As writers, we’re learners, discoverers, and doers of the work. And if we want to be published, really published with stuff people actually read, there’s a lot of work to do. True, you might have a tweet or blog post go viral with little effort. But a book, article, or post that people come back to year after year, the ones people don’t forget just because the next viral thing happens, takes more effort.
A successful writing project (even a blog post) is a project. You could just sort of mess around with it. But usually, success comes with focused effort. And whether you’re working alone or you’ve got a cast of thousands, success requires someone to manage that project.
What is project management?
Project management is the part where you’re keeping track of what’s going on. What parts need to be finished before the other parts begin? When do we need all of that done by? Who should talk to whom to make sure it happens? Knowing, keeping track of, and communicating with the team about that stuff is project management.
The project manager doesn’t have to do it all (unless you’re a “one-man band”). But the project manager keeps an eye out to make sure those who do the work are doing their part well, on time, and within budget (hopefully).
To adapt a bit from Franklyn Covey, leaders make sure you’re in the right forest and point which direction to go; project managers make sure the workers have what they need to get through the forest and are heading the right direction.
Why does it matter to writers?
Well, a book, and even more so a series, can be a pretty big forest. Even an article can have lots of components. There are words to be written. But then someone has to edit those words (developmental and copy editing…). Pictures, charts, and drawings may need to be created, edited, and incorporated. Somebody needs to figure out where, and to whom, the project is going to be submitted. Somebody has to do the submitting. Somebody at the publisher’s end has to accept the manuscript. More editing happens. Page design. Physical/electronic production of the work… Oh, by the way… Did anyone bother to format the manuscript the way the publisher wanted? There’s a reason (several actually) that publishers ask for a particular format setup.
Any or all of those things can go wrong. And that’s why successful writers need to be successful project managers. They need to make sure everything’s happening, heading in the right direction, and arriving where and when it’s needed.
Ok… It matters. So, how do I do it?
Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? First question: are we talking about a project that’s underway already or one we’re just starting?
If we’re starting fresh…
If we’re just starting, start with a plan. Take the time to figure out what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who your audience is, who you’re submitting the thing to, what parts and steps are involved, and whose help and buy-in you need to do all of that. It’s ok if you don’t have the whole team yet. You probably don’t have a publisher acceptance before you have a manuscript (you definitely don’t if you don’t have a proposal or pitch yet). But you need to have some idea of when and how you’ll bring these folks in and then take the steps to include them.
Even when you’ve created an initial plan, the planning doesn’t really stop. Many parts of the process require individual planning and communication. You have to talk to the people involved (even if that’s just you) and make sure everyone’s seeing the vision. You will also need to watch for and adapt to challenges that happen along the way.
That means when you’re doing the work, you need to be monitoring the work, both what’s happening and what’s coming up so that you can navigate the challenges that happen. This can be a split focus thing. If you really can do it all yourself good for you. If not having a partner or teammate to help you see the forest through the trees may be helpful.
Oddly enough, for those of us who want to complete more than one project in our lifetimes, once the project is done, it isn’t really done. There’s one last step: review the project and discover the lessons learned that will help you in planning and doing the next one.
What if things are already under way…?
Well, it’s not the end of the world. Coming in with some project management may save the project. Or at least prevent more problems. But you have your work cut out for you. Things are already in motion. Some things might be in a position where you can’t put them on hold, and yet all those beginning steps need to happen.
You’re going to have to put in extra effort to catch things up. But the increased probability of success is often worth it.
Obviously, I didn’t cover everything about project management in the last 800 words… There are thousands of pages (tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands) that have been written about project management. And every project and every project team have their own quirks and nuances. Even if I had presented the “one way to project manage”, you’d still have to adapt it for your project.
The point for today’s post is that project management is necessary for successful writers. How we actually do it is a subject for future posts, and planning for our individual projects.
And with that, I hear my fiction partner, my rules team, my non-fiction team, and my conference committee all trying to reach me (there are questions…). Good luck with your writing, dear reader. Make a plan, follow your plan, and I’ll see you next post.