

Have you heard the quote that a high percentage of people who write down their goals actually succeed?  That’s only part of the secret to success.  The other part:  evaluating your progress.

It does you no good to write down detailed, measurable, attainable goals if you never check your progress and make adjustments.  I used to avoid this step because, quite frankly, I hate failure.  I made massive, impossible lists, and then I never wanted to see how little I actually accomplished, so I just worked like a busy bee and never sat down and really thought about what I was doing.

It’s much easier for me now because I have finally learned how to prioritize my lists.  I still have an impossible amount I want to get done, but I’m really only going to be disappointed if I don’t accomplish my MUST DO items.  That list is smaller, manageable, and easily evaluated.

For example, this week, my highest priority goal is to revise 100 pages of Return to Shanhasson.  It’s measurable.  It should be doable in one week.  Just editing 20 pages a day will give me the weekend off if I so desire, and I already knew the opening was pretty solid, so I wasn’t going to have to rewrite massive sections.

Now last night before  I went to bed, I evaluated my goal.  I have 55 pages finished out of 100.  I’m 55% done, I still have 3-5 days to work on this item, so I’m in really good shape.

Today, I have two choices.

  • I can keep pushing forward on the revision and get it done quicker.
  • I can take a look at my ROCKSTAR goals for the week and month to see if I want to get some progress done there.

Before each writing session today, I’ll take a quick look at my plan and see what I want to do.  Tentatively, I’m shooting for another 10-20 pages of revisions today, but I’d also really like to get a first draft of Victor’s query letter prepared.

So take a few minutes and evaluate your progress.  Are you on track?  Do you need to speed up or allocate more time to your projects?  Do you have a half hour to spare for a ROCKSTAR goal?

Project Management: Stepping Stones

Hopefully you’ve taken your Dream List and broken it down into your top MUST DO priorities with a few ROCKSTAR goals just in case.  Now the question you should be asking yourself is HOW you can reach your goals.  

I’m reminded of the scene in The Mummy when O’Connell and Benny are yelling at each other across the river after the boat catches on fire.  Did you find yourself on the wrong side of the river?  Right now, the task may seem insurmountable. 

That’s because you’re looking at the river and letting it become an ocean in your mind. 

Instead of setting up a permanent camp of despair on the wrong side of the river, pick your number one priority item on your MUST DO list.  For me, that’s finish the first draft of Victor, the NaNoWriMo book.  Begin to make a list of all the things you need to do to meet that goal.  Anything, no matter how little, that you can do to accomplish the task.

So for Victor, I know I’m into Act III and the Resolution of the story.  That means I have a bunch of threads I need to tie up.

  • I need to tie up the romance between Victor and Shiloh, make sure they’re comforted and secure after the final showdown in the show.
  • I need to show how the trap Victor laid for the spy is revealed and resolved.
  • I need to reward Shiloh with the elixir, the very thing she created the show in order to win.
  • I need a clever, fun, sexy ending.

So I have about 4 scenes, give or take, that need to be written in order to finish my task.  I’m guessing this is less than 5K, and so I should definitely be able to finish by 12/7, which was my goal.

Maybe your goal is revisions.  I have three types of revisions I need to work on this month, and each will require a different set of tasks in order to accomplish them.  Maybe you like to read thru first and make notes as you go, and then tackle the revision.  Maybe you like to read online — or from a hardcopy with sticky notes.  Whatever your process, make a list of all the things that will enable that process and make you successful.

Maybe your goal is worldbuilding or plotting a new story.  (I have a ROCKSTAR goal for this.)  So my stepping stones are going to look something like:

  • Brainstorm and research.  These two often go hand-in-hand for me when beginning a story, until one particular element speaks the most to me.
  • Listen for the character(s) to show up.  Usually about the time I’ve settled on an interesting research item, a character starts blabbing in my ear about how cool all this stuff is.
  • Begin building the character.  (See the Character Clinic, the Emotional Toolbox, etc.)
  • Begin plotting the journey.
  • Write backstory.
  • Create a world bible (if the story needs it).

