Tag Archives: project management

How the Written Universe Works: Time, Maps, and Project Management #amwriting

Scope creep (aka project creep, requirement creep, or kitchen sink syndrome) in project management refers to the changes and continuous (or uncontrolled) growth of a project. This can occur at any point after the project commences.

ProjectManagementLIRF05232021The plan or design is submitted to the client, who likes it. A mockup of the first iteration is submitted to the client, who still likes it, but … their needs have changed a little, and a new adjustment must be incorporated.

Project creep sometimes occurs because we fail to envision and raise potential issues at the outset. Then, situations arise that are out of our control, and which affect production.

Everything takes longer than we thought it would.

We compound the problem by failing to evaluate new requests before approving them, not assessing whether fulfilling these add-ons is even feasible. At some point we must face the unpleasant truth.

These errors and oversights will either kill the entire project or alter it beyond recognition.

Requirement creep occurs when the project’s original scope is brilliant but nebulous, which is how novels are born – a glorious idea that isn’t fully formed but exponentially grows as we write.

dylan moran quote TIMEBooks are one area where project creep is not only appreciated but encouraged. Stories are particularly prone to this continual expansion of the original ideas. Short stories grow into novellas and then into novels, becoming a series of books.

Nothing upsets a reader more than a book where the author contradicts something that has gone before. The storyboard is one visible, easy-to-comprehend way to keep on top of project creep. When creating a story, one must manage both time and distance, a difficult task.

Oh, as you are writing, you think you have it all straight in your head.

But as a child who has ever told a lie knows—stories grow and evolve in the telling. Eventually, it looks nothing like the way it started out.

Even on the surface, writing fiction is complex. Authors who want to take their books from idea to paperback must become project managers.

We don’t consciously think about this, but organizational skills are critical because we want the story to flow easily from scene to scene. This is why successful authors are project managers, even if they don’t realize it.

toolsThe first aspect of this is to Identify your Project Goals – create a rudimentary outline with names, who they are in relation to the protagonist, and decide who is telling the story. Remember, your story is your invention. Some inventions are in development for years before they get to market. Others are complete and ready to market in a relatively short time. Regardless of your production timeline, this is where project management skills really come into play.

I use a phased (or staged) approach. This method breaks down and manages the work through a series of distinct steps to be completed.

  1. Concept: The Brilliant Idea. Make a note of that idea, so you don’t forget it.
  2. The Planning Phase: create a raw outline. Some people don’t need this step, but I do.
  3. The Construction Phase—writing the first draft from beginning to the end and continuing through multiple drafts.
  4. Monitoring and Controlling—This is where you build quality into your product.

Write the basic story. Build your storyboard/stylesheet and note the changes you make as you go. See my post on stylesheets/storyboard’s here: Self-editing: Ensuring Consistency.

  1. Find beta readers and heed their concerns in the rewrites. Take the manuscript through as many drafts as you must, to have the novel you envisioned.
  2. Employ a good line editor to ensure consistency in the quality of your product.
  3. Find reliable proofreaders. (Your writing group is an invaluable resource.)

Completion or Closing—Employ a cover designer if you are going indie.

    1. Find an agent if you are taking the traditional route.
    2. Employ a professional formatter for the print version if you are going indie.
    3. Court a publisher if you are taking the traditional route.

Maps and calendars are essential tools for the author, no matter what genre you are writing in. Regardless of how you create your stylesheet/storyboard, I suggest you include these elements:

  1. GLOSSARY – A list of names and invented words as they arise, all spelled the way you want them.
  2. MAPS – nothing fancy, just something rudimentary to show you the layout of the world.
  3. CALENDAR of events – especially important if the characters must travel.

A fourth thing your stylesheet/storyboard could include is the rough outline of your projected story arc. This is a good tool for fantasy authors because we invent entire worlds, religions, and magic systems. We don’t want to contradict ourselves.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapYour map doesn’t have to be fancy – all you need are some lines and scribbles telling you all the essential things, like which direction is north and what certain towns are named. Use a pencil, to easily update your map if something changes during revisions.

If you aren’t artistic and want a nice map later, your scribbled map will enable a map artist to provide you with a beautiful and accurate product. You will have a map that contains the information needed for readers to enjoy your book.

If your story takes place in the real world, use Google Maps, and print out a copy for your reference, or scan a map into your storyboard.

You need to know how the land looks to your characters, mountains, lakes, oceans, etc. You also need to know what lies to the north, south, east, and west. You should have some notion of where rivers and forests are relative to towns because those landmarks will be mentioned at some point.

Readers remember the smallest details and use them to visualize the world they are reading about. This is why you need some idea of distances and how long it takes to travel using the common mode of transportation.

calendarTime can get a little mushy when we are winging it through a manuscript. A calendar gives us a realistic view of how long it takes to travel from point A to point B, or how much time it will take to complete a task.

It helps to know what season your events occur in, as foliage changes with the seasons and weather is a part of worldbuilding.

