Why Do I Need a Timeline?

Once you’ve answered the four “what” questions about your project (see post: “Writing a novel begins after you answer these four ‘what’ questions”), you’re off and running. Now you have a general idea of what you’d like to write about and the potential make-up of your primary target audience.

While there are plenty of aids that can help you with planning your first novel, in writing your first book it’s important to understand that there is no “right way” or “magic formula.” The key is honoring your unique style and story, and not trying to be someone else. As you look at various approaches to writing planning books, one will eventually resonate with you.

When I wrote Escape through the Wilderness, I used a hybrid approach to planning the book by loosely outlining the book’s chapters and at the same time staying open to “spontaneous inspiration.” Some people need to do stringent and detailed planning before feeling prepared to move forward. I believe that if you’re not careful, you can over-plan and miss the subtle prompting and spontaneous inspiration that can come to those who hold their plans loosely. In other words, whatever way you choose to plan, don’t let it handcuff you. We’ll discuss more about your planning options in the future, but for now let’s consider your timetable for finishing your first draft.

An illustration might suffice to make this point clear. Say, for instance, we were going on a road trip together. It would be wise to have a good idea where we wanted to end up before we started.

Let’s say we live in San Francisco and want to go to New York. The basic question we’d need to answer is: How much time do we have to get from San Francisco to New York? Similarly, an author needs to keep in mind the end product in the early planning of the book. What is the timeline for completing my book? Is it a year, a number of months, or a specific number of days? Good books can be written using any of these timelines as long as you give yourself adequate time to do research (there is usually some level of this) and write your story. Keep in mind we’re not yet talking about what comes after completing your final draft manuscript, just getting the initial manuscript done.

So I want you to begin thinking about your life and schedule. How much time will you afford to planning, researching, and writing? An author will quickly learn that “life” can easily get in the way of your writing time—perhaps a change related to your work, a relocation, finals at school, family issues, an illness, an urgent home repair, etc…. Then there’s “writer’s block.” We’ll talk about that down the road as well along with helpful tips on how to overcome it. Giving yourself adequate time to complete your project will result in greater personal reward and a stronger finished product.

It took me a little less than four months to complete the first manuscript of Escape through the Wilderness. I wrote almost every week and at least ten hours a week. Some weeks I wrote nothing. Other weeks I sat in my Starbucks office and wrote like a maniac for several hours at a time. For me it all had to do with being sensitive to the “inspirational flow.” Could I sense something inspirational flowing in and out of me or was I just writing dead words? At the time, I was not sure. But I do know that I had to give myself time to go through periods when nothing was coming out of the faucet. The point here is to make your timeline goal reasonable based on your personal circumstances and schedule and stick to it, understanding that the pace is typically an ebb and flow.

Finally, you might be asking yourself, “Why do I need a timeline in the first place?” Without a timeline there is no accountability. You can’t imagine how many people I meet that say they are or were, “going to write a book.” Many have started their books but never gotten past the first chapter, if they’ve gotten that far. When I ask them about their timeline, they almost never have one. A timeline is a self-imposed deadline that keeps you accountable and helps you stay on track so you complete your book in a predetermined amount of time.

1. How long will you give yourself to write your book?

2. Do you feel you have a reasonable certainty of meeting this deadline given your schedule and life circumstances?

Next time we’ll talk about where you will do your writing, but until then I’d like you to try to answer the above questions: