Planning saves me. Can it save you?
~ By Ainsley St Claire
I know I’m not the only one when I say my life is beyond crazy. I’m a small consulting business owner with nine employees. I’m a mother of two boys, ages seven and ten, who have multiple activities and sports. I’m a wife to a kind, supportive, and generous husband who has a job that on a good week keeps him busy sixty-plus-hours. But I’m also a writer. I write steamy romantic suspense. I’ll admit I haven’t cracked the marketing to get the word out about my books, but those who do find me enjoy my books, and I have a great group of superfans. With all that preamble, I can’t say that I’m great at any of the things I do, but for me, writing has become my me-time.
I get asked often, “How do I do it all?” or hear, “Do you ever sleep?” It’s no secret, I’m a Type-A, but I haven’t always been this way. I got this way so that I could make sure I did something for me. Planning ensures me my me-time. I have six hours during the day to get things done—the time my kids are in school. Six hours to get my consulting done and to write. Often the writing moves to my evenings after kids go to bed, but I truly plan. Carving out time to write is only part of how I get it all done.
Planning. I know for those of you who are pantsers, the thought is attuned to nails on a chalkboard or for those who don’t know that sound—ice chewing. My first book was a stand-alone. I love the book, but it didn’t leave readers wanting more. To do that, I needed to write a series. Something that would grab the reader and keep them moving from book to book. That meant before I typed one word, I needed to figure out my series. I spent six months trying to figure out what I wanted to write. I figured out I wanted an overall billionaire trope; it’s the modern day prince charming. That’s the big picture. But I took it several steps further. My best friend in the world (apart from my husband and little brother) was wonderful as I planned my first series. I’d run things by him, and he kept pushing, how are you going to move them through the series? What is compelling about your characters? For whom are you writing? etc.
In my trusty notebook I bought from Costco (it was a brilliant red which to me symbolized love), I started working through my books. I named my series Venture Capitalists and set them in San Francisco. I read something in Wired about hackers and their effect on the startup community. I chewed on that idea for a while and thought about how I could make that work.
Next step…what is going to happen? With the Venture Capitalist series, I then broke down my hacker and the corporate espionage story arc. I figured out the discovery of a mole’s existence, how they cause problems, how they evolve into being hackers, and the drama they create so by the final book they are caught. And I knew I wanted to him them in plain sight.
From there, I started building my hero and the heroine for each book. I figured out their names, what they looked like, what they did for a living and I figured out what they needed to overcome to find their HEA. I cover a huge broad list of topics –date rape because of the #metoo movement, mental illness, parental death, stalking—essentially determining two issues for every book.
I have a wonderful editor, and I got on her schedule by reserving her time over the next year. She charges for the reservation, so I knew if I missed my deadline with her, I’d lose my $100 deposit. As I tell people all the time, writing is the easy part. It’s the other things I needed to figure out—all the other pieces that come with being an indie author. I booked time with my cover artist, scheduled time for writing blurbs, and everything that takes time to list my book on Amazon. I learned it took me six months from writing my first word until it goes live publishing. Sure, it can take less time, but I needed to plan for emergency in my paying job and in my home life. After all this planning, I had so much I wanted to say and two books a year wasn’t going to cut it. I thought I could do four books a year.
Then I started writing. I start each manuscript with a very light outline—how I’m going to accomplish my predetermined story arc, and I then write. Some weeks I’m lucky if I had time to write 300 words, other times I was getting close to those deadlines, and I was writing until the wee hours of the morning and would churn out ten thousand words a day. That’s why I plan six months for each book. But none of my initial planning was set in stone. A few names changed as I started writing. Some of the drama I was going to chase, I determined it might be too political and might alienate my readers, so it got changed. And I added an entire book.