The map shows the terrain your story takes place on, and weather can affect the terrain. Your characters will interact with their environment in different ways, depending on the season and the weather.

Project management is a vital tool for the author. Maps and calendars are the author’s project management tools. They work together to help you visualize your story. They enable you to manage time and distance in a logical way that doesn’t intrude into the reader’s awareness.

And that is important.

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#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?

I have developed mad skills at carving out time for writing because I participate in NaNoWriMo every November. As a municipal liaison for the Olympia area, I must get a minimum of 1,667 new words written each day. I  suggest to my fellow writers that they shoot for 1,670 to allow a little cushion in case the validator counts differently than their word processor.

I usually average 3,000 to 5,000 words per day, but writing is my job. When I was working in Corporate America, I managed 2,000 words per day.

nano-computer-word-countI do this by having my daily prompts all set out in advance in the outline. Then I set myself in front of my computer and wing it for at least two hours.

Some passages that emerge are good, and others, not so much. But it is an exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing at its most extreme. Some of my best literary work has been produced in its raw form during NaNoWriMo.

Preparation is the key for me. I apply project management skills developed during my years working in Corporate America.

The first step of project management is to Identify your Project Goals. Your story is your invention. You want to be able to sell that invention.

Some inventions take years. Others are complete and ready to market in a relatively short time. Regardless of your timeline, this is where project management skills come into play.

I use a phased (or staged) approach. This method breaks down and manages the work through a series of distinct steps to be completed.

  1. The Brilliant Idea. Make a note of that idea, so you don’t forget it.
  2. The Planning Phase, creating the storyboard. Some people don’t need this step, but you will see why this step is so crucial to ending with a novel that will be acceptable to an agent or can easily be Indie published.
  3. The Construction Phase begins on November 1st—connecting the dots and writing the first draft from beginning to the end in 30 days.

After this, we have several more steps to go through to end with a publishable book, but we won’t be concerned with them until January.

First, what are you going to write?

Identify your proposed book as either fiction or nonfiction.

  • If it’s fiction, what’s the genre and subgenre?
  • If nonfiction, what kind? Is it a memoir, a history, or a technical book?

2020_nano_Project_coverLee French, my co-municipal liaison, has given us great advice over the years. One thing she starts us with is something writers usually don’t think of until they have to: genre and keywords.

If we wanted to search for your book on Amazon, what would we look for, and how would we find it? What genre are you writing? What keywords would we use to be directed to it?

But what are keywords, and why should you care? This question is important to consider at the outset because you need to know what market you are writing for, no matter if you are going with an agent or intend to go Indie.

Search engines use keywords to recognize what a website or web page features, their products, (or in the case of authors) the kind of book they have written. Amazon and all other book retailers are simply large search engines that want to sell your book.

It helps me direct my creative energy at the outset if I know what I will eventually want to sell. Thanks to Lee French, I know the genre of my next novel is epic fantasy. I also know a few keywords would be male protagonist, LGBTQ, magic, mysticism.

WritingCraftSeries_narrative modeOther things to consider are point of view and narrative tense. Who can tell the story most effectively, a protagonist, a sidekick, or an unseen witness? And will it be written in the 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person limited, or 3rd person omniscient? What narrative time will the story be set in, the present or past tense?

Will you switch between multiple characters?

Sometimes, it takes more than one point of view character to tell the story. I have three strong characters, one of which is the antagonist. I always feel one should have a little sympathy for the devil, so seeing things from his point of view is valuable when trying to show the struggle.

Therefore, my project is in the 3rd-person limited, involves three POV characters, and has hard chapter breaks between each switch.

What is your story? Example: I’ll be writing a novel detailing a shaman’s struggle to keep his people safe from a rogue mage and his raiders.

To succeed in completing a project with such an ambitious goal, I storyboard all my ideas, making this effort when the idea first enters my head. If I become lost or find myself floundering in the writing process, I can come back to my original files and remind myself of the original concept of the story.

The storyboard for my ideas works this way:

First, I open a word document or an Excel workbook. You can use a program like Scrivener, or use a paper notebook and pencil, whatever makes you most comfortable.

My current novel is in an existing world that has an Excel workbook devoted to it.

This workbook has ten active spreadsheets. All my information is right there, from magic systems to the spelling of made-up words and what they mean.

Neveyah_storyboard_printscreenLIRF08312021I always give the proto novel a working title that becomes the storyboard’s label. The book I am writing is set in the world of Neveyah, and so it belongs with the rest of the books set in that world. The workbook is labeled Neveyah.xls, and the spreadsheet that I will be working on will be labeled “Ivan’s Story II,” as I currently don’t have a title.

Over the next few weeks, we will identify and answer as many questions about our November novel as we can.

And some of what we think now will grow and change once we begin the actual writing because stories always do.

ProjectManagementLIRF05232021Preplanning takes advantage of all the pertinent ideas I have at the outset and offers me a jumping-off point. Like a connect the dots game, I know how to write the story that happens between and because of each event. Having this knowledge helps me take the story to its conclusion, allowing me to have the full story arc written in thirty days.

