The holidays are a nutty time of year. For me, there’s just too much going on with coordinating gatherings on both sides of the family, buying gifts for a growing list, and attending yet another special celebration at my children’s school. As much as I love the festivity of December, the external demands overwhelm me and sometimes I want to go find a cave and hibernate.
Instead, this year, I retreated inside my head to work on a writing plan for myself . I wanted to take a bird’s-eye view of my writing to assess where I am, and then create a path towards my goals. With a limited amount of writing time, I need to be very intentional about how I use it.
Below, I’ll share the approach I took to writing my plan. This is a simple, working document, influenced by my background in strategic planning and more recent experience in curriculum development. The plan includes four sections:
- Action steps.
Three tips before you start…
- As you create your plan, remember that it is a working Maybe you’ll show it to a friend or to your writing group for feedback or accountability. But your plan is mainly a functional object. Hold wordsmithing until the end, or skip it entirely.
- Be honest with yourself about what is realistic. Most writers have additional responsibilities. At the same time, allow yourself to dream and think big, especially in the early drafts.
- Think about how you’ll get things done in addition to what you want done.
An Assessment of Today
A good plan starts with an assessment of where you are now. How do you feel about your writing? What have you accomplished this year?
Here are some additional questions to consider. Answer the ones that resonate with you. Your responses could be on craft, writing process, or the business of writing.
- What areas are you confident in?
- What areas are you less confident in?
- What are your strengths?
- What could you improve?
- What is your writing process?
- How is your writing process going for you?
Also think more deeply about your accomplishments – the things you did in 2017 (or to this point, if you prefer). Here are some examples:
- Reading: books read, both books you read in your genre and in other genres
- Writing: words, pages, or manuscripts written
- Submissions: queries sent, manuscript requests, agent landed, acceptances
- Writing groups: did you participate in a group, critiques given
- Community: did you engage with the literary community and how
- Business of writing: actions to further you as a professional writer
- Marketing: actions taken to market your published work
- Personal development: courses, agent/editor critiques, self-study
Did you surprise yourself after putting this information together?
Put that assessment of today to the side for a moment. This next section is about looking forward to where you want to be. You’ll look at this at a high level first, and then break it down further to your commitments for 2018.
Here is a choice of two prompts to get started. Write your response in paragraph or bullet form.
- Envision yourself as the writer you want to be. How do you feel, what are you working on, and, possibly, what have you accomplished?
- What are your goals? Note: these can be writing craft or process goals, or goals associated with getting your work out into the world.
Don’t worry about whether your goals or vision are “good” or done correctly; just get your thoughts down. For example, on my list, I included having more creative energy, building my poetry skills, and getting a children’s book published.
This section is a summary of what you will commit to do in 2018. I’ll keep it on my desk as a high-level reference.
If you’re a visual person, try this: put “current you” on the left side of a piece of paper. Then put “future you” on the right side. In the middle, brainstorm actions that bring you towards your goal. Bulleted lists or mind maps work well, too.
Focus on the process you’ll use, rather than the outcomes. These are things that you can do to achieve your goals. Another way to put this: ask yourself “how?” and “what do I need to do?” For more on setting process goals, check out James Clear’s article, Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.
Here are some examples.
- If you are a novelist, consider committing to a writing schedule that will enable you to produce the volume of words needed for a book, instead of putting “write a novel” on your list.
- If your goal is to get your short stories published, you could commit to sending a number of submissions, researching markets for your work, or taking a class to improve your craft.
- To have more creative energy, you could commit to a weekly writing time, an earlier bedtime, yoga or other exercise, or coaching.
- To get a book published, you could commit to a queries goal, a weekly writing time, or seeking professional feedback.
- Whatever you write, consider committing to reading in your genre. You’ll improve your craft, educate yourself on the market, and re-energize.
This was a highly iterative process for me. As you can see in the examples, there are many ways to pursue a goal. Your choices will depend on where you are as a writer today. And we can’t and shouldn’t try to do everything. After thinking through the time it would take to achieve my commitments in the action plan section (detailed below), I had to dial back. After all, this is a working plan, and I want to be able to execute on it.
This is where you get specific with how you’ll achieve your commitments. Here are some questions to consider. Write out responses to the ones you need to answer for yourself.
- How much time can you commit? Be honest about your time, whether that’s cutting down on your social media use to find time, or scaling back your plan.
- How much money can you spend? Do you have a budget for your writing?
- When will you work through your plan? Consider blocking time on your calendar, picking a consistent time, or building in deadlines.
- Where will you work on your plan? Do you have a designated space for your writing? Might you plan a retreat or writer’s vacation?
- What tools and resources do you need? Do you need a new notebook and pen? Books or classes? A desk? Decide what’s necessary and budget for it.
- Who will you work with on your plan? Could a critique group or accountability group help you? A writing coach?
Your action plan will be specific to your commitments, which were shaped by your goals. For a person who is working to establish a writing routine, it could be as simple as this:
I will get up early on Tuesday mornings (when) to write for one hour (how much) at the local coffee shop (where). That day, my husband (who) will prepare the kids for school and drop them off. I’ll tell my sister (who) that I’m doing this and ask her to check in with me when we chat.
I’m working on improving elements of storytelling and on strengthening mindset, so my action plan includes a simple curriculum of books and articles. I researched books (what), pulled articles, and organized them by quarter. I had a sad face moment when I realized I could only reasonably cover seven books next year. I’ve put the others on a side list in case I get ahead. My calendar is marked for January “study time” and writing time (when). And I’ll share my progress with my Wordies in my accountability group (who).
After completing your action plan, review your commitments and make any adjustments. I went back and forth between these two sections several times.
Take this process to the level of detail you’re comfortable with. Your plan should chart your course and push you off the dock, but allow for some flexibility and surprise. Remember, this plan is primarily for your eyes and is meant to be a working plan, not a writing exercise. Mine landed at about 2 single-spaced pages.
Put your plan in easy reach of your writing area and review your progress periodically. You can and should tweak it as needed. To remind myself of that fact, I’m saving my plan as a draft, and will title any changes as new versions.
Happy planning! Let me know how it goes for you in the comments below.
Cheers to a productive, intentional 2018 for your writing!
Jessica Murray is a poet and children's writer. Her poetry collection Singing Without Melody is forthcoming from Galileo Press in spring 2022, and her poems are featured in journals such as AGNI Online, Barrow Street, The Cortland Review, Free State Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, and Memorious. A member of Inked Voices and SCBWI, by day she works in higher education, non-profit, and educational media production spaces.