- By Meg Opperman
- January 11, 2016
For procrastinators, a strategic plan and writer’s journal keep the word count moving.
Ah, January. A new year. All that untapped potential. A blank slate.
Er, well, sort of. Actually, I’m trying to finish the last chapters of a novel that I swore to myself I’d finish before New Year’s Day. Darn blood oath didn’t work. Of course, that was before I got distracted and decided I really need, need, NEEDED to write a quick short story for an anthology.
If I’d consulted my strategic plan first, I would have known that adding the short story to my calendar meant I wouldn’t have enough hours in the day to finish the novel. Not with a full schedule and the kids home for winter break. Sigh.
Strategic plan? Yeah, I use one. With such a capricious and profligate muse, it’s essential. When I don’t have a plan, I waste too much time thinking, “labda kesho.” That’s one of my favorite Swahili phrases. It means “perhaps tomorrow.” It warms the cold, procrastinating cockles of my heart every time I utter it. It does not, however, help with my word count.
So, every December, I spend the time painstakingly writing a strategic plan for the following year. On the first page (yes, there are multiple pages), I lay out my writing goal(s) for the year. Is it to publish a novel? Ten novels? A short story or 50? Is it to learn more about publishing or self-promotion?
I often have more than one goal, and that’s okay. I write them down, then I pare them back. If I think I’m going to write 30 short stories, I know that’s just my optimism at the new year getting the best of me. I’ll pare it down to, say, 10. Or five, if I’m expecting to write a novel, too. Once I actually lay out my writing schedule, that number may change again. Under each goal, I list the items I want to complete, then under that I list the activities I need to complete each item.
After I’ve written down all my goals, items, and activities, I use a table that has all 12 months listed and fill in the months with the different projects, including all the Write Side Up columns I plan to write this year.
If I think it will take me a month to finish a project, I almost always give myself at least a month and a half, if not two. I’ve learned that I’m a little over-ambitious and have to account for that in my schedule or I’ll overwhelm myself with too many obligations. I also add into the table times my kids are off from school, conferences I’ll be attending, vacations, and anything else that I think will impact my writing time.
All of that helps keep me focused on my writing goals and moving toward them. I don’t always reach every goal (as noted above with my novel), but I’m a lot closer to finishing them than I would be if I didn’t have a plan.
And the writer’s journal? I keep one. This is new to me. I took Hank Phillippi Ryan’s advice to give it a try. I mean, if it works for a ridiculously successful, award-winning, smarty-pants author — uh, 33 Emmys and counting, and don’t even get me started on all the mystery awards this author has won — maybe, just maybe, it could help me, too.
Never one to graciously accept a nugget of wisdom, I grumbled. I groaned. I might have even moaned pitifully. I hate journaling. I do. I’ve never been any good at it. I sound like a love-struck tween with a bad case of social anxiety when I try to discuss my feelings on paper.
But journaling about writing turned out to be an entirely different experience. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not poetry. Not even especially nice prose. But it does show me that there are patterns to my writing projects — points of elation, despair, and everything in between — that I’m learning to predict. Each time I’m at a low point in one of my projects, I can skim back through to an earlier section where I felt the same way. Aha! I got through it once, I can do it again.
Keeping a journal also motivates me to write because I really despise having to put, “No writing” on a day. That’s me. You may not care. But I will say that it’s really helped with my labda kesho attitude. I like adding the word count from the day before at the beginning of each entry, and I like seeing that I’m moving toward a goal. When I edit, I feel great saying that I did X number of pages that day.
Each morning I pour out my plans for the day as well as any positive or negative feelings I have about the work in progress. Just saying that I’m experiencing angst about a particular piece and why, helps me set that angst aside and keep moving forward. If I hate one of my characters, or think the pacing is off, I put it in my journal.
So, I’m off to journal about completing this article, and to mark it off my strategic plan. Of course, first I might have to eat something, call a friend, pick up the kids…oh, well, perhaps tomorrow…