When I set out to write a novel, I know it's going to take me about two months to complete. I know this because of my experience writing three other novels. I wrote a majority of Every Shattered Thing in a month. I wrote Somewhere Between Water and Sky from mid-March to the last week of May. And Secrets Don't Keep was written from December to early February.
Publishing calendars can be tricky. There's a reason I use pencil in most of my calendars — especially when it comes to book-related dates. So many things can change at the drop of a hat, it's almost impossible to know when you'll really finish the manuscript.
But deadlines are powerful.
Without deadlines, I would never write another word. Having something blocked out in my calendar, something that I'm producing with the intent to share, something that other people most likely know about and are waiting for their chance to read, proves convincing when I'm trying to decide between projects.
Having an agent was great for this. Giving her a date — "I'm going to have this book to you by February 8" — made it impossible for me to procrastinate. I couldn't. Even if my brain was being sidelined by another plot bunny (totally happens) or I'm waylaid by sickness, the separation from my words doesn't last for long. The pressure (for me) serves as the best catalyst.
But what about when there's not an agent? What about when there isn't an audience necessarily waiting on the other end of the manuscript? How do you set a publishing calendar?
Be honest with yourself.
I know that there isn't any way I will be writing five books this year. I won't even be writing three. At the most, I will maybe squeeze in two. I know this because of my own limitations: I'm working 40+ hours a week, there are relationships I want to cultivate, and I have other passion projects I'm pursuing this year.. Projects that are just as noble as the paperbacks with my name on them.
Be honest with yourself about your own capabilities. Set smaller goals first, especially if you haven't finished a manuscript before. Aim for 10,000 words in a week or 2500 words in a day — tiny chunks that can be carved into a manuscript. Once you have one under your belt, you know your own habits. 10,000 words in a day has happened once for me. I know there is really no reason for this to be an expectation in my own writing.
However, 5k word days are pretty common when I'm in the midst of writing, so this is something I often aim for when I'm trying to complete a manuscript. What's important is knowing what works for you. Not everyone can do 5,000 word days, and some people may consider 5,000 word days standard.
Know your process, be honest about it, and move on.
Share with someone on your tiny slip of paper.
Brené Brown has a slip of paper in her wallet of people who matter. When you're in the midst of creation, opinions are fierce. You experience it almost instantaneously. You're writing too much or you're not focusing enough. You're staying up too late or you're wasting time. Your story is the best they've ever read or there's strange silence on the other end of the line.
The opinions that matter in these seasons are miniscule. They are the ones that are on your tiny slip of paper — the three or four names that you know share the same dirt as you in the arena. They're getting their hands dirty with their own art and dreams and because of this, and because of how they've had your back repeatedly, you know they know you. You know they want you to succeed. These people are for you in every way.
And they will be damn sure you finish this manuscript if you tell them the deadline.
Leave room for error.
Life doesn't give us cushion. There's not a warning label on a particular month where we know to leave some extra room for that unexpected something to happen. However, when you're planning out your year, you can cushion the dates.
Whenever I'm setting a publishing date, I easily add two or three weeks around my editing time. I also overshoot my completion date, knowing there will be two or five weeks where I feel hopelessly stuck. All of this usually places my publication date a solid month past what I could probably get away with, but I'd rather have an extra month at the end to plan a really amazing launch then feel rushed because I didn't anticipate the week I battled with the flu or the crisis at work I had to navigate.
You'll forget to change the spelling on that one word in chapter five. You'll forget a punctuation mark in your acknowledgements, creating a super-confusing sentence. The formatting on a specific chapter will be off or (personal story) you'll swap the page numbers so your book is opposite the industry standard (who pays attention to what page the even numbers are on and what page the odd numbers land?)
Perfection is a ruse. There will be mistakes. Our own personal margin for error will feel microscopic, but remember to breathe and offer yourself grace. The beauty of self publishing is that you can edit at any time. And with patience and care, and sound editing by someone who you trust and who is skilled, your manuscript will be so close to perfect there will be few who even notice the mistake you're freaking out about at 3:30 in the morning. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Remember your why.
And then start all over again.
Questions to consider —
1. Being honest with yourself, when do you believe you can finish your manuscript? MARK THIS DATE DOWN SOMEWHERE.
2. Who is on your tiny slip of paper? This week's challenge: email them and tell them your date. Ask them for help in accountability.
Letters From the Creative Underground
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