Author Ray Bradbury used Scrum… no, really!

Besides being a legend and perhaps the most influential writer of the 20th century, author Ray Bradbury is known for his incredible output of short stories, novels and screenplays.

His novels The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man started out as short stories.  That’s because he was using Scrum before it had even been invented. But he didn’t realize it COULD be applied to writing novels, too.

Here are some excerpts from an evening with Ray Bradbury, speaking at Point Loma Nazarene University in 2001.

(The italics are mine)

The problem with novels is, you can spend a whole year writing one and it might not turn out well because you haven’t learned to write yet. But the best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers, is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you could write one short story a week, doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least at the end of a year, you have 52 short stories. And I defy you to write 52 bad ones. At the end of thirty weeks or forty weeks, or the end of a year, all of a sudden, a story will come that’s just wonderful.

The psychological thing here, is that every week you’ll be happy. At the end of a week, you will have done something.

Don’t live on your computer. Don’t let them flim flam into owning all these devices. They can be very valuable, very good for certain kinds of things. You don’t need anything but a pad and a pencil. I was out in the desert about a year ago, and I got an idea for a cantata. I wrote the whole 18 pages with a pad and pencil. I had no typewriter with me. I used what I had. Whatever works.

Listen to his talk in its entirety here:

The 10 Steps

Scrum Your Novel in 10 Steps

1. Start with a plot idea. Build this sentence around it to create your elevator pitch: [WHO] has to [WHAT] on [WHERE] during [WHEN] because if they don’t [HOW], [WHY] will happen. This helps you focus on the central idea of the story.

2. With this central idea in mind, brainstorm three scenes and three primary characters you most want to write about. These are the things that stoke your desire for writing this story. Keep it brief. Use the chapter plot and character templates to document these.

3. Consider any initial research you must do, and fill out a research sheet for each topic. But don’t use research as an excuse to put off doing step #2.

4. Get a whiteboard, some sticky notes and a pen for your kanban board. Or create an account on Trello (or another site that offers a free “kanban” board, such as https://www.seenowdo.com/ , http://scrumblr.ca/, http://www.taskjunction.com/ or http://scrumtool.me/). A kanban board is where you track your progress. I found Trello to be the most straightforward, allowing for a quick start without a lot of fuss.

5. Create a kanban board using your novel’s title, and then build the following “lists” for that board: To Do, Writing In Progress, Edit, Research, and Done. See detailed instructions here.

6. Prioritize each of the cards created in steps #1 through #3 above. Put the most important at the top of the To Do list.

7. Decide what daily rate of writing you will always be able to achieve in a sitting. It can be a couple of sentences, a few paragraphs or a word count, such as 500 words. If the worst happened, and you couldn’t get to a computer, how much would you be able to write in longhand on a legal pad during your lunch break at your day job? It is crucial to get this estimate right. If you continually struggle to meet your daily quota because you’ve estimated too high, or postpone your writing session because you’ve only got 10 minutes, you will fail for a few days, and then give up. Scrum builds discipline to work on your novel, but it has t be done daily.

8. Set a writing goal that can be achieved in a week. Each week is called a “sprint.” Just like when you were in grade school and did the 20-yard dash, work as hard as you can for a short time and concentrate on reaching your goal. Even if it’s just a half hour, block out time for writing every day and focus strictly on one project – no distractions, no knocking off early, no nothing until you reach your daily goal. Every sprint should result in a recognizable chunk of work (for instance, a chapter).

9. Keep a “daily standup” journal in a Word document or free journal site such as Livejournal. After your writing is done for the day, jot down a couple of sentences in your journal about what you worked on, what you plan to work on tomorrow, and if there are any impediments or “blockers.” If there is a blocker, deal with it first thing the next day to prevent it from becoming an excuse not to write.

10. After every sprint concludes, assess your progress toward your goal of finishing a novel, and plan for the next sprint by repeating steps #1 through #3.

Day 1, Sprint 4: No wasted effort

Today I transformed more of the 2008 version out of third person and into first person, achieving 586 words. So far blending with what I had written during sprints 1 and 2 is yet to come. But it’s taking shape in my mind. It may seem to have been two weeks of wasted effort, but in fact it focused me on one of the problems I’ve always had: what time travel device to use. I took the long way around to find it, but I’ve solved it. Now I just have follow through in the writing.

Day 7, Sprint 3: Fertile soil

Yay, I’ve restarted on chapter 1 based on the 2008 version, but working in elements from the 2015 version. The plotting has solidified the direction I want to go. This will go fast. Chapters 1 through 8 are already written. I feel good about this. This is what scrum is good for, being able to change direction based on new developments. In this case, my work in the first two sprints provided the soil from which the blended version springs.

A new sprint starts tomorrow. The timing is good. Let’s see how much progress I can make in the coming week.

Day 6, Sprint 3: From the ashes rises a new idea

So many blockers today. Many of them were home-chore-related, but the biggest blocker was having to produce content to send to BooksGoSocial for a month-long promotion. That took a couple of hours. It’s related to my writing, but it’s not dealing with tasks on the kanban board. However, tonight I was able to put in some work, and build a satisfactory rough synopsis for the new merged 2015/2008 versions. And so a new concept is born: a time travel mystery series featuring Karrie. As so often happens, better ideas than the original come along, as long as you keep scrumming in a consistent manner. Tomorrow I’m prepped to do some writing. Or at least, some “re-factoring.”