Writing plans are essential if you hope to complete projects without pulling your hair out. Yet, when I ask academic writers about their writing plans, I usually hear something along the lines of “finish this manuscript before the deadline.” While that’s an important goal, it certainly isn’t a plan. A writing plan requires much more detail, with tasks that are discrete, quantifiable, and scheduled.
How far along are you in each of your projects?
What have you done already? This question will have the most straightforward answer. It will also help you estimate how much time you’ll need to complete the projects.
What is the work that needs to be done besides writing?
Don’t leave anything out, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem. Do you need to code data, conduct more interviews, or process interlibrary loan requests and then go to the library? Write down every single thing you need to do and organize your list in the order that each task needs to be finished
How long will each task in each project take you?
Once you’ve written everything out, estimate how long it will take to complete each piece of the project. This includes everything you listed above plus the writing you’ll be doing. Break down the writing into small, specific pieces. For instance, you might have a goal to write the first draft, but you’ll want a more specific set of tasks on your list underneath that goal. One easy way to do this is to write out the sections of each manuscript and then divide that writing into sessions. For instance, you might spend one day writing 500 words in your introduction. Then, estimate how much time you’ll spend writing each section, or how many sessions you will need. Make sure to include time for revisions!
Do you have support?
Do you have a research assistant who will carry out specific tasks (if so make sure you write out those tasks)? A coauthor might be responsible for sections of a manuscript, or you might hand off a final draft to an editor for copyediting. No matter what the source of support, try to estimate how long it will take these other parties to complete their share of the project, so you can build that time into your estimate. Keep in mind that having additional support might not always lessen your load or make the project move faster. It may take a considerable amount of time to train a research assistant, or you might end up waiting on a tardy co-author to submit their portion of the manuscript.
How many “cushion days” will you give yourself?
Things happen, so cut yourself some slack. You might get sick, or that interlibrary loan might take way longer than you expected. There might be an emergency at home that keeps you from writing. Anything can throw off your writing plan, so make sure to include a few extra days in your estimates to deal with the unexpected.
With these steps, you’ll be well on your way to having a concrete, actionable, and realistic plan for getting work done. A little bit of preparation now will put you on your way to completing your writing with less stress.
After you make your writing plan, the challenge is sticking with it! To help you, I’ve made a list of five strategies you can use to make sure you stay with your plan. These are simple actions informed by research. To get the list, click on the button below.