In addition to beginning a new year, I've begun a new chapter in my journey as a writer. I'm a published novelist now. I have a book to market and sell. I have readers asking for the sequel. I have a plethora of other, independent writing projects waiting to be completed.
All of that is good stuff.
None of that is going to get done without a plan.
So for the last couple of weeks, I've been doing a lot of thinking (and praying!) about how and what to plan for my writing in 2015, and I thought that sharing some of what I've been discovering and/or pondering might be helpful or encouraging to you all as well.
As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. And I know, I know, we artsy writer types aren't too fond of planning, preferring instead to "let the spirit move," "wait for inspiration to strike," or find some other excuse of the like to use. Because yes, those are excuses.
Now, before you get all up in arms and start insisting that a writer can't possibly write without inspiration, let me explain what I mean.
In the first place, don't worry, I'm a writer too and I know perfectly well that it is truly impossible to write without inspiration. That is a fact.
But the idea that somehow sitting around and waiting long enough will lure inspiration to us, to pounce on us from behind, is a myth. Sometimes we have to go out and hunt inspiration down. It's completely doable. It's fun. And more importantly, it works--especially when you have a plan.
1. The first thing you have to do is set a clear, simple goal. The "clear and simple" part is key.
"To figure out and coordinate the long-term, overall theme of my writing as seen collectively through the individual themes of my unique projects and use that connecting theme to discover, develop, and market my personal brand as an author" is NOT a simple or clear goal. Try to break that down into a doable step-by-step process that includes goal dates. Not happenin'.
On the other hand,
"Finish the first draft of my novel" and "Write new short stories" are clear, simple goals, goals that are doable and step-by-step break-downable.
2. Know why your goals are important.
"Publisher X is accepting query letters through _____ date, but they require that the writer have a completed manuscript when they submit."
"Publishing new, high-quality short stories frequently will help keep my name and writing fresh in the minds of readers who may one day want to buy my novel."
"Writing new material while editing a large project will help keep my creativity active."
"Practice makes perfect."
"I need to finish what I start and see my writing projects through to the end."
These are all good, clear, concise reasons, and there are plenty more. Figure out what yours are.
3. Be specific with your goals.
"Finish the first draft of my novel by the end of June."
"Write twelve short stories this year."
"Write (that story, the one you have the idea for but haven't done anything with) by _____ date."
Those are specific, and setting a date can be a great way to keep yourself from getting lazy and indifferent.
4. Be reasonable, and know your own limitations.
Remember a few months ago when I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo while going through the final stages of publishing Song of the Wren-Falcon? That was NOT a reasonable goal.
Attempting to finish editing the second draft of one novel while writing the first draft of another while submitting a short story a week to magazines and anthologies while holding down a day job is not a reasonable goal (unless you're SuperWriter, in which case please email me about writing some guest posts for The Writer's Lair in your spare time).
Don't try to be SuperWriter, but at the same time, don't be too easy on yourself. A goal that is too easy to meet, or a deadline that is too far away can make it very tempting to get lazy and start down the slippery slope of procrastination.
5. Don't freak when life happens.
A loved one ends up in the hospital for an extended period of time.
One of your family members comes home with (insert contagious ailment) and unleashes an epidemic on your household.
(Insert natural disaster of choice.)
You discover that you aren't actually SuperWriter after all, and you've set an unreasonable goal for yourself.
The septic tank backs up into your basement.
It's life. It happens. No one reasonable is going to fault you if it takes you away from writing for a while. It doesn't make you any less dedicated, or any less a writer. It just means that you're a human and you have your priorities straight.
6. Follow through.
Plan some kind of reward for yourself when you achieve your goal. It doesn't have to be huge or outlandish; it can be as simple as taking a day trip with your family to someplace fun, spending an entire day reading in your pajamas, or treating yourself to frozen custard. Just make it something you enjoy and can look forward to.
Get an accountability partner. Another writer is preferable since you can return the favor by keeping them accountable and encouraging them to achieve their own goals, but really it can be anyone. Your mom, your best friend, your spouse, anyone. Ask them to ask you periodically whether you've been spending time working on your goals, whether you're focusing on the projects you should be focusing on.
7. Don't forget that writing is fun.
Seriously, I can't stress how important this is. I love every aspect of writing--seriously, every single aspect of it. It's what I do for fun; it's how I unwind; it's how I have adventures; it's how I express the truths that matter to me. But if I'm not careful, I can get so bogged down in goals that writing loses its enjoyability. Remember why you like writing. Treat yourself to writing something fun. Pick a random writing prompt off of Pinterest and go with it for an afternoon. Throw your favorite character into some ridiculous situation and help them figure their way out of it.
Remind yourself that you're doing this because you love it.
What are your writing goals this year? What is your plan for achieving them? What aspects of organizing your writing do you struggle with?
Any advice or tips you've learned that you want to share?
Also, be sure to stick around for my next post on how to actually go about hunting down inspiration when it seems a bit elusive!