Last week when I talked about creating a summer writing plan, I stated that you should ask yourself how long each writing/researching task would take. Well, estimating how long it will take you to complete any particular portion of a project is easier said than done. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible! By looking back at your past experience and being mindful of your current writing, you can make realistic time estimates for your writing.The suggestions below will probably work best for estimating writing time, rather than any other of the myriad tasks associated with writing.
Have you completed the background research? Do you have clear, comprehensive notes on that research? Do you have an outline?
Are you in your first, second, third draft? The time you spend on each draft is really an issue of preference and style. Some writers prefer to put a first draft together really quickly and spend more time on revisions, while others want a very solid first draft that will only need fine-tuning. I, for instance, prefer to write a very rough first draft, then create an outline, and then write a very detailed second draft. I have a client who creates outlines that are pages and pages long, so that when sitting down to write the first draft, the process moves very smoothly and quickly; ending with a draft that requires minimal revisions (and that particular client has no issue with me discussing their process).
Measure, measure, measure! Use the Pomodoro technique or a timer app like Togg.l. Don’t use them strictly for accountability. Over time, you can develop a good estimate of how long it takes you to complete certain tasks. You’ll also be able to troubleshoot if something takes longer than you’d like. In addition to measuring the time spent on current projects, think about how long similar projects have taken in the past.
Be sure to anticipate any obstacles. While previous projects can provide a useful guide in determining how much time you’ll spend on a current project, each project is unique. Look at the ways the projects different and think about whether those differences might slow you down. Here’s an example: in your new project you may be engaging a literature you are not completely familiar with. Consequently, it may take you longer to think through the framing, and how you intend to enter ongoing debates.
Finally, revise, revise, revise. Update your writing schedule based on your progress as well as the new insights you are gaining about your writing process.
While I’m not a huge fan of quantifying your entire writing process, I do think it’s very important to constantly assess your progress, and to be mindful of what conditions enable you to work better as well as what may be holding you back. Also, the reality is that you don’t have unlimited time to write. Rather than lamenting that, be strategic about getting done as much as you can with the time that you have.