If I want to live longer than I’ve been alive I have to get to at least 97 years old. To help me get there I’m improving my diet, exercising more, scheduling better sleep patterns, and appreciating the people I love and the world around me a lot more.
I’m also protecting my time to remove as much stress as possible. When I take on too many commitments my calendar feels overloaded which leads to frustration and is my first step towards mental and physical health challenges. I don’t deal well with too many inputs. There are many talented multitaskers in the world who thrive on caffeine, adrenaline and conflict, but I’m not one of them. It’s one of the (many) reasons I’d be a useless supervillain.
I work better doing one thing at a time. I pick a project, gather all I need and work on that one thing until it’s done, but that is not always advisable or healthy for me.
Too small a project and nothing changes. I work around the edges of an idea that never goes anywhere and afterwards I’m left feeling that it was pointless. Too big a project and it becomes all consuming, I burn out trying to do too much and litter the world with half-finished work that’s no use to anyone.
I learned to take big ideas, like writing a novel, and break it down into smaller, measurable, manageable projects to keep me focused and productive.
I give each of these smaller projects my undivided attention for 8 weeks broken down like this.
Each phase gets 6 weeks of project work followed by a buffer week to wrap things up, sort out any admin and plan for the next 8-week cycle. Every cycle ends with a week off which for me means putting my phone and laptop away.
IF (that’s a deliberate big if) I finish project work ahead of schedule I go into the buffer week early, plan the next cycle, and take a week off before starting the next 8 weeks worth of work.
Any new work or ideas that come in during a cycle get written down on a sticky note and put in a box until the next buffer week when I review them to see if they need to be developed into their own dedicated cycle in the future. 99% of these notes are rubbish conjured by the part of my brain that loves procrastination.
Life can get in the way of an 8-week cycle, but that’s okay. I finish the 6 weeks of project work as best as I can and use the buffer week to decide if I need another cycle to finish that phase of the project.
Right now I’m at the third stage of writing my novel so for the next 8 weeks my project is to edit Constance and the Sum of All Things to send to beta readers by 19th September 21
When that’s done I’ll use the next cycle to publish and all things being well the first book of the new series will be on Amazon by the 8th Nov 21 ready to be promoted.
If you’re still reading this you may, quite correctly, be asking ‘why are you telling me about 8-week work cycles?’
Because I don't play golf. I don’t want to play golf. I don’t have anything against golf, but it’s not my dream to work to a certain age, retire and take up a hobby to fill in the time until my body clock runs out. It took me forty years to get comfortable telling the world I wanted to write without worrying about the reaction. I spent the next eight learning how to tell stories with a lot of false starts until I found what I wanted to write about. Now I don't want to stop.
That’s where the eight-week cycles come in. They are a steady, repeatable pattern to consistently build a catalogue of novels in a way that makes writing part of my life without taking it over.
Live a life. Write books. Eight weeks at a time.
*Sometimes the idea is too big for a single novel, and it becomes a series. I tried detailed planning of an entire series and I failed. Series planning, for me, is to have an idea of what the end looks like with as many signposts along the way to help with future books.
** If you’ve been wondering ‘Why does Stephen’s website look unfinished?’ it’s because I’m not touching it until I hit the Promotion phase with a plan of tasks.