Naheed Hasnat, who also writes under the name N.H. Senzai, is an award-winning children’s book author (Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner) who also happens to be high-level Silicon Valley management consultant. I’ve been wowed not only by Naheed’s writing but also by her professional and life organizational skills. So today, we’re going to pick Naheed’s brain about organization.
Naheed, you wear a couple of professional hats. You do management consultant for Fortune 500 Companies and you a very busy and acclaimed children’s book author. In fact, we’ve had you’re here at the Mixed up Files in 2012 to speak about your celebrated novel Shooting Kabul (written under the name N.H. Senzai). What I want to know is how to do you do it all? So my first question is with your very busy job and family life responsibilities, how do you find time to write? For example, do you write consistently a little bit several days a week or do you squirrel away time on weekends?
Working, parenting, doing housework and writing can be a juggling act for sure! I try to stick to a pretty regimented schedule during the week, which is guided in part by the needs of our family. My son is in bed by 7:30, so after that I’m free to write. When I’m under contract to finish a book, I’m pretty regimented and write every day. It helps that my husband writes extensively for his work so we negotiate “writing time!” on the weekends. When I’m brainstorming a new book, things are a bit more relaxed. I will also confess that the housework sometimes does tend to slide…but oh well.
As a management consultant, you help companies prioritize goals and help them run more efficiently. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see folks making in terms of efficiency? As in those of us who feel as if we’re spinning our wheels, putting in a lot of effort for not enough result?
I cannot emphasize enough the need to plan and organize before you start a project, and that includes writing. Having a business background I first assess a book idea by asking a few basic questions – where does this book idea fit into the market? Are there other books like it? Did they sell? I will also run the idea by my agent, because if he doesn’t think he can sell it, then I may need to rethink the concept. Once I have an idea and I know there is a place for it in the market then I begin the process of starting the project of writing.
In terms of project management, are there some best practices for starting your workday?
Initiate. Plan. Execute. Close. That’s project management in a nutshell and it applies to writing. You initiate your book by first verifying it has a place in the market (questions above) then you need to plan out how you will write it, which involves setting up the tools you will use (Microsoft word, excel, a chalkboard, software tools like scrivener… whatever gets the job done). Then you execute your plan – I make a schedule on writing and use excel quite a lot (more on this in the following question) Then you write a brilliant book and close.
What are some tips, for writers who are also balancing lots on their plate to make the most of their writing time?
First, you need to make writing a priority and schedule it into your day. Second, as I mentioned, you need to be organized. When you are about to finish writing for the day, make some notes on what you will be tackling in the next writing session – developing plot lines, fleshing out characters or doing research that is needed for the story.
You write novels with multi-strands, often involving research. How do you keep track of all of your research?
First I create a folder on my computer for each manuscript. Within that I have sub folders on research I’m collecting, labeled by topic. Within the folders I keep word documents where I cut and paste information I’ve collected, pdfs I’ve found, pictures, website links, youtube videos etc. Second, I maintain an excel sheet with multiple tabs for different elements of the story – time-lines, characters bios, plot lines, settings etc. I keep notes on what I should be including plus a catalog of my research in the sub folders.
How do you keep track of all your plot strands?
Within my excel spreadsheet I have a tab for plotting. I keep a table on all my plot strands and the elements/characters/settings that are linked to it.
How do you manage all the paper that writer’s accumulate? Do you file it? Toss it? Have some system for inputting what you need?
I don’t have anything on paper. All my research is on my computer (back up drive and dropbox). I may clip newspaper articles, buy books for research, but it’s minimal.
What’s up next for you as a author? (hint: can you speak a little bit about the highly anticipated Partition Junction?)
I am revising Partition Junction, which is due back to my editor soon! It’s a middle-grade adventure where 12-year-old Maya uncovers a family mystery that takes her on an adventure through Pakistan and India. I’m pretty excited about it, and it’s been a personal adventure where I’ve stretched myself quite a bit to write it.
Any parting words of advice?
You have to treat writing like a job – a job that brings tremendous joy and personal satisfaction – that’s why we do it! But as with any job, you need to be accountable to yourself to get it done.
Thanks for being here today, Naheed!
Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.