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Working From Your Future


By J.T. Evans

When faced with a deadline, many people wait until the “crunch” at the end to get things done. This usually involves sleepless nights, loads of caffeine, and stressed-out nerves. There’s a way around this. I call it “working from your future.” In essence, don’t front-load the work or put it off until the last minute. The best route is to make steady forward progress.
I’m going to borrow from my software engineering background for this post. When faced with a large project on a deadline and a list of features to code, I use the following method to ensure I make the release date imposed upon me. Here’s how I approach large projects in writing (and pretty much everything else in my life):
  1. Find your deadline date.
  2. Find today’s date.
  3. Do the math and figure out how many days you have to accomplish your goal.
  4. List the steps necessary to finish the work. (Outlining, research, world building, character building, photos, maps, writing, etc.)
  5. Assign a number of days (or hours if you want to get that detailed) on how long it will take you to finish each item in the list. Don’t fret too much over the days/hours assigned. They’re flexible (to an extent), and are just there to assist you in planning.
  6. Do the math and figure out if your workload (as measured by time) will fit into the number of days you have to accomplish the entire project.
If you don’t have enough time to finish the project by the deadline, you have a decision to make:
  • You can ask for an extension to the deadline. Asking your editor/publisher earlier (rather than later) for extra time will give you some goodwill and might lead to an extension.
  • You can look at your list of tasks and see if you can drop something. In other words, do you really need that detailed map of the world for your writing? If not, drop it.
  • You can also look at your list of tasks and see if you can shave a few days/hours off of an item or three by doing a little bit less work on them. Sometimes, you plan for a deep research dive that isn’t necessary. Just hitting the surface details of something is sufficient to get you started.

Once you have the list figured into a time period that will fit your deadline, then you need to order your list in what must be done before other things. Obviously, things like research and outlining should come before the actual writing. The best thing to do is to work from the future. Put the final act of work (writing) at the end of the list. Put the item with most dependencies just above the final item. In other words, you’d probably put outlining right above writing, and then photos above that, and then world/character building above that, and so on. Research is usually the first thing on the list. By building the list from the bottom-up, you can figure out the order in which things must be done.

Keep in mind, this is how my brain works. Your list may look much different from my own. Do what works for you. Just give the framework a try. Plan the last thing you want to do and work from the future to today. You may be surprised how such a weird way of looking at things will free you up. By taking a project (e.g.: research, plan, develop, and write a novel in three months), and chopping it up into consumable sizes, you’ll be really surprised how much less stress you’ll experience.
I hope this helps you plan your future projects!
Originally posted December 23, 2013

About the Author:

J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the former president of Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group and Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he keeps computers secure at the Day Job, spends time with his family, and plays way too many tabletop games. He is the author of the Modern Mythology and Flashing Blades series. Find out more about J.T. and his books on his website.

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