The Plan

Jun 11, 2007 | Writing

Ah yes, the infamous Plan. Be prepared to be dazzled, awed, shake with fear in your creative boots. I know I did when I committed to doing this. And now it is your turn.

I suppose you might like some background on “The Plan.” Well, I’d write my books and my husband would ask, “When is it going to be done?” As in, are you going to make your deadline, OR how much longer do I have to spend the weekends with kids in tow so you can finish that $#%^$ thing. You get the idea. And worst of all, my books would be late. Weeks late. Not a good thing. Never a good thing in publishing.

So last fall while the Dh and I were out at dinner and I was fussing about the tight deadlines Avon wanted from me, he offered to help, because this is what he does for a living. Big project management. How hard could getting me on course be? If ever a writer felt the cold hand of death on her shoulder it was me. I mean how could this go well? The last thing I wanted was my writing to be was managed by my husband. But in the interest of marital well being, I agreed. Oh, his project management heart sang with joy. And thus was born The Plan.

And I have to admit, it works.

So without any further ado, let’s get started.

1) Get out your calendar. All of your calenders. Work, kids, family, domestic slug who interferes. And then print out a blank calendar from Outlook. Or get yourself your own writing diary. Take a good, honest look at everything. When do the kids have school holidays? When are going comitted to going to your cousin’s wedding? Vacation? Work projects that will keep you at work longer hours. Now mark off every day you WON’T be writing. This is were you really need to be honest. And no “I’ll make up the time in October.” Believe me, you won’t have the time.

2) Now count up the days and approximate hours you’ll have to write. Again, be honest. Even though I “write full time,” that never means a 40 hour week. More like a 10-25 hour week. Because I have small kids who need to be chauffered. Constantly. So you have to be very honest about the time commitment you can make.

3) Now factor in how many pages you know you can write in an hour. Now this is where it will get tricky. Because last fall I told Terry, without any hesitation, I could write 5-7 pages an hour. And I can. When it is all mapped out and I am rolling along. On a good day. What I failed to factor in, and had failed for years to consider, was the time I spend pre-writing. Sitting down with what I have written and my outline for the story and mapping out the next 20 pages, the next 10 pages, the next scene. Oh, yeah. That time. After five months on The Plan, I made the wretching discovery that my actual page production was 2.8 pages per hour. Not even a full three pages. Remember that cold hand? Feel it now?

I know, I know. Honesty in writing. Such a novel concept. But you have to be very honest about your process to make this all work. And I’d been kidding myself for years because I never counted the plotting and planning and prewriting time as “real writing.” But it is as much of my process as the time I spend tapping away on my Alphasmart.

Since you probably can’t get as accurate as I finally did—the only way to start off is to give it your best guess, and then track all your time and pages in the next few months and you’ll have you per hour rate.

4) With all that in mind, consider how you write. I burn though a first draft, and then, on average spend 8-10 weeks revising and reworking those pages. Going through about three full edits before I am satisfied with the book. Some people like to write along and edit as they go, so that when they get to The End, they are truly done. So when I look at the calendar and start to map out the time I need, I start in December and start counting back. So I need to be done with the draft by the end of September. Between now and September 30th, I need to get about 300 pages written. Not perfect pages, just get the story down and written in a cohesive fashion.

4) Now, let’s put it all together. Open up a spreadsheet, or draw yourself a chart. In the first column, (DATE) put every Sunday between now and December 1st (or whatever deadline you prefer). In the second column, (HOURS) using your calendar, commit to the number of writing hours you can make for that week, and in the third column, (PAGES). Now make three more columns, under the heading ACTUAL. This is your check in. You have to log in what you actually got that week, and the moment you start to fall off, you have to catch up. That next week. No ifs, ands, or buts. I make myself get up an hour earlier until I am caught up. Believe me, that alarm going off at 5 will really motivate the pages out of you so you can sleep in the next week.

And there it is. The Plan. Simple, straightforward, yet horribly daunting. But be not afraid. Just get your Plan together. And share here what are the things (or people) that keep you from writing. What obstacles stand in your way over the next 6 months? Come on, be honest here. Unload your excuses so we all can myth bust them together and get focused on writing.


  1. Janelle

    Isn’t it frustrating when technology doesn’t act the way it should? (This is the third attempt at posting πŸ˜‰ )

    I definitely see the merit in having The Plan. Elizabeth, did you use it for Love Letters from a Duke, or is this your first time? I tend to use a balance of Muse Energy and structure to write, and I’m afraid that if I’m too balanced, it’ll infuriate the Muse. πŸ˜€

    I have decided that I want to go along for the ride, and perhaps an actual, viable manuscript will come forth.

