Tag Archives: goals

Making an annual writing master plan

I sat down to figure out what I needed to do the first week of this year, and I was stuck right away. I had no idea what I needed to do that week because I didn’t know what I needed to do that year. I had a few ideas about what I wanted to do, but I needed to know what I should be working on each month to figure out how to allot my time.

(I didn’t allot time for writing this article. You’re welcome anyway.)

So, how do you figure out what you should be working on in a week, month, year? You’ve got to create your writing master plan. There are lots of great ways to do this, and of course you can use any method that works for you (just like in everything else with writing). I’ve been doing this for five years now–and I’ve done it for up to three years at a time. Here’s how I do it.

To get started you need:

  • a decent idea of how long each phase of a project typically takes you (and how long it can take worst case)
  • office supplies: post-it notes, paper, index cards, poster, whiteboard, magnets, whatever works for you. I’ve used a computer spreadsheet in the past. It’s very helpful if you can rearrange the various pieces, so post-its, cards or magnets are extra useful.
  • a list of the major engagements/vacations/busy times of your year.
  • a year calendar for reference.

Step one: brainstorm

As with any good writing project, at the beginning, we need IDEAS. First, on a piece of paper or on the computer, list all the projects you’re in the middle of, whether they’re active or not. (Projects you’ve truly abandoned don’t have to be on the list.) Drafting, revising, editing, polishing, publishing, wherever a current project falls, write those down on the list. Now, add projects that you know you want to (or need to) write—the next book(s) in your series, that shiny new idea you just got, the sekrit project that’s been simmering forever. Finally, add in a line or two (or more) for any shinier, newer ideas that might come along this year.

Step two: prioritize

We’ll be doing this a lot.

Next, pick out the most important projects to you: the ones you want to work on the most, the ones that make you happiest, the ones that have contracts and deadlines—however you define important. I typically pick three bigger projects per year (i.e., full-length novels: one to write, one to edit, one to publish) and three shorter projects, although sometimes I’ll change up the balance, fewer big projects and more small ones. If you can do more, GREAT! I always have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, so I’m constantly coming back to my list and moving things to the next year. It kinda sucks.

Step 3: break it down
(dance break optional)

For each project that made it to your short list, break it down into its smaller project phases: drafting, revising, editing, querying/publishing. Each of these phases gets its own post-it or index card. These are the pieces that we want to be repositionable. It’s useful to write down how long you anticipate this phase taking (be generous, super super generous in giving yourself time for this!) It’s also helpful to color code these. I prefer to color code by project, with all my cards for one project the same color, but it might also work to color code them by phase. My pictures here aren’t color coded. Sad. One more tip here: you could also number them so you don’t forget you need to write a project before you edit it.

I feel like I work best in blocks: editing a whole project for a month or even two. You might work best changing your focus project every week. If that’s the case, you might want a card for each week of a project—for example, four drafting cards if you’ll spend four weeks drafting, six revision cards if you’ll spend six weeks revising, etc.

This year did not go the way I thought.

Step 4: make the calendar

On another piece of paper or surface, lay out the calendar. I’ve done this week by week for a year in a spreadsheet, or month by month on paper—in my bullet journal/planner, so it’s all ready. Once you’ve laid out the calendar, mark off any chunks of time you know you won’t be writing (much): vacations, conferences, events, work or family obligations. I don’t bother with the occasional day off here. Also add in any firm deadlines here. I like to put NaNoWriMo on my calendar.

The less you know about these big pieces of your schedule, the more leeway you’ll need in planning, of course.

Step 5: IT BEGINS AT THE END (with deadlines)

Now you can put your cards on your calendar! I start with the firm deadlines I’ve already written in and work backwards from there. If it’s a publishing date, when do I need to have the book to my editor to get it back in time for formatting? I need to be done with my edits by then, so I stick that post-it/card before that date, with time for betas in between (you can also have a card or post-it for sending a work to betas). Same with revisions—I give a window for beta readers and then place revisions before that. Be mindful of the events you’ve put in your schedule, of course.

Step 6: passion projects start at the beginning

Once my deadline project phases are all in position, my calendar is scary full, I prioritize my other projects. What do I want to work on the most? How long will the next phase of that project take? Where do I have time for that on my calendar? Here’s another spot where we want to make sure we keep the phases in order!

If you don’t have time for a given phase, can you move things around to make time for that? I try to move things earlier rather than make more pressure later. For example, maybe I have a month of revision on a deadline project and I stuck it in March, with betas in April and editing in May. I want to work on a project I love, but I need two months for its phase. I can move up revision on the deadline project into February, if there’s space, so I get two consecutive months to work on my “passion project.” Or I can break up that task.

