It’s January, dear reader, so of course, my thoughts turn to new beginnings, goals, and achievables; not for my fitness regime or healthy eating plan (recovering after a brief but brutal holiday tussle) but for my writing.
If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll know that 2016 wasn’t the most conducive year for my creative endeavours, but I’ve put that behind me; I want to achieve more this year, but I had a multiple choice of things I wanted to work on, both writing itself and tangential topics such as social media, this blog, etc.
In my day job (yep, I’m not actually a money-earning writer just yet), I’m a programme manager: I deal daily with forecasts, plans, deliverables, milestones and critical paths. For some reason, I haven’t properly applied this experience and knowledge to my writing, thinking maybe that my creative muse would frown on such quotidian tools to stimulate her.
But if I’m not writing simply for the pure creative pleasure of putting stories on a page, but with a goal of completing first drafts, editing them, and one day in the not-too-distant future looking forward to seeing them published, I need a plan, just as much as those projects do at work; arguably more so, because I don’t have the luxury of the systems, tools, and resources (people!) I have access to in my day job, to get the work done. This is all on me. I can use a bad personal year as an excuse for not feeling like writing, but I can’t claim to not have the tools to plan the best use of my time, to prioritise my tasks and to break down my target into less daunting, more manageable chunks or milestones.
The good news is that I do like a spreadsheet, for example, this early post on tracking wordcount and I’m comfortable using most MS Office or equivalent packages. So the intent is there, and I have the tools to map my goals and targets; great! Now what?
What was going on with me was conflating some issues around my writing; the will to create a novel was something apart from my day job, in fact, it felt like its antithesis. I didn’t want to wear my project planning hat for my beautiful fiction writing; I trusted to my creativity to write. And it’s there, true enough, but so is real life and all the delays and distractions it brings. That’s why we have an annual plan at work, with prioritised projects, and a monthly tracker for how we are doing for each deliverable against our forecast, which is a dynamic thing and often needs to change.
This is just the same with my writing, which is seen by many as a tolerable eccentricity or hobby (maybe even by me, too?), so it loses out quite often in the daily press of stuff-that-needs-to-get-done. I needed some suggestions and guidance; cue a very timely webinar I listened to at the weekend from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna is an author who is also very active blogging articles, video, and webinars about writing and creativity, publishing options and book marketing.
If you haven’t already checked it out, I urge you to have a read of the Creative Penn site, as it’s a real treasure trove of ideas, suggestions, and content to boost your writing time with tangible suggestions. For example, I got the idea to create Pinterest boards for my works in progress from Joanna; it’s a great idea and not only to publicise your writing; it aids me in visualising locations, themes and period details for my works.
The webinar I listened to was Plan To Achieve Your Creative Goals in 2017 and although honestly none of the ideas were new to me, Joanna’s simple writing goals plan really inspired me to sit down and come up with the following:
A spreadsheet for each novel-in-progress where I calculate how many words I have to write weekly to hit my first draft target date; breaking it down made it seem much more achievable and structured, and I now have a (really simple!) weekly schedule, as suggested by Joanna.
The Spreadsheet Plan, Schedule, and Tracker
Screenshots of my writing schedule for The Bondage of The Soil below. Because I enjoy using spreadsheets, all I have to manually update on this file is the number of words I’ve written in the “weekly summary” tab; this then updates the “Calculations to complete first draft” tab, thus easily giving me a simple and powerful means of visually tracking my progress, and measuring if my word count is bringing the target first draft date closer or further away.
I’ve set two of these files up, one for each of my works in progress that will be my big-rock projects this year. Which leads me onto…
The Writing Contract: Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand for 2017
I’m sure many of us are already aware of the Big rock, pebbles and sand analogy, that makes an important point about stuff like time management, planning, not getting overwhelmed and prioritising the big stuff (big rocks) from the medium and smaller priorities (pebbles and sand).
Joanna Penn used this analogy in the above webinar, proposing that we need a jar for our creative endeavours for the year; the big rocks being the one or two Priority One projects that you really want to progress or complete; the medium pebbles being other bits you plan to do that aren’t as important, while the sand is the smaller stuff that can wait, and should be done if there’s any time left over. When I was looking for some pictures online I found one that added another layer; water, meaning those things that just don’t matter, as they will flow into, then out of your jar of priorities. I liked these ideas and sat down to create what I call my 2017 writing contract. The picture at the top of this post is a screenshot of the first page; I created this contract as a presentation so I can print it off and always have a copy to hand. It also makes the whole thing seem more professional!
The last element for me was visualising and writing down the critical path to achieving these big rocks (you can do the same for your pebbles and sand but I want to concentrate on my big goals) -for me the critical path is very simple; to complete a first draft of one of my novels by the end of August this year I have to write so many words a week; if you scroll back up a bit you’ll see that visualised in my writing tracker and schedule, and if I stay on target that’s not a big number!
This great exercise only took me a few hours, yet it brought renewed and clarified focus to my writing goals for 2017, and the concrete things I have to do (and refrain from doing) to achieve them. Bringing some structure to the goals helps me visualise them, and provides a powerful tool to measure my progress and keep me on track.
If you think that either of these tools would help you define and plan for your writing goals, please feel free to get in touch and I’ll be happy to send you a copy; my 2017 writing inspirational gift to you!