Heart Breathings

How To Plan Your Writing Schedule And Hit Your Deadlines

June 21, 2018 by Sarra Cannon

Planning And Organization | Writing Tips

As a hopeless procrastinator who knew it was time to start hitting my deadlines, I have found a system for how to plan my writing and production schedule for each novel. It’s a simple system, but sometimes just laying out the dates and planning ahead can make all the difference.

Watch today’s video on how I’m using a Writing Plan page I designed to help me hit my writing deadlines and plan my writing schedule. At the bottom of this post, subscribe to my newsletter and receive a bonus free download of this Writing Plan page to print and use for yourself!

My basic system for planning my writing schedule for a book is:

  1. Set a word count goal. (Example: (90,000 words)
  2. Set a “words per day” goal. Now, this is just an average, really. Each writer is different, so while some of you may have a daily target that’s the same, others may have different goals for different days of the week. Either way, I find it helpful to set an average daily target. This helps me determine how long it will take to write my rough draft. (Ex. 4,000 words per day)
  3. Once my “words per day” goal is decided, I divide my total estimated word count by that words per day goal. (Ex. 90,000 divided by 4,000 = roughly 23 days of writing needed to finish my rough draft.)
  4. I take a calendar (usually just a blank monthly calendar printed from google calendars) and mark off any days I know I won’t be able to write at all.
  5. Once those non-writing days are marked off, I start filling out my calendar with my expected schedule.

Note: How long something will take for you is totally unique to your writing style and comfort-level. This example is not to ask you to copy what I’m doing or compare yourself to my schedule! Feel free to adjust the dates and times to fit your own writing.

If you are new to writing, you may not know how long it will take you to plot your work. Or you may be a pantser who doesn’t need to do much plotting or outlining at all. That’s okay! To make this system work for you might take a bit of trial and error. Simply estimate how long you believe each task will take!


After my non-writing days are marked off and my average words per day goal has been calculated, I assign a “Starting Date” to my novel and mark it on the calendar.

Next, I calculate how long I expect plotting and outlining work to take. In some cases (especially with a brand new world or characters), it can take me a month or longer just for this step.

The more you write, the more you will begin to have a good idea of how long each step in the process takes for you as an individual. One of the advantages to using a sheet like this is that over time, you will have a great record of how long each book took to write and how long each step in the production process took, as well.

Rough Draft

Once I’ve marked off my plotting and outlining days, I begin numbering the days it will take to write my rough draft. This is where you will use the calculation above for how many days of actual writing it will take to finish your novel.

So, for example, if you are writing a 60,000 word book and your goal is to write 1,000 words a day on average, it will take you 60 writing days to finish your novel. If you’ve marked off any days in between as “non-writing” days, you simply skip over them as you number. For example, if Monday is day number 12 of writing, but you’re taking Tuesday off for a special event at your son’s school, you would skip over Tuesday and assign writing number 13 to Wednesday.

In my example, I estimated it would take 23 days of writing to finish my rough draft. Since day number 23 landed on a Friday, I gave myself the bonus two weekend days as extra padding and marked my rough draft deadline on my calendar printout.



This is another area where your own experience level will come into play. If you’ve never written a novel before, you may have no idea how long edits will take. If you are a beginning writer, I would recommend you estimate that edits will take at least as long as writing your rough draft.

So, if the rough draft took 60 days, give yourself another 60 for edits. If it doesn’t take that long, then yay! You’ll be ahead!

Once you’ve decided how long to give yourself for edits, mark your self-edits deadline on your calendar.

Beta Readers and Paid Edits

The next thing in my process is to send my manuscript off to beta readers. Beta readers give me feedback on the storyline, the characters, and anything that doesn’t seem to flow well in my writing.

When I get my betas’ comments back, I make changes and go through another self-editing pass before I send the manuscript off to my paid editor.

This may be another spot where you have to estimate if you are a new writer! You may not have beta readers yet, but you might have a good friend or family member who is willing to read through your book and provide feedback. I would say to plan to give them a minimum of two weeks to read your book.

