Self-Publishing: Setting up a Project for Success

The previous entries in this series on self-publishing have described the creative process and how to organize it. As I mentioned, my preference during that brainstorming phase is to stay off the computer and rather, hand-write my work. For me, this helps me exercise the right brain more than the left brain. This process can result in many pages — hopefully organized — in a spiral notebook as well as a chapter outline. It might be useful to even do some free-writing to try out different ideas on an opening, and if I do this, I also do this on paper.

However, once I feel like I have a good direction and am ready to shift to the computer, this is when I think about setting up the project formally. This means a few things to me, here are some elements of it.

Organizing for Success

  • Software Tools. Before I’m ready to go all in, I always ensure I have my writing tools installed on my computer and that they’re the latest version. Sometimes I will work on a project across two or three different computers, and one problem I’ve run across is that sometimes, version A of the software won’t read something developed in version B. Really, this has happened to me, but it’s probably not terribly common. I use both Linux and Mac in my workflow and occasionally the newest version of Lyx or Gimp for Linux is a version or two different than the newest version on the Mac.
  • Data Protection. As a computer person, I have a network storage device attached to my router that serves as a data storage location for all computers in my house. Not everyone is this paranoid about data loss, but my business drives the need, so I make use of it for my writing. This not only keeps you from losing your work, but also helps ensure that you have the correct version in place every time you write on any computer that you might use. Sometimes to mix things up I might write on my Macbook on the back porch while staring at the mountains and I don’t want to write on an older version of the book!
  • Text Versioning. Additionally, I may sometimes want to hit the “undo” button and bring back the text from a previous version. On Mac some people might use the Time Machine or something like Dropbox to do this, but I use a software versioning system called Git. I use this also when I write code, so it is very comfortable to me. If this interests you, here’s a page where you can read about using Git with Lyx (the writing tool I use). At the very bottom of the link you’ll see a discussion of how to use Git with Lyx. It’s actually very simple.
  • Word Count record. When I set up a project, one of the first things I ensure that I make is a word count spreadsheet. Anyone who has read my blog realizes that I like data, of course, but actually I think this is a best practice. Every day I record the date and the numbers of words the Lyx tool tells me I have written. This helps me be disciplined in my words per day goal (usually I state 100 words/day as my goal, but in reality, once I sit down to write, I often generate many more). It also gives me a visualization of my writing rates. This can help me recognize if I’m slowing down because the slope of the plot of words vs. days decreases. If I understand that my production has dropped, then I can think about reasons why and how to correct the issue.
  • Illustration prep. If I plan to do my own illustrations, I might immediately start doodling on some line art for book illustrations or cover art. Sometimes this provides me some insight on scenes in the book that might be worth accentuating. The idea is that if I’m interested in doodling about a scene, that might indicate that it’s more important than my left brain tells me it is. This means I may want to scan the line art into my computer. A scanner for line art is pretty essential for anyone who wants to do their own illustrations. The open source image editor, GIMP, is also essential. If you plan to illustrate, you’ll want to ensure at this phase that you have a working version installed on your computer. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely be sharing my process for illustrations in later entries.
  • The writing environment. Selecting an appropriate environment to do your writing is really important. Why is that? I know in my experience, if I’m not comfortable where I’m writing, I never want to go write. That can result in huge gaps in your writing and prevent you from ever finishing. Just as with everything else in this entry, the environment is an important part of the “commitment system” that you want to build before you get into the active writing phase. If anything in this system isn’t running smoothly, I find that I get distracted and run out of steam. I think different people have their own things that make them comfortable, but for me these are important:
  • The computer can be quickly woken up and the Lyx writing software opens fast,
  • There is good light where the computer sits. This is mostly because good lighting puts me in a good mood!
  • The area is uncluttered. Why? I suspect that most writers are like me in that if they see clutter it distracts them. Sometimes my brain even *wants* the distraction, so I try to prevent it
  • The coffee pot is nearby. Though this is a distraction, it is a very useful one!
  • No one in the family is nearby. As this is very hard to do with three kids and a wife, I ensure that this is the case by doing my writing before they all wake up or when they’re not around.

Don’t Forget Why You’re Organizing!

Again, don’t forget that the overall purpose of aligning all of these elements is to be able to meet or exceed the important daily word count goal.


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