The world has changed. For those of us lucky enough not to be personally affected by illness, many of us find ourselves stuck at home, trying to write with our families around, guzzling our coffee, and occasionally googling whether it is possible for someone to actually die of being annoyed.
What? Is that last one just me?
Some writers may be finding themselves with more time during this era of social distancing, but for those of us who are parents or have other family responsibilities, social distancing has left us with less time for writing or revision. Now, it’s perfectly fine to put writing and revision on pause for the moment. The physical realities of social distancing—perhaps while homeschooling children—plus the stress of everything the world is going through are quite enough to deal with. But for those with deadlines they are trying to meet or who want to keep writing to feel normal, it’s even more important, to manage our writing time wisely, while still giving ourselves a break when we need it.
Many writers are familiar with budgeting their time and figuring out how long a project will take to draft, because they do challenges like NaNoWriMo. Every November, writers routinely divide 50,000 words into 1667 words per day over 30 days or 2500 words per day if they write only on weekdays. More detail-oriented writers may even know their average words per hour and are able to calculate how many hours per day they will need.
This approach is quite sensible for a challenge that’s about the drafting process, but if this is how you’re budgeting out your time for an entire project—not just one step—you’re leaving out some important parts: pre-writing and revision, which are interconnected and crucial to how polished of a product your book becomes. Leaving these steps out of your planning can lead to disappointment if you don’t make a personal goal for when your book will be completed. It can also set you up to fail to meet a hard deadline or lead you to rush through revision and be less thorough.
If you already know roughly how long these steps take you, then great. If you don’t, you’re far from alone. Most writers don’t know, and it’s difficult to make an accurate guess, particularly if you’re writing your first book. I encourage you to make a note of how long the steps take you in the process as you go along on your current or next project.
“But that doesn’t help me now,” you might be saying. Well, let’s start with your drafting speed. If you don’t know your words per hour, that’s an easy one to calculate in just one writing session. Now for the other steps. Think back to an earlier project. Did pre-writing take you much longer or much shorter than the drafting stage? How about for revision? If this is your first time writing a book (or other kinds of creative writing), then try a small chunk. Write the next scene or chapter of your current project, taking it all the way from pre-writing to revising and polishing as though you were going to share it with a friend. Make note of the time it took you to do this.
Now it’s time for some math. See if you can work out the percentages, using drafting speed as the base: pre-writing or revision percentage = total pre-writing/revision time divided by total drafting time, then multiplied by 100. Did the pre-writing and post-writing steps take, say, 70% as long as the drafting step? Or were one or both steps longer than drafting? Maybe revision was a particularly long step for you—as is common for people who like to write by the seat of their pants, as we say—and you do little or no pre-writing. For pantsing writers, pre-writing might be 0% and revision might be several times as long as drafting.
Now that you know your percentages and your writing speed, you can budget it out. Let’s grab that 50,000-word NaNoWriMo-inspired goal as a total project word count. Let’s say, for the sake of easy math, we’re calculating for a writer who writes at 1000 words per hour. That’s 50 hours of drafting time. We’ll give this hypothetical writer pre-writing time of 70% and a revision time of 70% as compared to the drafting time. 100% drafting time plus the two 70% figures comes to 240%. 240% of 50 hours is 120 hours.
But we don’t stop there. Life happens, as we’ve all been made acutely aware in recent months. Let’s multiply that number a little more. I like to add another 50% on top of the total. So 120×1.5. That comes to 180 hours. Our imaginary writer might need that much time. They might not. But it’s there if they need it. Things almost always take longer than you think they will.
Run your numbers, block it out on your calendar, and there it is: a plan with extra wiggle room. Hopefully, you have more than enough time to make the revisions you know you need before consulting beta readers, editors, or other kinds of outside help. Plus, those who pre-write have planned the structural work up front that will make revisions easier at the end. Things don’t always go according to plan, of course, but at least with some calculation—and adjustments as you get more familiar with your own process and speed—you can plan ahead, knowing that you’ve given it your best effort to schedule the work in.
I’d like to share with you all my short book, Writing Without Childcare, all about how to get the words out even with kids underfoot. It’s available free as an ebook on a variety of platforms.
Connie B Dowell is a freelance editor, an author of cozy mysteries and nonfiction, and a podcaster. When she’s not working with clients or plotting the demise of imaginary people, she likes to paint and play the violin badly. Find out more and tune in weekly at bookechoes.com. You can also find Connie on Facebook and Twitter.