Multi-book author Allie Pleiter has a seventeen-year career in writing that has resulted in more than 1.4 million books sold. In that time, she’s mastered the ins and outs of writing productivity and time management – she has to in order to produce four new books a year. On March 3rd, Pleiter came to speak at SLWG’s monthly workshop to help other writers hone their ability to set achievable goals and meet their deadlines as professional authors.
According to Pleiter, time management has become a critical, necessary skill to staying employed as a working author. When she first started, the goal was to publish one trade paperback a year. These days, the expectation is a new book every six-to-nine months. For romance authors, the industry expectation has become three to five books a year. Pleiter explains, “It’s basically about controlling your writing speed. If you are published, you’ll need this skill to stay employed. […] So, I’m going to show you how I get that done.” Pleiter spent some time discussing time management in general and the benefits of managing creativity before she launched into her signature ‘chunky method.’
What is the Chunky Method?
At its simplest, the ‘chunky method’ is factoring in the quantity of writing you can accomplish in an individual session/sitting (based on an average sampling of five or more) and using this as your baseline to factor how much writing, and how quickly, you can accomplish over long periods of time. When she first started, Pleiter was writing 600 words a session.
One caveat worth noting is that a given session in the beginning, when you’re attempting to learn what your ‘chunk’ is, is intended to be based on your natural writing breaks. Don’t push yourself in the beginning to meet an arbitrary number. “Many writers think when you’ve hit the end of your chunk, you’ve hit writer’s block – you haven’t! You’ve just [hit] the end of your chunk! So that’s the time to get up and take a break. There’s no such thing as writer’s block with the Chunky Method,” Pleiter says.
Estimating Deadlines and Project Goals
When you can factor in your daily word count, estimating accurate deadlines for publishers becomes less of a guessing game and a very real probability. Have a deadline pushed up? What might otherwise seem like a nightmare may now be manageable.
Pleiter explains, “If your editor asks you to turn [your book] in a month early, that will induce panic if you’re looking at the big picture, but if you think of it as 50 [words/day extra], that’s not as big a deal. […] Once you look at the chunky method, you see the daily task, not the distressing totality of it.”
Once you know your writing speed, you can also use this knowledge to factor in long-term goals like the time it’ll take to finish a manuscript (but Pleiter recommends adding 10 percent). Non-fiction word counts vary, but standard industry guidelines for fiction include:
- Single title: 85k-100k
- Novella: 20k-40k
- Short Genre Fiction: 55k-75k
- Mysteries: 55k-75k
When in doubt, consult with the publishing house for its target word counts. Pleiter led attendees through an example of what this looks like in a practical application, as described in her book: The Chunky Method Handbook: Your Step-By-Step Plan to Write That Book Even When Life Gets in The Way.
Based on Pleiter’s experience, writers rarely can be lumped into a single category, but she has noticed they are either “big chunk” or “little chunk” writers, and either linear (list-makers, results-orientated) or non-linear (process-orientated) writers. By identifying what type of writer you are and how you work best, and what your writing environment looks like, you’ll be maximizing your chances for better productivity in the long haul. Pleiter gave examples of each of these four types of writers (and you can certainly be a combination of them!) and examples for how to schedule your writing tasks for effective time management.
When you find yourself stumped in the writing process, writing exercises can be a helpful way to get on track. A couple of writing apps Pleiter recommends are Written Kitten and Write or Die, which use rewards or consequences (respectively) to encourage writing. Other writing exercises might include the envelope system (saving ideas for your books in envelopes) and casting (picking actors that remind you of your characters). Consider adding in sensory triggers (like music, writing rituals, or images) to get your writing mojo on.
Many things in the publishing industry are outside a writer ‘s control, but one thing you can control, Pleiter concludes, is effective time management. She believes, the Chunky Method may help you with that and then some.
An avid knitter, coffee junkie and unreformed chocoholic, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction, working on as many as four novels at a time. The enthusiastic but slightly untidy bestselling author of over thirty books, Allie spends her days writing, buying yarn, and finding new ways to avoid housework. Allie hails from Connecticut, moved to the Midwest to attend Northwestern University, and currently lives outside Chicago, Illinois.
The “dare from a friend” to begin writing has produced a seventeen-year career with over 1.4 million books sold. In addition to writing, Allie maintains an active writing productivity coaching practice and speaks regularly on faith, the creative process, women’s issues, and her very favorite topic—The Chunky Method of time management for writers. To learn more, visit her website at www.alliepleiter.com.