This past fall, I signed a contract to write a book for Simon Spotlight Entertainment, a division of Simon and Schuster. This is my first book, and I honestly had no idea how much work would be involved. I could imagine my book on the shelves of a bookstore, but I didn’t really think about everything that had to happen between the contract signing and the book appearing on the shelves.
I’ll be honest, it’s for the best that I didn’t think about all of the hard work in the middle.
I turned in my first draft on April 7, and just yesterday I finished the final manuscript with all of its edits. There is more work to be done (design/layout proofing, working with the illustrator, marketing, publicity, etc.) between now and when my book hits the shelves November 3, but right now I have a bit of a break while the publishing house performs its magic.
Here is how I tackled this enormous project, and how you can manage any large project that comes your way:
- Gather as much information as you can. Begin by learning as much about the project as possible. Interview everyone involved to know what is expected of you and anticipated deadlines. Also find out who your contacts are, whom you can look to for guidance, and what kind of input you will get form other members of the team.
- Outline the work that needs to be done. Make a detailed set of milestones for the entire project.
- Set internal deadlines and make a plan. You need to have your work completed before your client/boss/editor expects you to turn over your work. Put in buffers so that if you don’t meet your set deadline you’ll still meet your client/boss/editor’s deadline.
- Work a little every day. This isn’t college where you can wait until the night before a paper is due to write it. You have to break the project into small enough pieces that working on it everyday will chip away at the overall project. Be diligent. Stick to your plan. No exceptions.
- Review your work for quality control. Never turn any work over to someone else without first reviewing all of it and making sure no errors have found their way into your work. I call this “testing” because it feels like making sure a computer program doesn’t have bugs in it.
- Don’t overcommit. Do not promise that which you cannot deliver.
- Be explicit. Throughout the entire project you need to communicate your status to those who are dependent upon you. There should be no surprises. Take care of small problems immediately so that they never develop into large problems.
- Deliver your work on time and as expected. Since you planned your project well and communicated throughout, your client/boss/editor should be very happen with your final product arriving on time.
I like to use a large monthly calendar to plan out my projects. I’ll lay the months out on my dining room table so that I can see everything at once. I enter deadlines first, and then work backward to determine how much work I need to do each day to meet the goal. Once this is done, I’ll enter the specific daily tasks into Google Calendar and work through my commitments every day. A little bit at a time kept me from feeling overwhelmed.
How do you organize large projects? Let us know about how you work in the comments!