Wednesday, 24 July 2013

What keeps you from completing that novel?

Most of us wannabe published writers don't have a good excuse. Unlike the characters in our novels, we aren't being hunted by mad serial killers; saving the world; or caught up in a whirl wind romance.

So why is it so hard to complete and publish that first novel?

I follow J A Konrath's blog and am always fascinated by stories of how people got past their own particular hurdles.

My biggest obstacle is my job. I'm an IT contractor/consultant and I spend most days managing complex projects; juggling tight timescales and developing applications, databases and reports for whichever company has chosen to employ me.

Lots of other people have similarly busy jobs or lives so I hope this will be relevant to you.

In December 2012 I started a three month project. The specification grew and I ended up taking four months to complete the project. I was the sole developer: coding the software, designing the user forms, writing the SQL (Structured Query Language) that enabled reports. I spent weeks on systems and business analysis; negotiated and agreed requirements with the clients; provided models and adjusted the requirements based on client feedback. I designed and developed the databases and wrote the user manuals. I ran training sessions for dozens of staff.

By the end of the project I was exhausted.

Yet somehow, during that time, I managed to come home and edit 10,000 words of a novel. It didn't seem enough.

I was dejected that I made so little progress on the novel until it hit me that what I do every single day at work is exactly like writing and editing a novel!

Characters: I have to get to know the people I meet on each new project. I have to understand them, find out what they want, even though they sometimes don't fully know themselves. Sometimes I can advise them, steer them in a direction that will hopefully result in the project delivering what they need. Other times I have to go with the flow and find a way to connect the dots to keep the project on track.

Story: Systems and business analysis is all about identifying the stories in each organisation. Why are these processes important? What happens next? How will this affect that? Where do we start? Where will we end up? What happens in the middle...?

Plot: Some processes are irrelevant and can be discarded. Others are vital and need to happen in exactly the right order. Different activities need to be carried out at points along the way. Sometimes the whole project can be thrown into disarray when a situation changes or a risk turns out to be a real problem.

Management: Whether I'm assigned them or not, I give each project deadlines. Milestones to help me quantify how I'm progressing and enable me to flag up if aspects of the project are taking longer than I expected.

Editing: In many ways - testing code; rewriting and refactoring; and redeveloping based on feedback is like the novel editing process. Iterating over and over until the finished product is ready for release.

After four months of hard graft I took note of what I had produced. It's taken me a few more months to work out what I wanted to say about it...
I developed:
  • 24 Database tables (all normalised to third form...)
  • 161 Database SQL Queries
  • 13 user forms
  • And produced 7669 lines of code (that worked out at 156 pages, single spaced...)
  • I wrote a Technical Manual which came to 65 pages (8,873 words)
  • Also an Administrators Manual: 52 pages (6,927 words)
The resulting business application is being used daily by over 200 people and is enabling the organisation to improve their productivity.

Oh, yeah, and I got paid...

I was struggling to edit a novel at the start of the year but finally realising that I practise editing skills every day was a huge boost to my confidence.

You will be using your own skills, day in and day out. Like me, you may have never connected what you do with writing and editing a book. So, what's keeping you from completing that novel?

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