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Getting lots done in little time

It’s another new year (already) and like many others I’m thinking about what I’d like to achieve in 2022. The sixth book in the Bow Street Society Mystery series, the sixth volume of Bow Street Society Casebook short stories, and the podcast are just some of the things on my list. I also work part-time as a receptionist in addition to my writing. Therefore, the time I have to spend on my writing, related projects, and marketing etc., is limited. In 2021, a fellow crime fiction author who I greatly admire told me they’d find it helpful to know how I juggle all my writing commitments, projects, etc. In this month’s blog, then, I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks which, in my experience, have kept me focused and on track. They may not work for/be suitable for everyone, but they’ve certainly worked for me.

Set realistic deadlines and stick to them
As a self-employed indie author, I’m wholly responsible for my business and the works I produce. Consequentially, I’m at liberty to set my own deadlines for new releases with no one to answer to but myself and my readers. Unfortunately, this freedom can lead to laziness if one isn’t careful. Whenever I’m thinking about when to release the next full Bow Street Society book, I start with the week when my editor can edit it and then work backwards. Prior to the book being edited, I allocate one week (minimum) to implement changes based upon the feedback received from beta readers. I allocate a minimum of one month for the beta readers to read the draft. Finally, I allow myself between 6 – 8 months to plan, research, and write the book. The time allocated to each step is based upon past experience and the knowledge of how quickly I can (realistically) write a book.

The process for each volume of the Bow Street Society Casebook is slightly different. Its release is usually at the beginning of December in time for Christmas. Unlike the books in the main series, the Casebook is written throughout the year. This is because the first three stories of a volume are serialised in the Gaslight Gazette from January until December. I strive to ensure subscribers of the Gaslight Gazette are the first to read the last instalment of the third story prior to it being released in the full volume. Two brand new stories are also written and included in the full volume. These are written and edited alongside the ‘Notes from the author’ and ‘Sources of reference’ sections prior to the end of November. Otherwise, the stories are written and edited in time for the next edition of the Gaslight Gazette when part one is due to appear. As a result, I’m usually writing the stories at least a month in advance whilst constantly trying to come up with ideas for future ones.

The illustrations featured on the covers of Bow Street Society works are usually commissioned once I’ve written the draft of the book/short story collection.

Set a daily to-do list and stick to it
Many years ago, I was unemployed for a period of several months. Determined to do all within my power to secure employment, I adopted the mantra of “finding a job is my job.” Part of this was setting myself daily goals which focused on searching for jobs online, completing application forms, submitting my CV, studying for my ECDL course, etc. My hard work paid off and I found myself in gainful employment once more.

Yet, I maintained the habit of setting myself daily goals beyond this point and, eventually, applied this method to my writing goals. Now, I ask myself every day “what is my plan for today?” My plan will always include everything I want to get done that day—both writing and non-writing goals. For example, today I needed to do some food shopping and write this blog post. I therefore decided my plan was going to be: get up, have breakfast, get ready, go food shopping, check emails/social media, have lunch, and write this blog post. It may seem unnecessary to include absolutely everything in the plan but I find it helps give structure to my day. It also gives me a realistic idea of how long I have to dedicate to my writing.

Focus on what you are writing, not how much you’ve written.
For many authors, tracking their word count can be an invaluable tool for keeping themselves on track to meet their deadline. If this method works for you, then there is no reason to stop doing it. Personally, I felt my writing became more of a chore than a pleasure when I tried to follow this method. This is mainly because I was basically writing for writing’s sake in order to reach my daily word count target.

Now, I never track my word count until I’ve completed the draft that I intend to send to my beta readers. Instead, I focus on the content of what I’m writing to ensure it’s as good as it can be. By doing this, I’m keeping myself immersed in the world and characters of my book, thereby maintaining its realism in my mind. I feel that, when I start looking at it from the more clinical perspectives of word counts and formatting, I lose this connection. I can then find it very difficult to get it back again.  

Part of this process is editing as I go along, as opposed to writing one full draft and then editing it as a whole. By editing what I wrote in my last session, I’m able to reform the connection with the characters and world of my book in order to write the next new scene from scratch. It also enables me to fine tune character development, plot points, and the clue-puzzle elements of the narrative, e.g., clues, red herrings, timings, alibis, etc.

This editing-as-you-go approach usually results in each chapter having between 10 – 17 drafts. I also save each chapter as a separate file as I find it easier to jump around the book when I need to edit/change a part of the plot/mystery that runs throughout. Once I’m happy with all the chapters I then make the changes suggested by the beta readers and drop the chapters into one file to check the word count. Invariably it comes to between 100,000 – 110,000 words. It’s at this point I will read the entire draft through, making any required changes as I go. Finally, I write the ‘Notes from the author’ and ‘Sources of reference’ sections along with the blurb before sending it to my editor for two rounds of edits.  

I hope you’ve found this small insight into my way of working helpful. I think the key is to try as many different approaches as possible and use those which work best for you. There are no right or wrong answers provided you achieve your writing goal of finishing a book. I think I’ve covered the main points above, but if you have further questions you’d like me to discuss in a future ‘Writing Notes’ blog, feel free to get in touch by email at info@bowstreetsociety.com. Happy New Year!

~ T.G. Campbell, January 2022