As for a professional editor, it’s good to keep in mind that many editors these days are booked months in advance and can take up to six weeks to get your manuscript back to you. If you know you are planning to self-publish the book you are working on, you might consider reaching out to an editor early to see when they have an opening in their schedule, what their turnaround time is, and what types of edits they perform.

If you want more information on the different types of editors and how to find an editor for your indie book, comment below and let me know so I can plan a post on this topic!

Final Edits and Read-Through

At this point, once I receive the edits back from my professional editor, I am on the tail-end of the production process. Woohoo! It will typically take me a couple of days to make the suggested changes from my editor.

I also take the time to read back through the book a couple more times. The first pass, I usually read it silently to myself, making any changes or fixes as I read. The second final pass is usually with a program called Natural Reader.

Natural Reader is a free text to speech software that will actually read your book to you aloud. This takes hours, but it’s also a really good way to hear awkward phrasing and mistakes in your work. I highly recommend it!

Formatting and ARCs

All that’s left at this point is to format my novel. (I use Vellum for my formatting, and it’s magical.) Once formatted, I always upload it to both my Kindle and my Google Play Books app in order to check the formatting and make sure everything looks good.

Next, I send out free review copies to my ARC team. ARC stands for “Advanced Reader Copy”. I would also gladly explain more about this in another post. Just let me know down below in the comments!

On my writing plan, I like to note the target date for formatting, as well as my target date for sending out ARCs.

If you are planning to do a pre-order for your book, you will also want to make note of which day you plan to upload your book.

Release Date

Yay!! And now we’ve made it to the end of the process–publishing the book!

Once you’ve estimated how long the entire process will take, you can easily look at your calendar to decide on a best-case-scenario target release date.

Right now, I am always playing it pretty close, planning my release date just a week or two after getting my final edits back from the editor. If you can allow more time in your schedule than this, I highly recommend doing that instead of following my example.

I am attempting to write and publish more books than I ever have in a year, so I’ve been cutting down on the production time and releasing the books as soon as they are finished. Next year, I hope to be able to get ahead and slow way down! Goals, right?

Your Writing Plan

Now that your schedule and plan for your novel has been mapped out on your calendar, it’s time to transfer those dates into your “Writing Plan” planner page. You can download the free one below or simply create your own!

I find that having this one page with all my target dates is vital to keeping my schedule! If I don’t have a set target and feel some kind of pressure to get to work, I tend to procrastinate forever and put off my writing.

Having the dates right there in front of me helps to keep me motivated and productive.

Be Flexible

As a final note, however, I do encourage you to stay flexible. Life happens and things don’t always go as planned. Heck, even stories don’t always cooperate and simply need more time.

Use your writing plan as a guideline, not an order. If you have to push something back a week or two, simply adjust your dates or print another sheet with new targets.

Writing is a business, but it’s also a creative outlet and an artform. While it’s great to stay on schedule and hit your deadlines, it’s even more important to produce great work that fulfills you.

I hope this has given you some ideas of how to plan your own writing schedule. At the bottom of the writing plan page, you’ll see that I’ve also included a “review” section where you can take notes about how the writing of this book went, what you might change in the future, and any notes you may have about the process.

Over time, I hope this sheet with be a great reference for you to see how far you’ve come, help you plan your writing schedule more accurately, and to help keep you motivated.

How do you normally plan your writing schedule? Or are you a procrastinator like me? Do you think this method of scheduling will help you stay on track? Let me know in the comments!

Create A Writing Plan That Helps You Hit Your Deadlines!

Subscribe now to download this Writing Plan and Scheduling page. Set deadlines and track your progress as you write your novel!

If you're anything like me, you constantly feel behind and yet, you continue to procrastinate! Looking ahead, setting goal dates, and keeping track of your schedule as you write is one way to stay motivated and on target.

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Sarra Cannon


  1. Lisa says:

    Loving your blog and YouTube! Thanks so much Sarra for sharing your processes with us. You’re really helping me figure out how to start the right way!

    1. Sarra Cannon says:

      Thanks so much Lisa. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!