Step 7: evaluate

Now comes the hard part: ask yourself if this is really a realistic amount for you to do in a given week or month. If it’s too much to manage in a month, you have too much to manage in a single year. So do I. This is another time to reprioritize.

In this step, I also look at whether I’m changing up tasks enough—four months in a row of a grueling level of editing, even if I’m changing projects, is a recipe for burnout. I try to change things up between drafting, revising and editing.

Also here, I make sure I’ve got either a phase or a project I really love as often as possible. Sometimes revision or editing can wear me down while drafting tends to fill me up in a different way, so I try to schedule drafting a couple times throughout the year. But that tends to pile up my editing projects, so if I can’t draft, I make sure I’m working on a passion project frequently.

Keep in mind that—unless you’re under contract—it’s okay to move projects off your calendar. When I was planning this year, I originally had six publication dates scheduled. I realized it would be impossible for me to work on my pet passion project if I ran to that schedule, so I pushed one of those books back a year. It hurt on some level, but I knew if I tried to keep up with my original schedule, I’d end up burned out or fall impossibly far behind, or both.

Step 8: record

Once you’ve got a reasonable calendar laid out, write it down. I did this with post-its for this year, so I took a picture, then peeled them off the months one at a time and wrote the text down. Now my year plan is safe in my planner (and on my phone).

You have a master writing plan!

Now what?

Once you’ve laid out your plan on this macro level, you can drill down to a “micro” level. After finishing my year plan this year, I immediately jumped into my January plan back at step 1. I took my list of things for the month from my master plan and “exploded” them into individual tasks. For example, if the project phase is drafting, you might explode that into three days of prewriting, and then X of words per day. If you’re revising, you might spend three days working on issue A, five days working on issue B, four days in a general readthrough, two days entering your notes, and a day (or a minute) sending it to betas. I made a list of these and any other tasks I might need to do this month for my business. Then I wrote them on post-its (still not color coded) and made up a 4×6 grid (four weeks, six days—on the seventh day, I rest). I worked backward from a deadline, then put other tasks into the gaps. I evaluated the plan, shuffled a couple things, then wrote it down (putting dates by the tasks in the original list). Voilà! My master plan has translated into a day-by-day goal list.

Various planner pages. Mostly showing off my new stamps…

But, like I said before, this article wasn’t on that list. So . . . I’d better get to work!

June accountability, July goals


Last month, I was a little worried about my goals because I had some other big plans. So, how did it go?

GoalsJune accountability

  • Start editing the newest novella. Hoping to make it through the first quarter or third.—DONE. I got through the first quarter of the paper edit and entered about 2/3s of that onto the manuscript, and sent it off to my critique partners. Unfortunately, my paper edit included one note “add an entire new chapter here.” Which I have yet to do. Bet my crit partners loved that part.
  • Read through Tomorrow We Spy again and apply latest round of critique notes; send to beta readers—I had to push the readthrough back to the end of the month, after the beta round, but I did incorporate my critique partners’ notes and sent it off to beta readers! So DONE!
  • READ. A lot. DONE! My husband and I left our kids with my mom and took our tenth anniversary trip, cruising to Juneau and Skagway, Alaska, then driving (and riding a train) through the Yukon, then visiting Fairbanks, Alaska, and Denali National Park before ending in Anchorage. It was fantastic! But more later—when I have pictures. For now, I’ll just say, because of all the driving and flying, I read eight books. Woot!
  • Think about website and marketing stuff even more. There was definite thinking.
  • Get beta reader feedback and incorporate, getting the novel ready to go to my editor—beta reader feedback is trickling in, and I’ve finished the readthrough. Notes are incorporated and I’m about to click send!!


July goals

I spent almost half of last month preparing, traveling and recovering. This month, I’ll get to spend a couple weeks with my family visiting. I’m super excited—but I’ve still got to fit the work in!

  • Get a cover. The fun part!
  • Edit the next half of the rebelliovella and send to critique partners.
  • Get back edits, incorporate, and proof.
  • Format and typeset.
  • Read two books on marketing.
  • Keep thinking about website stuff. Seriously. Maybe even think about doing something, eh?

What’s up for you this month?

Photo by Celestine Chua

May accountability; June goals

Last month, I was really daunted by my goals, things I’d been chipping away at way too slowly for months. So, how did it go?