So pull out your A1 – MUST DO priority and figure out what step to tackle first.  Now you can cross small items off the list and feel like you’re actually paddling your way across the river, instead of stranded on the wrong side.  Don’t tell me you’re waiting for 2010, either – we’ve still got plenty of time to cross a dozen things off the list in December!

Project Management: Wanna be a Rock Star?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a ridiculous overachiever.  I put way more things on my list than I can possibly do, and then stress myself out needlessly because I can’t get it all done.  Well, duh, of course I can’t get it all done!  Not with a full-time job and three monsters running around sucking out my brain cells.

Yesterday, we wrote up The Dream List of every possibly thing I’d like to get done by 4/30.  (Don’t look back, it’ll give you nightmares.)  Today, I’m going to do something hard, really hard.  It’s going to hurt.  I’m going to whine about it.  But it’s a necessity.  As with any project, we have to be able to define a successful timeline and deadline.  For that deadline to be met, one assumption that we always specify in the scope is that the required RESOURCES will be made available.

As much as I hate to admit it, I do have to sleep occasionally.  I also have to keep the monsters in clothes (you should see our laundry room), cook dinners, and keep my EDJ extremely happy, plus an endless list of household chores.  As much as I’d love to lock myself up in a writing cave until I finished everything on my list, I just can’t do it.

So bring out the scalpels.  Brace for the pain.  And cut that list down.

Take a long, hard look at that endless list of wishful to-dos.  I’m going to concentrate on December only and ask myself:  what MUST I finish by 12/31 in order to be successful?  What can I reasonably, safely, and sanely accomplish and still sleep and function like a normal working human being?

These are going to be my A list priorities, or my MUST DO items.  Now don’t throw away the rest of your list in disgust — we still may be able to accomplish a few extra things too.  Pick a few more things that you just really wish you could do — if time allows.  This is our ROCK STAR list.  If the top priority things are getting crossed off the list, who knows?  We might be able to fit a few more things into our schedule.

So after taking a careful look at my list, I chose the following things to concentrate on in December.  If you can, assign a deadline to each top priority item so you know immediately if you start to fall behind.

DEC MUST DO (deadlines penciled in)

  • Finish the first draft of Victor by 12/7.
  • Polish first 3 chapters of Return to Shanhasson by 12/11.
  • Revise The Horse Master by 12/15.
  • Revise Return to Shanhasson by 12/31.

DEC ROCK STAR

  • First draft of Victor’s synopsis and query.  Oh, yeah, and a TITLE that’s better than the hero’s name would be good.
  • horror short story (antho deadline is 1/15/2010)
  • First Revision Hell pass for Victor.

And now, to keep myself in touch with projects on the horizon, I’m going to make a list of things to keep in mind.  They don’t have deadlines, exactly, but I can’t forget all about these items or I won’t be successful in January, etc.

FARSEER

  • verbally committed to submitting Victor in January.
  • horror story antho call 1/15/2010
  • SFR series:  read partial, organize notes, prepare to return to drafting in January
  • steampumk antho call 4/30/2010: continue mulling over plot, characters, and world.

My December Plans or Why I Need Project Management

Since it’s the first of December — OMG can you believe 2009 is almost over?  Nooooo! — I decided to evaluate my goals and make sure I know what the first of 2010 will bring.

And let me just say that I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach looking at my to-do list.  Seriously, how on earth am I going to get all this done?  I have one book on submission, one that’s *this close* to a completed first draft (Victor), and then I’ll have two books in desperate need of Revision Hell ASAP.  Then there’s a short story I’d like to write, and maybe something for that steampunk romance anthology at Samhain, and oh yeah, my new SFR series I want to kick off.  Oops, and I also owe one last Keldari novella to Deena at Drollerie.

Not to mention all the promotion work for Rose releasing in print Dec/Jan and Dear Sir, I’m Yours in April.