  2. Janelle

    And my obstacles have names: Aislin, Liadan, Kaia, and Lillia. But I could actually write more if I didn’t veg in front of the TV so much.

  3. Elizabeth


    No, I didn’t do this for Love Letters, but the book that will follow Love Letters–the one that is yet untitled.

    As for the muse, I always smile when I hear about people trying to balance the muse, because quite honestly I don’t have the time to let her dilly dally around. She’s got to work and work daily, or she knows she’ll get kicked to the curb and I’ll find a new one. She does like a double tall nonfat latte to get her started though–so I do indulge her there.

    My writing is what I do. For a living. So it isn’t a matter of showing up when the mood strikes–I couldn’t do that when I was a paralegal–and part of the plan is forcing one to take a very professional stance on their writing. We creative types often don’t like to appear to organized or business like, but it is a business.

    so I try to look at my writing time as sequences or a process. I plan, I write, I plan a little more, I write a little more. Some days it goes faster, others not so fast. But the key is to keep those muse muscles trotting along and the book progressing.

    The more you write every day, the better it will flow on a daily basis. Glad you’re here for the ride!

  4. Janelle

    If you don’t mind me asking, what book are you working on now? Is it the Bachelor Chronicles, or the magic ring series? And, to everyone else, the same question.

    I’m actually working on a fantasy romance (heavy on the fantasy, lightish on the romance) at the moment. I’m not entirely sure if it is a marketable idea or not, but it is something I very much want to write. It’s about 7 women (well… none of them are actually human), and they were all involved in practically destroying the world a few centuries ago. Now they’re in hiding and in disguise… it sounds a lot better in my imagination. πŸ˜€

    Also, with your plan, do you have a specific amount of time that you spend each day? Or try to? And that encompasses all the aspects of writing from research to actual page output.

  5. Crystal

    Don’t forget the recuperation time you need after your vacations. lol. My main problem is procrastination. It’s hard to crack the whip when you don’t have a deadline. Also, I’m indecisive. I can think of ten different ways to possibly take my story, but I can’t decide which one to stick with.

  6. Haven Rich

    Oh Yay! Congrats Elizabeth on entering the blogging world! I’m so glad you decided to do this and look forward to becoming a reg here.

    As you know I’ve always held your advice in the highest esteem, every since you laid it on the line for us over at Romantic Inks.

    I love this time management outline and think, like Janelle if I can get it to work, will put it to use! I could use all the help I can get with my current WIP. I seem to lend myself out too much and often my writing is put on the back burner. You’d think I’d learn not to do that anymore.

    I’ll be adding a link to this blog at RI!

  7. Patti

    Am I missing something? I don’t understand why there’s three columns under actual….

  8. Santa

    This Plan warrents a closer look. My DH has asked the same questions.

    I may just pour my WIP into this and see how it flies. I am an edit as I go along person and am finding that it does not serve me well at all. I keep getting stuck and REALLY need to move forward.

    Thanks for getting this out there to us!

  9. Deborah

    I am so excited about this. This is a brilliant idea Elizabeth and I am committing myself to doing this. I have my Daily Log completed with a few additions. I have a column of the # of pages I hope to complete, the # of pages completed, the variance between the two and a column I call “the diary”. (Can you tell I work with numbers in my everyday job?) I created this on 5/28 and for the first two days I was going strong. Well, my diary entry since then says “Lazy Procrastinator” with a bunch of negatives in the variance column, but that will change. Yup, that’s a kick in the tush for me.

    I can’t wait to check back and see everyone’s process.

    Good luck and good writing everyone.


  10. Elizabeth

    Okay, let’s see if I can catch up with everyone–and first off, thanks for all the wonderful comments and thoughtful questions.

    Janelle, the book I am starting is Griffin’s book, another one in the magic ring series. And part of using the Plan is to plan out well in advance how much time you are going to write each and every day so it is there on your calendar like a dentist appointment or your daily job. So yes, I know each and every day how much time I am supposed to be working or at least what my page count expectation is. Really, truly, all that matters is that you are getting your pages in each day. But into that time I usually incorporate my prewriting, any research I need to do, and any notes or editing I want to make to back pages.

    Crystal, you made me laugh with that post vacation comment. I’ve already blocked out the day after Nationals and the day I get back from visiting the MIL. We all need that vacation from the vacation day!

    Haven, you are always a gem and a joy to have nearby. Thanks for the link and I have put one of yours up as well!

    Patti, good spot on the 3rd column! Duh! I forgot–that is for my actual page count in the book–where I am at. Because how many pages I wrote never adds up to what page I am at in the book, and I like to know where I sit in the story.