  2. Carol Paxman says:

    Thank you for this writing plan. I am always so overwhelmed and scattered, I’m sure this will help immensely!

  3. vela says:

    Epic procrastinator/forgetter, but this type of schedule looks both flexible and structured enough to help keep somebody like me on track! Love this post!

  4. Traci Freed says:

    Thanks for sharing your writing schedule process with other authors. I agree that setting a word count goal, scheduling time to write and building deadlines are key parts in the process to keep authors motivated and on track. I came across an article this week that reinforces many of your suggestions for creating a writing plan. It may be a useful read for other authors currently going through this process: https://scribewriting.com/4-step-book-writing-plan/

  5. AF Rigsbee says:

    I loved this post. I just came across this and it couldn’t have been at a better time! Totally subscribing! Thank you for sharing your writing schedule. This will be so helpful in planning. It’s great to see how a published author plans out her books. I am trying to write my first novel and sometimes feel like I’m floundering around trying to figure out what I’m doing and the best way to proceed. Thank you for shining a light into the darkness that is a first time writer’s journey. I’m always looking for advice to make myself a better, faster writer.

  6. Keely says:

    I know you originally posted this almost a year ago, but I only just discovered this post now and it was so helpful! I especially loved the tips about Natural Reader and Vellum! I would really appreciate it if in the future you posted more info about the different types of editors/how to find an editor for your indie book as well as how the whole ARC process works. It can all seem rather daunting to a newbie such as myself!

  7. Jack Juliet says:

    This post was incredibly helpful! Thank you for sharing all of this in such detail! I would love a video or post on Editing/Editors as well as ARC teams and copies! You have inspired and guided me so much!

  8. Trish says:

    Great post, thank you! At one point in this process do you start the next book? TIA!

    1. Sarra Cannon says:

      I start my next book after my current book is published. I might start plotting while I’m formatting or waiting for final edits, but I usually end up taking a short break, publishing the book, and then starting the next one.

      1. Tricia Geib says:

        Great, thanks!

  9. Kristy says:

    Hi Sarra! I’ve recently found your Youtube channel and absolutely love it. I’ve been watching your videos, but I’m confused on one point. Most of your downloads come with signing up for your newsletter, which I’ve already done for something else I downloaded. I’d really like to have this planning page, so how do I access it without signing up again? Thank you for sharing your processes and all these great planning tools you’ve created!

    1. Sarra Cannon says:

      Hey Kristy! I sent you a link in your email with access to my full HB Resource Library that has all of the downloads in it. If you haven’t seen it, I can send it to you again if you just email me first to remind me! THanks!

  10. Michelle Bueno says:

    Hi Sarra! I’d love to get this Writing Plan download. I’ve signed up for the newsletter and received the Plot Your Novel download. I tied to get this one, but I haven’t received it. Thank you for sharing your process. I am hoping to sign up for your course today.

    1. Sarra Cannon says:

      Hi Michelle! You can actually only get one optin download by signing up for the newsletter, but all of my free downloads are available in my HB Resource Library. You should have received and email with a link to the HB Resource Library when you first signed up, so if you don’t see that, can you please email me at sarra@ to get it? You’ll find all of the freebies over there! Thanks!

  11. Heather says:

    Hi Sarra, I just love your style. Finding your material and following your suggestions has freed me from a lifetime of beating myself up for not being good enough. It’s as if you’ve unlocked my brain, so that I am writing again. And I’m enjoying it! I’m reading your Demon series, and I’m really impressed. Truthfully, I wouldn’t normally gravitate to the topic, but it’s so well written it’s irresitible. Many, many thanks for your videos and downloads and books. You’re a shining star, and I want you to know that your guiding light is a beacon of hope in what can sometimes be a very dark place. All the best to you and yours.

    1. Sarra Cannon says:

      This is such a sweet comment! I’m excited you are loving the books, and I’m also excited that the videos are helping you get back to writing and trusting yourself again. Keep going!

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Sarra Cannon

Hi, I'm Sarra!

I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.


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