Before I started popping Motrin for the splitting headache or uncorked the bottle of wine, I decided to step back and approach this just like I would any major undertaking I complete for the Evil Day Job. I always have multiple projects in the queue, with varying needs and usually tight deadlines, yet we always manage to get everything (or nearly so) done.  That’s because we plan.  And then we plan the plan.  And then we plan just a bit more.

So for the next few days, I’m going to post about planning and goals, in particular mine, but maybe you’ll get a few ideas on how to start off the new year with a solid plan in hand, while I work toward the endzone for Victor aka THE END.

My first step I completed was to make a list of every possible thing I’d like to get done between now and 4/30.  (I picked that date because that’s the deadline for the steampunk antho.  You can pick any date.  A month.  A week.  All year.)  At this point, I let myself put anything and everything on the list, no matter how unlikely it’ll be that I can humanly accomplish a fraction of all this work.  This is dream time, pie in the sky list in no particular priority or order.

  • finish the first draft of Victor.
  • Revision Hell for Victor with a goal to submit by the end of January.
  • Revision Hell for Return to Shanhasson with a goal to submit by the end of December.
  • Polish the first three chapters of Return quicker — say by Dec. 11 — for potential giveaway idea.
  • Revise and polish The Horse Master, my old freebie story (the first I think I ever put up on the blog) for potential promo idea.
  • Consider writing a short story to give away for the holidays with The Horse Master to help promote Rose.  How about Dainari?
  • short horror story for fun looking anthology
  • Finish Deathright and query ASAP.
  • Replot Seven Crows once Deathright is done.
  • Jot notes for Vicki’s story (the last Connagher).
  • Come up with an idea for the steampunk antho.  Worldbuild, plot, etc.  I have something possibly in mind…but the pieces won’t fall into place.  Needs some major brainstorming.
  • Drag out Given in Fire notes and rethink the plot in preparation for drafting.
  • Manage all the promo giveaways for the holidays, keep the blog interesting, etc.
  • Set up the “Find Gregar!” contest.
  • Book signing 12/12 at my hometown library.
  • Personal note:  trip to home office for EDJ likely in first quarter 2010.

I’m exhausted!!!  I’ll continue this process tomorrow.

Storybuilding: Project Management

By day, I’m a computer programmer (although technically I don’t actually “code” much any more — I do the analysis, write up the design, and hand it off to other people to code) and project management is a key tool we use on every single project.

Now when I said rather glibly yesterday that I needed to work on project management for writing, I was thinking more along the lines of managing multiple projects at the same time.  How to keep one project “in the zone” and still successfully plan or revise another at the same time.  But true Project Management from a business or programming standpoint concentrates more on a single project.  How to get THAT project done, the resources needed, and the timeline to complete it.

Great stuff we can use for Storybuilding!

Since I am trying to storybuild the next major project even while writing Victor’s story, I sat down last night and made some PM notes for the new idea.  Here are a few generic notes I generated that I think any solid storybuilding project should tackle.

Scope and Deliverables

When I sit down at work with the business area, one of the first things we define is the scope of the project.  What *is* included?  What is *not* included?  Why are we tackling this project?  What will the business area gain by doing it now, versus waiting until next year?  Some specific questions to ask yourself:

  • What genre constrictions will this project be bound by? 
  • What specific genre elements will I include or concentrate on?
  • What genre elements — particularly in cross genre stories which I adore — am I going to avoid?
  • Is this one book, or a series?
  • If it’s a series, what is the over-arcing story that ties everything together?
  • For a series, what common elements will be used to keep each book cohesive and united to the rest?
  • What length of story am I considering?
  • What market would be ideal for this story?
  • To the best of my knowledge, are the market conditions favorable for this story?  Is this the right time to pursue this project?
  • Should I target agents or is there a particular publisher I want to pursue?

