I put a widget on my home page with a countdown to my self-imposed deadline for finishing a first draft of a kids’ fantasy story I’ve been working on (and off) since last fall. The idea was that I am a good and professional writer who always makes her deadlines. So I gave myself a deadline and made it public so that I would be accountable for finishing it. And then… reasons.
Confession time. I didn’t finish the first draft of my novel. I barely topped 30,000 words by April 30. One of the tricky things with self-imposed deadlines is that they tend to be based on the assumption that current conditions will hold. All other things being equal, I would probably have reached the end of my story by the end of April at the rate I was writing when I set the deadline.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the seeds of my doom had already been planted. During a writing session at the Fremont Library, I saw a whiteboard covered with thoughts about launching an independent business in a creative field. It was so interesting I took a picture of it. A few weeks later I was working on an article for ParentMap magazine and ended up on the Meetup website where I saw a picture of the same whiteboard and discovered it had been created by a group called Seattle Creative Independents & Bootstrappers. I immediately signed up.
Early in April I attended one of their meetups and spent an evening in guided discussion of what it means and what it takes to “Get Real” with our work. I confessed that I have so many irons in the fire that I get distracted flitting between them and have a hard time digging in and giving any one my full effort until I have made it real. Another attendee described a system she uses. It’s a simple spreadsheet that identifies all her projects with their component tasks and deadlines. In one column she gives each project a score for financial importance (what does it pay, or how much money will I lose if I don’t do it). In another column she ranks each item’s importance by less concrete measures such as reputation enhancement or personal passion. The sum goes in the final column and serves as the project’s overall priority.
I already worked from a spreadsheet like that, but I had not assigned numerical priority rankings to the projects. I came home and added the new columns to my worksheet. Paid freelance work with hard deadlines came up at the top. This blog and my fiction project both landed in the middle. Several social media platforms and organizing and archiving files fell to the bottom. As regular blog readers know, I rarely even made it to the middle of the list in April. That was partly because of a new high stakes project that I plan to blog about later in May.
But this post is about my fiction project. I haven’t given up on it. I reached 30,000 words in April, and I’ve written about half of the story as envisioned in my outline – but no cigar. I did not reach my goal of a first draft in April. I’m pretty happy with my new system for keeping track of and staying on track with all my projects. I am already starting to see more paid work coming my way since I started using it. So for now, I’m going to keep fine-tuning that system, and my blog widget proxy for public accountability is going the way of the public smoking.