Day 4, Sprint 3: The only way around is through

The only way around a blocker is to go through it. I finished “retro-plotting” of the 2008 novel – capturing the rest of the scenes into the Chapter Plotting template. I’m going to find some way to merge the two versions: the one I’ve been working on and this one. Or maybe they are two different novels. Or perhaps I should start a series. Many things to think about. Tomorrow I’m going to work on character profiles of these and the characters in the other novels. Then perhaps I will be able to connect the dots between them.

Day 3, Sprint 3: A tale with many heads

So today I spent an hour dealing with the blocker: the plot. Should I go back and use the one I wrote 30,000 words on in 2008? Or should I forge ahead with this new one? I’ve mapped out the first three chapters of the old one in some detail, using the Chapter Plotting template I’ve developed. I will finish the rest over the weekend. The template helps me see clearly what’s afoot in each scene. Truthfully, I can imagine the two versions of the novel dovetailing into one. I will have to put some thought into the transitioning. Even more maddening, I found a very good synopsis of this story for a YA audience. This is what happens when you dwell over an idea for years – many different takes on the same tale. A Gorgon with many heads. Or perhaps, a tale with many heads. That’s it. And it’s eating my lunch, it is.

Chapter Plotting Template

Scrum Your Novel Chapter Plotting (download Word doc)
(work no more than three chapters in advance)

Chapter #



Scene Card


Characters (who is in the scene?):

Setting (where does it happen?):

Setup (what brought us to this point?):

Tone/Atmosphere (props, weather, emotions):


Scene objective external (this should advance the plot):

Scene objective internal (this should develop the character):

Best Practices to “Scrum Your Novel”

Best Practice #1: If you like, decide on a time box in which to frame your goal. For instance, set your goal as finishing a chapter a week. If you write 3 to 5 scenes a week, this can make up a chapter. The rest of the days of your week might be used for backlog items of plot, character profiles and research.

Best Practice #2:  If your backlog item is not writing a scene, then you may want to refer to one of these templates, which I use when narrowing down my research area, or building a character profile. There is also a template to help with plotting. Each one of these can be used to fulfill the completion of a backlog item.

Best Practice #3: After your work is done everyday, write a sentence or two about what you worked on and the state it’s in, what you’re going to work on tomorrow, and if there are any blockers.

Best Practice #4: If there are any blockers, be sure to focus on them immediately, so that you can move them out of the way and get down to the real work of writing a novel.

Best Practice #5: Be vigilant. Try to get your 500 words done daily, even if it’s crap. As you watch your backlog items move from “To Do” to “Done,” you build momentum. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to see this gratifying progress toward your goal. There’s something mystical about the power of the kanban board.

Day 1, Sprint 3: Plotting

Over lunch, I generated some plot ideas and did some research about Brian’s death. I’m still not sure whether I’m going to fictionalize the Stones or manipulate the historical events as I did for Richard III. I’m coming up against a wall and really need to make some decisions on plotting so I can move forward. I did manage to write 796 words of the “First Journalism Class” scene, but it feels like I’m treading water. It seems like previous novels have not been so wobbly at the beginning, but I know that’s not true. I need to just plug on and trust the creative process. Even if some of this material gets cut later on, I need to do this to find the path through the jungle.

Day 7, Sprint 2: Choosing a direction

This is the last day of sprint 2. It being Monday, and Mondays not being good for me, I barely eked out 500 words on the “Return to Maribelle’s” scene, and a good deal of it was rewrite. But I chose a direction, at least, and that’s something, since I really haven’t had much time to think about it. In the next scene will be the start of the time travel event.


Organize Your Tasks

1. Build your backlog. When contemplating an novel, take what’s going on in your head and put it on paper. It doesn’t have to be in any kind of order. If you start with characters, then add “character profile for whatshisname” to your list. If it’s a particular scene, beginning, middle or end of your novel, then summarize it with a phrase and add it to the list. This is called building your backlog.

2. Estimate how much backlog item will take. If it is too large — such as, “Chapter 1,” and doesn’t specifiy what actually goes into “Chapter 1” — then it is too big for a sprint backlog item. You need to start breaking it down by visualizing some scene that are going to go into chapter. 1. Make sure your cards are small enough that they can be completed within one or two sittings. My goal is to complete roughly 500 words per backlog item.

3. Groom your list. After you have about 10 items, then prioritize them. This is called grooming. The priority can be based on what’s most important to you. If getting that scene out of your brain and into a written form before you lose it is crucial, then make that scene the first thing you work on. If developing a character’s quirks, motives and background is most important, then make it No. 1. The idea is to organize these chunks of work by priority, with the goal of visualizing moving from the conceptual stage of the process into reality. Transform story concepts into reality.

4. Set up your kanban board. Use an online tool like Trello, and build your columns, which are meant to hold your stacks of work in various stages of completion. In Trello, these are called “Lists.” My columns are “To Do,” “Writing in progress,” “Research,” “Edit” and “Done.”

5. Make the “cards” that will fill up your lists, based the backlog you created in #1. Put all of these in “To Do” (unless you have some that are already started, then put those in the appropriate list.)

