History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

My Giant Spreadsheet of Doom, Part 3

(For the first two posts in this series, click here (1) and here (2).)

The image here is a little on the fuzzy side, but since what I’m talking about today is more about the shape of things than the details, I think it’ll work out fine. You can also click on it if you want to see it slightly larger. What this image shows is the pattern I use to schedule my short story writing and revisions. Each column represents a week. So I spend up to four weeks writing a story, a minimum of two weeks letting it sit, and up to three weeks on revisions.

I’ve learned over time that most of my short stories end up just shy of the 4,000 word mark. This isn’t universal–I’ve written some longer and some shorter, but it’s a pretty good guess on how long a story is going to be. So if I give myself four weeks to write, that means I only need about 1,000 words a week, or roughly a scene a week. This is totally doable in the larger scheme of things, when paired up with the other writing and revising that I’m doing and how much time I have to write most weeks.

I always make sure I’ve got at least two weeks between finishing a story and reopening it to work on revisions. I need the distance from the story in order to be able to say “this works” or “this doesn’t,” and then figure out how to improve it.

In practice, I rarely spend three weeks revising a story. Either it’s in relatively good shape, and it takes me about a week to do some last minute tweaks, or it’s in really bad shape, and often needs more work on the writing part of it. In the former case, it means I’ve got a little more breathing room for other projects. In the latter case, I throw the story back into the schedule, and act like it’s a new story all over again–four more weeks to work on the writing, two more weeks to let it rest, and three more weeks to work on the revisions.

When the process breaks down is if I have an idea for a story for a specific call or project, but I don’t wind up with a decent first draft after four weeks. Then I have to do a bit of shuffling of the schedule in order to hit a deadline. But in general, my 4-2-3 pattern works to get a story written, revised, and out the door in just about two months (nine weeks).

You’ll also notice the overlap pattern in the image. I stagger my stories so that I’m only writing a single story at a time. So for the first two weeks that I’m writing a new story, the previous story is resting, and I may be finishing revisions on an even earlier story. For the second two weeks, I’m starting the revisions on the previous story. In previous years, I gave myself a more aggressive timeline, which sometimes had me working on writing two stories at the same time. But since I’m juggling novels and short stories at this point, I shifted the short story schedule to give myself a more relaxed, less aggressive schedule. And so far, it seems to be working out!

There are probably a lot of little things that I’ve glossed over as I’ve talked about my giant spreadsheet of doom. If you’ve got questions, please do drop me a comment or an email, and I’ll see if I can answer your questions. If I get enough questions, perhaps a Q&A video might be in order!

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