The Craft
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Baby Steps

(Or, creating a book using Agile, part 2)

So I meant to get this out at the beginning of the sprint…

Instead, I’m coming in at the end. That’s fine. Mostly.

Wait, do you know what I mean by sprint? Some of you will, but for the others…

In Agile, work is typically grouped into what’s called a ‘sprint.’ Now you may be familiar with the term ‘sprint’ as a short Pomodoro-esque writing session, but this is one case where the same term wears many hats. Here? It’s a nebulous but previously determined block of time. The vast majority of sprints are two weeks long, but I’ve seen sprints that are one week and sprints that are a month. Once you decide on a sprint length, you shouldn’t change it unless there’s a very good reason (it messes with the metrics).

I closed out the first sprint by checking on what I’d accomplished and what I hadn’t. I did not finish all my research (some of it required reaching people I just couldn’t locate) and I did not finish the outline. Well, I finished most of the outline. I also changed everyone’s names, oh, at least three times, as one does.

But back to the two-week sprint. Unless you’re Chuck Tingle or Dashiell Hammett, two weeks isn’t enough time to write a book. A month is iffy, no matter what Nanowrimo might say. But that’s okay. I’m going with the two-week cycle, and I’ll just take it as given that I am unlikely to have a finished product at the end. This is typically considered a ‘failed’ sprint, but again, we’re ignoring that. Writing a book is not the same as writing code, and I make the rules here.

So, two weeks. What can I get done in that time?

Let’s do some quick and easy math. Let’s be conservative and assume two thousand words a day. Let’s also assume a 100,000 word novel. So in fourteen days, I should theoretically have 28,000 words done (I’m a not doing that much this sprint, but that’s because I was still finishing up the story breakdown.) If I round down to 25,000 words a sprint, I should take four sprints to finish the first draft — 8 weeks. (It will probably be closer to 10 weeks.)

So we’re going to plan on the first draft (a milestone) being finished after five sprints, combined with that first planning sprint, for a grand total of 10 weeks. Since I started at the beginning of October, that means the end of December.

Omg, you say, that’s so fast!

Hold on.

This is less of a ‘first’ draft than what others might call a draft 0. It is very much me telling me the story, and is not fit for public consumption. Not just spelling and grammatical errors, but massive plot holes, inconsistencies, and widowed/orphaned plot lines will riddle this document. I already have one of these: I started the book with a scene which I immediately decided I hated, and which fit neither the character involved nor how I wanted her to be perceived by readers. So I want to change it completely, and I’ve already figured out how.

I’m just not doing it yet. That will be on the next draft.

It’s also important to note that 2k per day is me being conservative. When I really get going, I easily write 5k a day. And that’s good, because the problem holding me back under such circumstances has never been how fast I type but how fast I think: the specific plot basics of who does what and when take as much or more time to figure out than the writing itself. Should I end up working faster than 2k, I’ll adjust the schedule to match.

As it currently stands, I have a lot of what I call [brackets]. These are placeholders. Not names so much this time, but definitely plot elements. With The Ruin of Kings, I had a chapter that consisted entirely of [training montage] right up until the last draft I sent my agent. I just didn’t have a clue how to write that bit in a way I didn’t find incredibly boring. So I skipped it until I figured out what I was doing there. (It ended up being one of my favorite chapters.)

So, as we get ready to kick-start Nanowrimo month, remember that it’s all about baby steps.

Next time I’ll break down some of the crunchier bits of what tracking a sprint actually looks like (because I realize this one was heavy on commentary and light on actual how-to advice).

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