Comparing writing a proposal to writing a book

6266968-woman-with-exploding-computer-cartoonI finally have a break from work. Yes, it’s Sunday and I have the day off. For the last five weeks I’ve been knee-deep in working with a team of engineers writing a proposal to the U. S. Air Force.

And, I’d like to share some of the steps they have gone through – some very similar to those we take as fiction and nonfiction authors and some not.

Plan. Start with an outline or a plan – the engineers produced annotated outlines and planning documents called story maps that showed where on each page of their sections their graphics and text will layout on the page. I started both my memoir and novel with outlines. I know some of you are panzers, but I like to have a plan before I write.

Review. We spent a lot of time reviewing these plans for compliance with the proposal instructions and technical soundness. I was very fortunate to have a friend review my original memoir outline and another person review my revision plan when I was getting it ready for publication. Having fresh eyes on our work is so valuable.

Write. On proposals we always recommend they draw their graphics first – something authors really don’t have to think about unless we’re writing a picture or children’s book. Graphics are important in proposals because that’s where the meat of the technical material resides. Besides the proposal instructions usually allow smaller fonts for graphics and tables so they can get more on the page than text. That’s another thing to watch out for on proposals – they are page limited. Well, I think we authors have the same problem. I spent many days paring my novel down from 99,000 words to 90, 000 – the accepted norm for novels these days.

Review and Write. After another review cycle and a training on how to write first draft text (provided by yours truly), the engineers were off and running writing text. I suggested that they just sit down and write. And don’t stop. Then take a break before going back to revise. This is an iterative process as with all authors. Write the first draft quickly, revise, and when we feel that all the material is finally on the page, go back and edit. First we authors edit, then a professional editor goes through it – sound familiar? That’s the stage where we are now. The engineers have finished their graphics and text and I’m working as their technical editor.

Review. The next step will be a review of the first draft of the proposal. Just like with my novel. Four beta readers reviewed my first draft novel and after a long period of revision it’s now with another group of beta readers. The same will happen with the proposal. There will be a series of review and revision cycles until time runs out. As with the proposal’s restrictions on font size and page limitations, there is always a delivery deadline. I believe some authors have to meet publisher’s deadlines as well. Even self-imposed deadlines are a good thing. They keep us grounded in our work. I have been amazed at how much the group of engineers I’m working with have completed in the last several weeks because they’ve had to work to deadlines every day. At this point, I already think they have a winner, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

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