6. As soon as you begin working something in your To Do list, immediately move it into the “Writing in Progress” or “Research” lists. As you get a first draft done of the item, then move it to “Done.” I suggest that your first pass at writing a novel be focused on completing a first draft as quickly as possible. While there is an “Edit” list, I see this as being for very minor cleaning up or building transitions within a nearly finished backlog item. Cards shouldn’t languish in the “Edit” column. Address their issues and move them into “Done” quickly. Then begin working on the next item off the top of the To Do list.

7. I’ve saved the Kanban board for last, but not because it’s the least important. To me, it’s the most important. The kanban board allows me the visualize the progress I’ve made through a graphic representation. This is always niggling in the back of my mind, reminding me of what needs done.

I learned how to use one of these at my day job as a software developer — maybe it’s the specter of my boss spying at our team’s kanban board and making mental notes about each member’s progress. But whatever it is, I’m mindful of what is still in the “To Do” column.

The kanban board gives me a way to monitor how well I’m doing on my novel by breaking each scene, plot point, piece of research and character profiles into “chunks of work” that I call “cards” (based on the idea of the old 5×7 index card system some writers use).

The first official use of kanban can be traced to Taiichi Ohno’s work at Toyota. He needed a way to quickly communicate to all workers how much work was being done, in what state it was, and how the work was being done. – See more at:
The first official use of kanban can be traced to Taiichi Ohno’s work at Toyota. He needed a way to quickly communicate to all workers how much work was being done, in what state it was, and how the work was being done. – See more at:

The Japanese word “kanban” translates roughly as “signboard” or “billboard.”The first use of kanban can be traced to Taiichi Ohno’s development of the Toyota Production System and Lean manufacturing. He developed kanban to quickly communicate to all workers how much work was being done, what state it was in, and how it was being accomplished.

How to Build a Kanban Board

So you’re intrigued. Applying a process that has proven amazingly successful in developing and delivering software to write a novel sounds like something you might like to try.

In that case, you will need to sign up for a free scrum tool online. I’m using Trello, but if you want to try a different solution, there are many available, such as (registration required), (no registration required), (registration required), and (registration required). I haven’t explored any of these, but I suspect they are similar to the one I’m using.

The essential ingredient in all these tools is the ability to manage your tasks on a kanban board (read about it here:

What you see after registering on Trello
What you see after registering on Trello

Trello provides an easy-to-use kanban. And no, I’m not taking payola to promote it. It was recommended by a Learning Tree instructor, who personally uses Trello for home improvement projects.

That’s the thing about scrum. It can be applied to anything.

So feel free to use any solution that provides a kanban board. You can even make one using yellow stickies on a whiteboard. Just know my guidance on this blog will be based on how Trello does things.

The first thing you want to do is to archive all the extraneous “lists” that Trello comes with by default. These are “how-tos” and “tips,” but I didn’t read any of them.

I jumped right in by creating a board for my novel-in-progress.

First, create lists (think of them as columns).
First, create lists (think of them as columns).

On a kanban, there are columns representing each “state” in your work process. Each column is meant to hold a list of tasks.

I created “lists” on Trello that represent these states of work: To Do, Writing in Progress, Research, Editing and Done.

All tasks should start out in the “To Do” column. As you get to the point you are actually working on it, drag it over to the “Writing In Progress” column. If it’s a research task, move it from “To Do” to “Research.” When you’re done researching, move it to “Done.”

This is both a way to keep tasks in order, put them into the “To Do” column as they occur to you, designate the current state they’re in, and get gratification for the work you’ve done.

Add your cards to "To Do" and move them to the right as your work progresses.
Add your cards to “To Do” and move them to the right as your work progresses.

As you get research tasks done, and scenes written, you can see you are making progress toward finishing your novel.

Yes, it’s a little bit of administrative overhead. At the same time, it organizes your thoughts and sets your priorities.

When developing software, you want to work on those functions that the customer needs first and feels is the most important.

When writing a novel, even if you write it in a chronological linear order, it is a way to organize additional tasks such as a description of something you need to research and how it applies to your plot, documenting plot points and devices, the development of a character with his or her details, and what is the status of your chapters, such as rewriting.

This is also excellent for those writers who don’t write their book in order. Diana Gabaldon writes scenes out of order, much as a movie is filmed, and then puts them back together into a plotline, if you will, later on.

So now that you’ve got the gist, I’m going to start my novel. My plan is to finish this novel using the scrum method to prioritize and organize my work. Through blog entries, I will inform you how I’m progressing.

Remember, this is all theory on my part. I want to learn if scrum is a useful method of writing a novel, and I’m bringing you along on the journey. Check out “My Daily Standups” to see how my novel is progressing.

Day 6, Sprint 2: Habit builds momentum

I’ve written over a thousand words today. This building of habit, of forcing myself to write 500 words daily, is driving the momentum. With my Kanban board always in the back of my mind, nagging me, I haven’t yet missed a day. Now my story is becoming more important to me. The plot is thickening and I want to write more. But sticking to the continuous work flow idea, I’m going to stop now and let it bubble in the pot until tomorrow. There’s some decisions I have to make based on what I’ve written today, and I’ll leave it to my subconscious to work it out.