GoalsMay accountability

  • FINISH THE NOVELLA—DONE. Sort of. You see, one of the reasons this novella was so tough was that . . . it wasn’t a novella at all. I deluded myself even after I passed the projected 30,000 word count halfway through, even when I hit 50,000 words, even when I finished at 62,000 words. I could cut it back, I told myself. Other than all these scenes I need to add . . . So now I have a new problem: when am I going to find time to edit a full novel??
  • DO THE EDITS—done. They’re not all entered, but the last few are sitting there in my file waiting for me.
  • Do rewrites on Saints & Spies—with the novella turning into a novel, I decided to move this a little later.
  • Participate in a sale event (more on that coming up later in the month!)—check! Not as successful as my last big sale, but still a big bump!
  • Think about marketing & website stuff.—did some of this. More to come.

Whew! That looks like a ton of progress!

June goals

I know, the month’s half over. But here’s what I wanted to get done starting at the beginning of the month.

  • Start editing the newest novella. Hoping to make it through the first quarter or third.
  • Read through Tomorrow We Spy again and apply latest round of critique notes; send to beta readers.
  • READ. A lot. I need to recharge!
  • Think about website and marketing stuff even more.
  • Get beta reader feedback and incorporate, getting the novel ready to go to my editor

I think I can?

What’s up for you this month?

Photo by Celestine Chua

Varying the tension level to keep your readers’ interest

This entry is part 25 of 26 in the series Tension, suspense and surprise

Or, How writing is like spicy mac

A couple weeks ago, my family went out to lunch. We got a side of macaroni and cheese that was advertised, correctly, as having a little kick to it. The spice was too much for the kids, so my husband and I ended up eating almost all of the macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese @ Seersucker RestaurantThe first few bites were really tasty (and I’m really picky about mac’n’cheese). Within a few bites, the spice began to set in. It wasn’t too spicy—no tears, no runny noses—but I could see why my kids needed water.

But once we were halfway through our meal, my husband and I both realized that we weren’t really tasting the mac or the cheese. After a while, all you could taste was the spice.

Early on in our writing, we usually learn early on that we need tension and conflict in our scenes. Tension, suspense and conflict are vital, and few people will read fiction without that “spice.”

However, sometimes it’s easy to go overboard on this vital element. At the climax, we’ll probably have a long passage of high-tension scenes, but if every scene of the book features world! threatening! consequences!, all you can taste is the spice—and the book feels just as one-note as if every scene had no tension at all.

Spice isn’t the spice of life—it’s variety. So change up the tension levels in your scenes.

Ten ways to change up the tension in your scenes

Flatline1. Use humor. A joke can reduce the tension in a scene, or just give the readers a break from unremitting THE WHOLE PLANET WILL DIE!!! drama.

2. Switch storylines. Changing to another group of characters doing something else often helps to vary the tension level. This also works in reverse—if the tension gets too low in one storyline, switch to another, then change back to a point where something more interesting is happening.

3. Bump up your character’s proactivity. Maybe your characters aren’t facing chase scene after chase scene, but they’ve been kidnapped and they’re being dragged around the country, and they’re freaking out the whole time. That level of tension, that helpless response, makes the tension (and the characters!) seem one-note. Don’t let your characters just wring their hands and whine. Do something!

4. Change your character’s goal. If we’ve had five scenes in a row of your characters trying to do the exact same thing, and encountering the same problem, or the same level of problems, something’s got to change. (You know what they say about the definition of insanity?)

5. Change the source of the threat. Maybe your last eight scenes have been at a 7 on the tension scale. You might be able to bump some of them up

6. Use dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something the characters don’t, usually something that will pull the rug from under the characters. If you have scenes from the antagonist’s POV, for example, you can set up dramatic irony (and switch to that storyline to intercut the tension).

7. Have your characters reach a goal. Throughout the book, we mostly try to frustrate our characters’ goals because it increases the suspense and tension. To change things up, have them accomplish something—it could be something small, like retrieving an important artifact, or it could be something major, like defeating the bad guy (who turns out to be only a minor villain).

8. Give us a campfire scene. Let the characters celebrate and relax, if only for a minute. Especially good after a victory that turns out to be false.

9. Use a sequel. You may not have the time or place to have a celebration scene right now, but if your character has a minute, he or she might be able to go through the stages of an emotional reaction to the action, naturally a bit lower in tension.

10. Show the recovery. You’ve got hearts racing, stomachs clenching and palms sweating (dude, gesture clichés). But do your characters ever stop doing those things? Do they strive to (or just naturally) get their visceral responses under control? Take a deep breath, take a look around, take a minute to reorient your goals before you plunge in again.

