Last Saturday, I began telling you all about my experience of Prince2 project management training and how it’s influenced my preparations for my next book.
I focused primarily on “product based planning” or, in other words, focusing on what you want to achieve/ deliver rather than just listing the things you need to do.
I’m going to wrap up today with my views on some of the other elements of project management and how they can help you navigate that next writing project.
Focus on business justification:
One of the key principles with Prince2 is to ask “is this project worthwhile?” This is critical in deciding whether to progress with any project, but it’s also important to keep asking this question when reviewing work.
I was lucking in my first novel, the answer was easy. It was a worthwhile project as I wanted to see if I could turn my hand to writing a book, if I could fulfill that lingering ambition.
As I progressed, I had to ask myself “is this a book I would want to read” and later, when it came to sharing early drafts with readers, “is this a book someone else would want to read.”
These are all valuable questions, particularly if you want to create a piece of work that others want to pick up and read. If you want to publish your book, there’s no point doing it as a vanity project and then moaning when the sales aren’t happening. Even if you do not have the intention of sharing your work, and are doing it for pleasure at home, there are still the investments of time and energy to consider.
Is now the right time to be writing a 500 page saga? Would your efforts be better placed writing short stories or a different type of genre. At an early stage in my writing, I asked myself this question and took a break to focus on family commitments, using flash fiction and short story writing to nurture my imagination and hone my skills without the emotional and time commitment.
Defined structure/roles for the project management team:
Now I know what you are thinking, what type of team do I have when I’m writing a book? There’s me and my computer, notebook, dictaphone etc. This is of course true, but don’t underestimate the importance of other roles in this process. In Prince2 the focus is on the Project Board, who ultimately control the project, and the Project Manager who is responsible for the day to day planning, coordination and management. As an author, you have to take on most of these roles.
However, I’d like to highlight the role of the Project Board and the key roles which need to be fulfilled in it in order for the project to be a success.
The first is the Executive – the person who represents the business need and has ultimate control. As a writer, this is going to be you and I would refer you to the “business justification” principle above. Part of the viability of the project will be to confirm if it represents value for money and within this role you’ll be asking questions about finances – do you need a budget (IT, software, editing costs, designs costs etc) for example?
The second key role is that of User – those who represent people who will use the end project. In the case of writing a book these are your readers. You need to ensure that you are delivering what they want. Last week, I highlighted the importance of Beta readers and this is an invaluable way of getting an insight on which your book will be received and kinks that need to be ironed out. Even if you decide not to share your work with others, you need to be asking if this is a book you want to read. If you do, then odds on there are others who will want to read it to. If you have ANY reservations about style, content or substance then you need to think again. You may be delivering a piece of work that nobody wants.
The third key role is that of Supplier – the person/s providing the technical skill and activities which will deliver the project or its component elements. As a writer, this is essentially you and you are automatically going go to be undertaking the important function of producing a literary masterpiece. But I also think there is more to it than this. It’s also about ensuring that you are realistic about what can be achieved. Be kind to yourself; don’t be afraid to acknowledge your limitations be they time, resources, inspiration or ability. If you know that you aren’t currently in a position to deliver the next Booker prize winner, that’s okay, most of us never will. However, do set out what you can achieve a realistic goal which will stretch you but which will be achievable. Similarly, if you know what you cannot achieve your goal without additional support, whether technical advice on subject matter, editors, proofreaders or anything else, then factor their views and positions in. If someone is going to be providing you with a service, then you need to plan in their availability, lessons that they’ve learned from similar projects or from plain, old fashioned experience.
Dividing the project into manageable and controllable stages:
This is something I touched on last week and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in any project. Although preparations and plans are an important element of any project, writing or otherwise, it is essential that these are only done to a level that is necessary.
Sure, manage your writing project into at least two distinct phases. The first is the “Initiation” stage, where you look at the justification principle above and get a rough idea of what you want to achieve. The second phase is then about delivering it – although I’d be inclined to split this into research/ preparations, drafting and closing (which could involve proofreading, final editing etc). In project management terms, defined timescales (perhaps with a tolerance or “margin” for change) is essential and I’d be inclined to agree. If you don’t set yourself some sort of goal things can inevitably drift.
Within this high level plan, many people will want to plan in much greater detail, particularly around the timeframe. I’ve tried this, but it really hasn’t proved very successful for me. It may work for you to scheduled a set amount of time each day for you to write it, be that a duration or a particular time slot. I know many other people who commit to writing a set number of words each day, for example between 1000 – 5000, depending on your availability. I’ve tried all three approaches and none have worked for me. I will often go days without writing, but then may spend several hours or three consecutive days at it, without stopping for a coffee. My personal view is to find an approach which works for you, as long as it means you write regularly and will achieve the wordcount/content you want within the overall timescale you are looking for. For example, I want my second book finished by the end of September. For many this won’t be a very ambitious target, but I know what with my lifestyle I will achieve this. However, I know to achieve this I will need to have my outline and preparation completed by the end of January and will need to have a first draft completed by the end of June.
Applying an appropriate level of flexibility
This leads on very nicely from the “managing by stages” principle. Ultimately, any project which will be subject to change, and a level of risk. The majority of us writers will have to hold down a full time job, in addition to raise families, play sports, go on vacations (well planned ones!), care for relatives, study for qualifications, maintain nurturing relationships with partners etc. Any number of things can happen which can affect our ability, availability or inspiration to write. By planning in stages, you can identify where the “wiggle” room is in your project – where can you save time, cut deadlines – where are you likely to need more time – are the deadlines enforced by you or others? Flexibility can mean a great many things in a writing project but I think that one of the key things is to be kind to yourself and allow yourself some flexibility in your schedule. It’s also important to listen to the story – if it’s going in another direction than the one you had planned, step back and consider it – perhaps it’s better than your initial one or perhaps form a solid basis for another project?
As I complete the preparation for my next book, juggling this with wrapping up my first one, it will be interesting to see how my approach pans out. I’m certain of one thing however…..an awareness of these principles can only be a good thing.
- PRINCE2: Product Map (mirkocorna.wordpress.com)