The next things we iron out in PM are the Deliverables.  Obviously the final products I want are the story, synopsis, query, and submission plan.  But I’m going to focus more on the deliverables of the Storybuilding stage.  In order to position myself to successfully finish this story in a timely manner, what do I need to define?  This is a list of things I’m going to consider:

  • Define the story universe and the key elements of genre that bound it.
  • List all story lines and subplots currently known.  Continue expanding throughout the storybuilding stage.  Aside: in business PM, this can be risky and can lead to “scope creep” where too much ends up getting added to the project, compromising the delivery of the product.  So watch out!  Make sure the storylines always tie back to the Universal theme.
  • Outline the storyarc.  For a series, outline the over-arcing arc.
  • Define each culture, core beliefs, strengths and weaknesses.  Unite each culture to the series theme.
  • Define any underlying mythology.
  • Research any science or historical elements required for the story.

My next project is a Story Universe, not a story world.  I’m tying together several different story ideas I’ve had over the years and uniting them by one common theme and unique twist that they were lacking before.  I have folders and notebooks for several ideas already, so the real work this week has been weeding through those notes and making lists of what will stay, and what needs to change in order to fit into the Universe.  Since I do have quite a list of stories that fit inside the same universe, I have to

  • Prioritize.  Which one is the most likely to “sell” the Universe the best?
  • Focus.  I have a wide variety of tastes and interests.  Not all of them will fit into this Universe.  Some ideas, no matter how cool, must be cut and saved for another day.
  • Streamline.  In my mind, each story was separate until this week.  Now they’re united into the same Universe.  e.g. Antagonists can be combined and morphed into something new and more complex.  Sub-characters can cross stories and tie everything tighter.

Requirements

A key area at work where we spend the bulk of our Project Management is defining Requirements.  Now that we know what’s in scope for the project and what the individual outcomes will be, HOW do we get there.  In writing, I see this as the Storybuilding that I already do.  This includes plotting, character development, etc.  

Summary

In the end, this process’s goal is to enable me to estimate and determine a deadline.  At work, if the user area wants a project by year end, the final estimate is a hundred hours, and we have the resource(s) available,  then great!  Let’s go.  However, if the estimate is a thousand hours, then either we need to push the project off until next year, or we need more resources. 

Obviously with writing, it’s just me.  I can’t throw more bodies at my own project in order to complete it by a deadline.

For the new Story Universe, it’s massive, and so freaking cool I can’t wait to dig in.  However, I need to be realistic and smart about how I proceed.  Maybe defining the scope, deliverables, and requirements will help me get it submitted as soon as possible!

After Victor is finished with me, of course.

Project Management

I always have multiple projects in the hopper at the Evil Day Job — so why can’t I figure out how to manage two or more writing projects?  If I could  worldbuild and plot one project while drafting or revising another, then I could turnaround projects much more quickly — instead of losing Aug. and Sept to plotting out Victor’s story, for example.

What I fear is losing “the zone.”  It was so hard to get Victor’s story into the 1-2K a day rhythm that’s comfortable for me when a project is in full swing.  I certainly don’t want to do anything to mess that up.  Ideally, I’ll finish Victor’s story by the end of Nov. thanks to NaNoWriMo, edit in Dec. and possibly submit in Jan.  But if I don’t get moving on the next project, I’m going to have a lull in Jan., Feb. and March as I work out the next plot.

Of course somewhere in this mess I’d like to complete revisions to Return to Shanhasson and get it submitted too.

TIME.  I just don’t have enough to finish everything I want.  This next project is relatively time sensitive too.  If I dink around too long plotting everything out, I don’t think the idea will be quite as fresh and cool as I think it is right now.

So I guess I’m going to try and apply business techniques to help me figure out a decent balance across multiple projects.  Through October, I’ll be shooting for at least 1K a day for Victor and at least 1 hour work on the new story universe.  I’ll just have to keep myself from getting too focused on any one thing and losing momentum.  I refuse to risk my ability to get Victor’s story done as soon as possible.

Besides, I really don’t want him to use that wicked crop on ME!