Again, tension is absolutely vital to a novel—but having all your scenes with equally high tension is just as stultifying as all scenes with low tension. We don’t want every bite of our meal to taste like plain noodle or like plain spice. Vary the tension of your stories to create a truly engaging taste reading experience.

How else can you vary the tension in your scenes?

Photo credits
Macaroni and cheese by David Berkowitz
Flatline by Myles Grant
both via Flickr/CC

April accountability; May goals

Normally, I post about my goals on the first Friday of the month, but with all my conference posts last week, it seemed like a pretty full week blogging-wise.

GoalsApril accountability

Reporting on my goals for last month

  • Top priority: finalize my presentations for (and attend) the LDStorymakers conference!—Yep! It went really, really amazingly, wonderfully well. My classes were all packed, and I was almost moved to tears to see so many people as dedicated to learning about the craft as I am.
  • Second priority: Finish those last 5 Whitney reads!—Yes! Just in the nick of time, too. But now I’ve read almost as many books this year as I did last year—and I want to read more! It’s so much easier and more fun than editing!
  • Seriously, write that dang novella.—Um, no. I got some words here, but this is still not done.
  • Deep edit Spy Another Day 3 and incorporate cultural feedback.—My cultural feedback was delayed, but honestly, I had to put this project on the back burner myself, too.
  • Reread Saints & Spies to begin the publication phase!—No.
  • Write new stuff for next writing craft book.—just no.

May goals

You guys, I’m struggling a little here. I’ve had this novella on my to-do list for I don’t know how many months, and it’s really dragging. Plus I can’t find it in me to get these edits after working my editing fingers to the bone for the last year. I love the story, but I really don’t want to work on it anymore. I’ve given myself time away from it, and all that’s done is make me want even more time—and I’ve kind of promised this book is coming out this summer. I want to keep my deadlines—my commitments. I’ve already dropped one book from my production schedule, and I feel like if I drop any more, I’ll lose what little momentum I have.

So, this month, I must

  • FINISH THE NOVELLA—I have finally started to move the needle on this! Yay!
  • Do rewrites on Saints & Spies
  • Participate in a sale event (more on that coming up later in the month!)
  • Think about marketing & website stuff.

Normally, with only five things on my list, I pat myself on the back for my reasonable expectation. But considering how long some of these “list-cicles” have already been on there, and how little progress I’ve made, I’m definitely daunted this month, and already feeling the pressure.

What’s up for you this month?

Photo by Celestine Chua

February accountability; March goals!

I’ve gotten so much done in the last week!

Not. I may have only posted these last week, but fortunately, I did work on them all month.

February goals

  • Launch Spy Noon—check!
  • Prep the second half of Spy Another Day #3 and take it to critique group—check! A ton of work, but we all got through it.
  • Finish gathering materials for my next writing craft book, and write new materials to fill in the gaps—check! This came together really fast, but I do still have some work to do here.
  • Send next writing craft book to beta readers—check! Thanks, betas!
  • Get covers for my next two writing craft books—one done, the other is in concept state. (Hint: if you want a sneak peek, subscribe to my newsletter!)
  • Gather materials for next-next writing craft book—not yet.
  • Write enough to stay sane—nope, unless editing counts.
  • Start reading for Whitney Awards—yep! Fair to excellent so far.
  • Prep for a family gathering for a big milestone for my son! Yep! It was wonderful.

March goals

  • Host the goal-setting challenge for my writers’ group, the March-a-thon. (Which helps with everything else!)
  • Enter rewrites from critique group suggestions on Spy Another Day 3.
  • Begin the deep edit on Spy Another Day 3.
  • Enter beta feedback on next writing craft book & finish writing out examples.
  • Prep that book for publication.
  • Make cover and gather materials for next-next writing craft book.
  • More Whitney award reading.
  • Write a novella (gulp!)

That’s only eight things, right? 😉

What are you working on for March?

Belated accountability

Sooo I normally do this on the first Friday of the month, but the launch of Spy Noon and then the sale the next week threw me off. The last Monday is close enough, right?

GoalsJanuary accountability

  • Get Spy Another Day #3 ready for critique group & take it to them—I did this! It was so much work, though! I really have to be better about this. The problem with my last two novels is that I’ve taken the extremely rough first draft and polished it to about the third or fourth draft state in one pass. I’ve been working way too hard!
  • Polish up that novella I wrote in September—Check! “Polish up” was my conservative way to say “get this ready and publish.” Which I did.
  • Write enough to stay sane—Aside from the new words I put into SAD #3, I didn’t write anything. No comment on the sanity.
  • Start gathering materials for my next Writing Craft book—I . . . can’t remember when I did this. But I did it!