You may look at this and think you need more flexibility, but by working this way drives me to write even when the mood isn’t there. I will start writing, and after a few hundred words I find my mojo or in one case developed an amazing subplot. This kind of planning allows me to drop threads in every book that get picked up in another book. For example, in my Venture Capitalist series, Cynthia Hathaway is hired to the venture capital firm in book two. It’s casually mentioned that the venture capital fund she worked for went under. Not a big deal, but in book five when we tell her story, we learn that she shut her former firm down when she reported to the FBI that the firm was a front for the Russian Mafia. When my superfans read the final book in the series in September, they’ll be shocked at who the hackers are and why they did it. And, if I did it right, they’ll ask themselves why they didn’t see it from the very beginning. None of my fan mail points to the hacker yet, so I think I’m on the right track.
Everything was going to plan and just like my books, I hit a bump in my personal life. My husband and I are Americans, and his job moved us to Vancouver, Canada, a few years ago. My consulting business is based out of Denver, Colorado, and I travel one week a month. I’m here in Canada on a permanent resident card, and despite starting the renewal process early, my card expired. If I left Canada, I couldn’t come back for nine months. That’s a long time without my family, and it didn’t sound fun. Okay, I admit there were days I thought of driving over the border and saying, “Oops. See you in a few months.” I lost a few clients. I went from billing $200 an hour to celebrating $20 a day gross. I knew I needed to use my time wisely and it helped to have a distraction since my company was dying. Then the road bump got up and slapped me in the face when my best friend (the guy who helped me plot out my series) died suddenly at 47 years old due to a brain aneurysm.
Writing saved me. I was writing six hours a day straight and getting ahead of schedule. I had a plan and I was working my plan. I thought I could move my schedule around and add a novella, which became a short novel at 60K words. NoNoWriMo inspired me. I had some secondary characters and figured out how they could be instrumental to the overall story arc—wait, isn’t that being a panster? All my planning and plotting allows for plenty of flexibility. I also don’t get caught up in where my story needs to go, or what names sound good together. I’ve done that. I can just write.
Then the fan mail from those superfans started; my readers were getting anxious. They want to know who the hackers are and they want the matriarch of the series to have her story. I’m such a pushover, so I’m going to do another book this year. Six. Yikes. I planned vacation time, and I’m going to work hard to get it all done. And as of the beginning of April, I have my permanent residence card—fourteen months after I started the process.
Don’t get me wrong. I can’t write every day. Kids get sick. Clients have an emergency. My husband needs some quality time. Sometimes I just can’t get motivated. It’s stressful to be 20K words short and less than a week to get my book to my editor. Coffee and chocolate become my diet, but I usually push through.
I’m not perfect, and I still find road bumps. Recently I was struggling. I’m in book eight of my nine books and trying to begin the process of ending my series. I realized I was beginning to mourn the loss of my characters. They’ve been my good friends. They helped me through the loss of my BFF. They kept away the loneliness of living far from my friends and family. So what did I do? I started over and figured out the next series. The Tech Billionaire series. Twelve books. Four a year for the next three years. I’ll begin writing them in late summer, and the first book will be released in February 2020. Now I can finish book eight and start nine.
I know this isn’t going to be for everyone. Currently, I have three WIPs at any time in progress, and it’s easy to become so focused that I forget to do something. Planning allows me to sleep at night and not wake up with the cold sweats. But people like me who need to add that layers of suspense or world builders, this kind of planning for series can be super helpful. I’ve included what my series planning looks like and how I plan my weeks with three WIPs. Thanks for letting me share what keeps me sane!
Ainsley St Claire is a Romantic Suspense Author and Adventurer on a lifelong mission to craft sultry storylines and steamy love scenes that captivate her readers. To date, she is best known for her series Venture Capitalists. An avid reader since the age of four, Ainsley’s love of books knew no genre. After reading, came her love of writing, fully immersing herself in the colorful, impassioned world of contemporary romance.
When she isn’t being a bookworm or typing away her next story on her computer, Ainsley enjoys spending quality family time with her loved ones. She is happily married to her amazing soulmate and is a proud mother of two rambunctious boys. She is also a scotch aficionada and lover of good food (especially melt-in-your-mouth, velvety chocolate). Outside of books, family, and food, Ainsley is a professional sports spectator and an equally as terrible golfer and tennis player.