Have you ever stalled on a writing project? I know I have; plenty of times. Sometimes it happens when I am too tired to write productively and the Muse absconds, forcing me to take a break. At other times I stall because the writing has been going so well, my own creative well has run dry and I need to take time out to fill up on inspiration with day trips, working breaks away, long rides out in the woods or an evening at the ballet or theater. Often though, writers stall in the middle of a project because they haven't done enough research - the material has run out of foundation space and so there is no framework in place on which to build a piece of work.
Prep. It is such an evocative abbreviation of the word preparation, bringing to mind images of old school rooms, warm libraries alight with fire glow and the bowed heads of serious students hard at work, doing Prep in readiness for their lessons next day. These days teachers call it homework, but I think Prep sounds like much more fun; it makes one sound organized and in control of one's studies and it is no less important to a serious writer than it is to a University student. Preparation is vital to any writing project, of any genre, whether it be a work of fact or fiction.
Being a note-taking, list-making woman-on-a-mission, I have a special fondness for my Prep Time. I like to be organized and because I write up so many different kinds of projects at any one time, I need to be organized! For me Prep Time is between the hours of 8 - 10pm, every other evening. I consider this time to be of vital importance to my career as a writer, and although I am working, I make it fun too with a nice glass of wine and some chocolate to nibble on. I tuck myself away in my study and I Prep out the writing projects for the next two days. I have an A4 lever-arch binder, with dividers set between each individual project so that I keep all my Prep notes in one place. As I am currently writing novels, journalism, poetry and songs for new albums, having a section for each set of project notes and keeping them all in one binder means that I can easily find what I need when I am actually working on the project in question. I also keep a plastic poly-pocket in each section too, where I can put postcards, photos, pictures torn from magazines, lists and inspired snippets I might have written down on scraps of paper as I am out and about during the day...in short anything which inspires me with regard to that project. Some of these images I might turn into mood boards, but in the meantime they are in the Prep File in the relevant project section. I actually really enjoy my Prep. Time; it makes me feel that I have accomplished something and that I have moved all my projects forward. These are some of the ways in which I spend my Prep. Time
- Pulling and piling up relevant research books from my shelves so I have them to hand next day
- Making a reading list of books I need to buy to help me in my project research
- Reading through research materials and making notes as I go
- Creating a mood board of images for a particular project
- Updating the desk calender with all the latest deadlines for my current workload
- Updating my editorial contacts details and Writer's Log Book entries
- Putting the relevant Prep File section ready and organizing my desk ready for writing the next day
- Updating and keeping the entire Prep. File organized so I can find things easily when I need them
- Conducting market research via magazines, media and online
- Checking out the competition!! Who are they, what are they up to, which House are they with and do we clash or compliment?
- Maintaining a Blog Ideas book
- Maintaining a Freelancer Ideas Book
The idea is to spend a couple of hours every other night making sure that my study is prepared for a good stint of writing over the next two days, by which time I am ready to do more Prep. This keeps the cogs turning and the creative fires burning. While it might not seem as if flicking through a magazine or reading a novel is work, to a writer it is because it is a valuable source of market research; who is publishing what? Who are their readers? Are their readers also my readers? Can we work together on a project? All vital questions which a serious published author should ask.
Even if you are only working on a single project, I highly recommend that you begin your own Prep File and set aside regular Prep. Time to organize your thoughts on the work in progress. It might not seem like very much, but just setting aside a time and space in which to sift, sort and organize yourself as a writer will help you to make the transition from hobby scribbler to serious writer.
I look forward to Prep. Time in the evenings. It feels like an indulgence to me. It reminds me that I am doing my dream job and that I have worked very hard to have people take that job seriously. And one of things about being a writer is that the paperwork does tend to pile up - indulging in Prep. Time helps to keep on top of it!