Whew! It was a busy month. And Feburary’s kept up that pace.

February goals

Okay, the month’s almost over, I know, but fortunately I did write down what I wanted to get done this month.

  • Launch Spy Noon.
  • Prep the second half of Spy Another Day #3 and take it to critique group.
  • Finish gathering materials for my next writing craft book, and write new materials to fill in the gaps.
  • Send next writing craft book to beta readers.
  • Get covers for my next two writing craft books.
  • Gather materials for next-next writing craft book.
  • Write enough to stay sane.
  • Start reading for Whitney Awards.
  • Prep for a family gathering for a big milestone for my son!

That looks like a lot. I should always write my goals out in the last week of the month. Oy.

I’ll let you know how I did next week. I’m sure the suspense is killing you!

What have you accomplished so far this year? How is your writing process or workflow going?

Photo by Celestine Chua

2014 (and January) goals!

It’s the first Friday of the month&the first Friday of the year! I’m reporting on my goals and setting new ones—come join in!

Goals2013 goals and accountability

My writing goals for 2013 included:

  • Publish two novels and a novella in the Spy Another Day series
  • Write two novels: Spy Another Day #2 and #3
  • Maintain my website and monthly email newsletter
  • Coordinate book reviews & tours
  • Sell 1000 copies of I, Spy
  • Prepare another novel for publication
  • Read 40 books
  • Blog, usually 3-4 times a week.

And here’s how I did!

  • Publish two novels and a novella in the Spy Another Day series—Yep! I actually made a day-by-day schedule to make sure this happened. Fortunately, I also built in a ton of room because I barely made it on time.
  • Write two novels: Spy Another Day #2 and #3‐Same as above: I was way behind schedule, but I made it.
  • Maintain my website and monthly email newsletter—Yep!
  • Coordinate book reviews & tours—Did this, too. This year, I might look into hiring this out, though.
  • Sell 1000 copies of I, Spy—I was scared setting this goal so high for a self-published debut, but I came sooooo close. I did my sales totals for the year yesterday, and it looks like it came to 989 copies of I, Spy sold.
  • Prepare another novel for publication—This I didn’t do. I’ve really rethought the novel I had on tap, and falling behind schedule on writing and editing chewed up some of the time I’d allotted for this. But that’s okay—because the rest of the time was taken up with a different project: my first book on writing craft! (And another novella…)
  • Read 40 books—I got 31. Not bad, but not as good as I could have done. I should read a bit more to help with burnout, I think.
  • Blogging went . . . okay. I feel like the medium in general is in a decline, and my blog is included in that as traffic and comments have dropped off somewhat.

December accountability

My specific goals for last month were:

  • Now finish my NaNo novel—DONE. Took longer than I was planning, and there are still a lot of rough spots, but I know I an keep working at it.
  • Polish up the NaNo novel a bit—didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped, but I’m still working on this.
  • Write up the 2014 business plan, goals and production schedule—check!
  • Think about my conference presentations for next year. If I’m feeling really ambitious, outline them—I did a quick outline last night while brainstorming. Good enough for me!
  • Enjoy the holidays with my family—check!

And that last one makes the whole month worth it.

January goals

  • Get Spy Another Day #3 ready for critique group & take it to them
  • Polish up that novella I wrote in September
  • Write enough to stay sane
  • Start gathering materials for my next Writing Craft book

Man. That looks so DOABLE. So not like me. (Although really #1 and #2 hide a lot of work, eh?)

And big goals for the rest of 2014

  • Publish a novella, two novels and up to three Writing Craft books. (It sounds like a lot, but the fiction is already written, just in various stages of editing now.)
  • Write a short novel and a full length novel. And whatever else I feel like 😉 (falling under the “enough to stay sane” guideline here, too).
  • Teach at LDStorymakers in April, and possibly other conferences, as my schedule permits.
  • Do all that promotion and marketing stuff.
  • Explore more collaborations & partnerships.
  • Bundles! Box sets!
  • Read. I didn’t intend to set a number goal last year, but then I did. Sigh. I think I’d like to average at least 3 books a month. So 36 books. Should be doable. Right?
  • Try to sprinkle in a little fun. That will come with #2, #3, #5 and #7 of course, but I want to be careful to avoid burnout.

Whew! I’m looking at my color-coded production schedule and . . . it’s a little daunting (in some months). But I’ve adjusted my expectations for the year based on actual! data! and I’ve tried hard to reel it in a bit. Now to add back in the fun . . .

What’s on tap for you this month? This year? Come share!

Photo by Celestine Chua