    Santa–you just have to keep at it. I wrote that edit as you go way for years, and it sort of held me hostage. When I stopped worrying about editing and just wrote the story–concentrated on getting the story down, I found my flow. Now the stories come out much quicker and I don’t have that problem of what to do next!

  11. Elizabeth

    Oh, I missed Deb! And see me shaking my finger at you–no procrastination. If this was your job, and that deadline your paycheck, you’d have a completely different outlook. Better to develop the good work habits now, as an unpublished writer than when you have an editor breathing down your neck. Or worse. A spouse.

  12. Deborah

    You are absolutely correct. I needed that perspective because I really like my paychecks and I do meet my work deadlines and, as important as it is to me complete my tasks at work on time and professionally, I need respect that the same care and attention is needed to my writing. Actually, more so.

    Off to write!


  13. Shelly S.


    So how does all this blogging fit into the plan???

  14. AndreaW

    What a plan! I’m really going to enjoy this!

    As far as obstacles, I guess my family would be my major one. We enjoy spending a lot of quality time together. πŸ˜‰

  15. Elizabeth

    Shelly, the blogging comes either early in the morning or late at night. I’ve also got my posts plotted out for the next three weeks, so they can be fermenting in the back of my head, and I also take notes as things occur to me. Plan. Plan. Plan. πŸ™‚

    Though I was supposed to blog today and I got trapped with my painting project. The next post will be entitled: What was I Thinking!

  16. Deborah

    I’ve done it. I have written and/or studied the craft for the last few days and am tracking. I have to say, opening my Daily Log and hitting 0 on pages written is not a good feeling. This log is holding me accountable from anytime of avoidance or fear. So for now, I’m continuing my crappy first draft and loving it.


  17. Sophia Nash

    Hi Elizabeth-
    I love your plan (and your new blog!) I do a calendar for each manuscript and I stick to it give or take 50 pages for each book. That worked pretty well until this last one when I took a detour into nowheresville and it took me about 2 or 3 weeks before I could figure out what was wrong with the story. Then I had to spend another 10 days rewriting tons of scenes. I’ve decided to put in a month long “fudge factor” in the calendars now. Have you ever had that happen?

    Sophia Nash, hoping that won’t happen the next go round.
    PS- Loved your latest release!

  18. Elizabeth

    Deborah, glad to hear the plan is working for you. Keep up the great work.

    Sophia, thanks for dropping by! BTW, love your website! And oh, yes, I’ve had my detour problems. I usually throw out at least 50 -100 pages in every book. Fudge Factors are always good things because you never know what will hit! For me on the last book it was a huge wind storm that left us without power for four days, three snowstorms that kept the kids at home for days at a time. Oh, sure they are making those days up now, but that wasn’t helping me in February!

  19. Shelly S.

    Yikes! I remember that storm! It was quite a winter in the PNW.

    I am glad to hear you talking about Fudge (not that I’m hungry or anything). I whipped out a brilliant outline for my scintillating novel and then, once I got deep into the story, I realized that most of it was total crap and had to chuck it. Now I am obsessing on the fact that I’m only on page 25 when, according to my outline, I should be finished with the first act.

    I know. I know. I need to quit being so anal and just get it down! Unfortunately, I do like to go back and edit the last section before I move on. The trouble is, sometimes that clogs the works; I either start second guessing myself or I get so wrappedd up in my amazing prose that I never get to the next section.


  20. Haven Rich

    I agree Elizabeth, Sophie’s site is very soothing to the eyes. I hope one day I can do website designs that wonderful.

    As to the “plan”, my biggest hurdle is planning sick days. Since I never know when my disease will strike, it’s hard for me to make a good schedule and keep to it. Like I had planned on having the Beau Monde quilt finished the week after my vacation to my moms. Instead, I spent 8 days sulking about because I didn’t feel good. So now the quilt is half finished, instead of completely finished.

    Anyhow, just wanted to drop and see if you had an updated post! (yeah I know, a time waster, but well worth it imo)

  21. Elizabeth

    Haven, I have a similar problem with my youngest–sometimes the demands of his therapy appointments really make it impossible to get my work done. Therefore you will find 4 weeks built into my Plan for those days. Yes, 4 complete weeks. But that keeps me from “falling behind” and gives me room to get caught up and feel like I’m on track. Consider working that into your plan.

    Shelly, that urge to rewrite and rewrite and fiddle with pages is a real book killer, IMHO. Because you don’t move forward. I found it was a matter of trust in the story to move ahead, take notes as you go, and rewrite the entire thing in one fell swoop at the end.



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