Welcome to the first Don’t Quit the Day Job of 2018! It seems like a long time since Paul Gitsham’s post, doesn’t it?
Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.
Kicking us off for 2018 we have Rachel Amphlett, the bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers. Rachel’s novels have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton.
Prior to becoming a full-time writer, I spent many a year working as a project and contracts administrator supporting engineers in delivering major projects in the gas, infrastructure, and railway industries.
It doesn’t sound as sexy as crime thriller author by a long way, but those years behind the scenes have served me well in my current career as a writer.
For example, I was surrounded by people who had held different roles prior to turning to project management, and often within the armed forces. As an author of espionage fiction for a number of years, it meant that if I kept my ears open while ferreting around making sure sub-contractors were paid on time and monthly reports were delivered to management without a hitch, I could bribe someone with a coffee in return for hearing about their military experiences.
From an ex-Lynx helicopter pilot to a weapons guidance systems engineer who helped me blow up a submarine in Under Fire, I had all sorts of combat and non-combat experience at my fingertips – and I made full use of it.
When my writing took off in 2016, I’d already been implementing a lot of project management techniques within my writing business and these enabled me to really focus on what was important.
The best tool in my business is that of a project schedule – I use a simple Excel spreadsheet format for this, which gives me a 12-month look-ahead for the books I want to write and publish (typically a minimum of three), broken down into the steps that need to be taken to publish each book. These include finishing the first draft, getting the final draft to beta readers, drafting again before handing over to an editor, working with my cover designer, and setting up everything else that is needed to publish a book successfully (and on time).
I can then highlight the really important milestones that I need to hit for those books – this is known as being on the “critical path” in project-speak. That is, if I don’t hit those milestones, there is no book!
Having this project schedule keeps me focused – and, if something changes during the year that means I have to switch a project with another to take advantage of an opportunity, I can. All I have to do is adjust the dates, and off I go again.
Now that I’m a full-time writer, I can use this scheduling tool to make the most of my time – it’s likely going into 2018 that I’ll double my output, but at least using my project background, I’ll be able to keep track of where I am and mitigate any hiccups along the way.
Could I be this productive without a project management background?
I doubt it very much.