That doesn’t mean the book is finished, not by any means. We have only completed the first draft and gotten the basic structure finished.

But as I said, we’ll deal with all that in January.

Next up, we will talk about setting, and get to know the place where your novel takes place.

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Fundamentals of Writing: Project Management #amwriting

Authors who want to take their books from idea to paperback must become project managers. Like any other endeavor, writing and successfully taking your novel to publication has many steps that take it from idea to proto-product to completion. It doesn’t matter if you are going indie or sticking to the traditional route.

ProjectManagementLIRF05232021Then there is the marketing of the finished product, but that is NOT my area strength, so I won’t offer any advice on that score.

Even on the surface, writing fiction is complex.

We all know a high-quality product when we see one. The manufacturer didn’t make it out of cheap components. They put their best effort and the finest materials they could acquire into creating it. Because the manufacturer cared about their product, we are proud to own it.

For authors, the essential component we must not go cheaply on is grammar. The way we habitually structure our prose (our voice) adds to the feeling of depth. We must have a fundamental understanding of basic mechanical skills as they are the rules of the road and prevent confusion:

  • Grammar
  • Punctuation

If you have a limited knowledge of grammar, your first obligation is to resolve that. The internet has many easy-to-follow self-education websites to help you gain a good understanding of basic grammar in whatever your chosen language is. One site that I like is https://grammarist.com/.

chicago guide to grammarIf you are writing in US English, I can highly recommend getting a copy of the Chicago Guide to Punctuation and Grammar. If you are writing in UK English, purchase the Oxford A – Z of Grammar and Punctuation.

Uneducated authors write erratic prose with inconsistent capitalizations, random commas, and use too many exclamation points. They show no understanding of how to punctuate dialogue, which leads to confusion and garbled prose.

Authors must know the rules of grammar to break them with style and consistency. How you break the rules is your unique voice.

Readers expect words to flow in a certain way. If you choose to break a grammatical rule, you absolutely must be consistent about it.

Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Alexander Chee, and George Saunders all have unique voices in their writing. All of them break the rules in one way or another, but they are deliberate and consistent. Each of these writers has written highly acclaimed work. Their prose is magnificent, and you never mistake their work for anyone else’s.

Alexander Chee employs run-on sentences and dispenses with quotation marks (which I find excruciating to read).

George Saunders writes as if he is speaking to you and is sometimes choppy in his delivery. But his work is wonderful to read.

We need a broad vocabulary, but we also need to be careful not to get too fancy with it. To be successful, we need an understanding of the tropes common to our chosen genre. We must employ those tropes to satisfy the general expectations of our readers. How we do that is our twist, the flavor that is our unique “secret sauce.”

We don’t consciously think about this, but organizational skills are critical because we want the story to flow easily from scene to scene. This is why successful authors are project managers, even if they don’t realize it.

The first aspect of this is to Identify your Project Goals. Your story is your invention. You want to sell that invention, so your effort and the materials you create it out of are what determine the quality of the finished product.

Some inventions are in development for years before they get to market. Others are complete and ready to market in a relatively short time. Regardless of your timeline, this is where project management skills really come into play.

I use a phased (or staged) approach. This method breaks down and manages the work through a series of distinct steps to be completed.

  1. Concept: The Brilliant Idea. Make a note of that idea, so you don’t forget it.
  2. The Planning Phase: creating the outline. Some people don’t need this step, but I do.
  3. The Construction Phase—writing the first draft from beginning to the end through multiple drafts.
  4. Monitoring and Controlling—This is where you build quality into your product.
    1. BGoogle Sheets Storyboard Template Screenshot 2017-10-15 07.13.09 cjjaspBCreating a style sheet as you go. See my post on style sheets here: Self-editing: Ensuring Consistency.
    2. Finding beta readers and heeding their concerns in the rewrites.
    3. Taking the manuscript through as many drafts as you must in order to have the novel you envisioned.
    4. Employing a good line editor to ensure consistency in the quality of your product.
    5. Finding reliable proofreaders. (Your writing group is an invaluable resource.)
  5. Completion or Closing—
    1. Employing a cover designer if you are going indie.
    2. Finding an agent if you are taking the traditional route.
    3. Employing a professional formatter for the print version if you are going indie.
    4. Courting a publisher if you are taking the traditional route.

After that comes marketing, whether you are going indie or traditional. Both paths require serious effort on your part. But as I said earlier, I have no professional skills in the area of marketing. I recommend you seek professional help but be wary—the waters are full of starving sharks waiting to devour you and your savings.

ok to write garbage quote c j cherryhWrite the basic story. Take your characters all the way from the beginning through the middle and see that they make it to the end. If you have completed the story and have it written from beginning to end, you can concentrate on the next level of the construction phase: adding depth.

We will work on some of the sublayers of depth in our next series on the craft of writing. First up, we will examine why your story isn’t finished just because it now has an ending.

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