1. Operations – This includes primarily production, but also design, development, and fulfillment.
The business of writing starts with Operations, the first, largest, and most important of the line function areas. It includes all of the aspects of production/manufacturing, but also such necessary elements as purchasing, order fulfillment, research, development, design, and fulfillment.
For writers, production means actually writing the first draft and delivering it to an editor. This is the one area of the seven that changes least, no matter what stage of your career you’re at. Whether you’re new at this or a veteran of twenty years and thirty published novels, you still have to produce new work.
Production is often hard to get your arms around, because it doesn’t have a lot of individual tasks that are clear and obvious and that build up to the end, like “buy envelopes,” “address envelopes,” “stuff envelopes,” and “mail out query letters.” “Write a page” and “write another page” don’t provide quite the same sense of direction, especially when you aren’t really sure how many pages there are going to be. Yet production is vital, because it’s the thing on which everything else depends. If you don’t produce a first draft, all the way through to the end, then Sales and Marketing has nothing to sell, Quality Control has nothing to edit, Finance has no income to track, and so on.
Since writing a novel takes a fairly long time for most of us, Production is where the majority of writers really need to spend the majority of their time. Breaking it up into one-half to two-hour chunks seems to work best for most of us, as the mental machinery tends to wear out after a few hours for a lot of us (yes, I know people who can sit down and write for 10-15 hours per day, but I’m not one of them, I don’t know many of them, and unless you have already demonstrated your own ability to do this and have lots of 10-15 hour chunks of time available to do it in, you’re probably better off not counting on being able to pull this off.)
An additional difficulty comes from the fact that, for writers, producing a manuscript is not something that can be done by the numbers. Every writer’s process is a little different (or a lot different) from that of every other writer. Not only do we not do things the same way, we don’t all do them in the same order. Parts of the process that one writer considers essential turn out to be things that another writer doesn’t do at all. It can end up just being easier to ignore the whole question.
Which is fine, as long as the production part actually happens, and doesn’t just get thought about or talked to death or outlined without actual progress. Some people write mainly by instinct, and as long as they produce pages and get all the way to the end of their stories, they don’t have to think particularly deeply about their particular production methods. Others of us (raises hand) are more analytical, and need to break things down into parts and then examine them in hopes of improving the process (or at least, of having some idea what to do when things break down entirely).
For those who self-publish, production also includes producing the actual books (whether that means printing and hand-binding them in the basement, hiring a vanity press or print-on-demand place to produce the copies, or putting together a cover picture and formatting the files for an e-book). And let’s not forget inventory management, for those who opt for the traditional basement-full-of-books (whether self-published or purchased from publisher stock).
Operations also includes research and development, though R&D is sometimes broken out as an eighth important area. “Research” here means the stuff one has to do in order to make the story work; market research comes under “sales and marketing,” which I’ll talk about next post. Operations research includes finding out what kinds of clothes people wore in the 13th century, or doing the calculations to figure out how to make two orbiting spaceships collide, or looking up what species of spiders live in the South African jungle where your protagonist’s plane is about to crash. Research is why writers who’ve been around for a while have huge libraries of nonfiction with titles like “Practical Blacksmithing,” “Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army,” “The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” “Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany,” and “Rats, Lice, and History,” to pick a few random titles from my own shelves. (The book on logistics is a thin volume that provides, in the footnotes, the equations for how much various pack animals can carry in the way of supplies and therefore how many of them you need to support an army of various sizes, and how long the army can travel without needing to stop and resupply. “Rats, Lice, and History” contains my all-time favorite footnote: “If the reader does not know the meaning of this word, it is too bad.” [The word in question is saprophyte.])
Writers are all intellectual pack-rats, absorbing and squirreling away all sorts of interesting nuggets of information to use later. But stockpiling all the random items that come along is rarely enough to make a book work as well as it could. Even if one is inventing the entire background, history, and all of the ecology, there are going to be things that one is better off looking up than trying to make up, if only so that they’ll hang together or be reasonably plausible.
“Development and design” covers any prewriting that happens between getting the idea and sitting down to write the first scene. For a lot of writers, developing ideas is a seamless part of the whole writing process. For others, brainstorming, fitting things together, and outlining in advance of actually sitting down to write are an absolute necessity. Again, this is a place where each writer has to look at his/her own process and honestly evaluate what is working and what isn’t, and then go for what is working, even if it is annoying and not at all the way one would like to be working.
Purchasing and order fulfillment are relatively minor matters for writers. Once you have a computer and software, you don’t really need another one for the next book; notebooks and pens aren’t horribly expensive or difficult to come by, and there really isn’t much else a writer needs to have to write. Similarly, sending a finished book off to the publisher is usually not an everyday occurrence, nor is it particularly complicated: you check whether the editor wants hard copy or electronic, then send whichever it is off.
Next up: Sales & Marketing.