Tag Archives: resolutions

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!

TBR Tuesday: 2013 Reading Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are all about stretching yourself, right? Two years ago, I set a goal to read 50 books that year. I made it formal with Goodreads, and after a bit of catch-up in December I finally reached that goal.

As I’ve mentioned, last year was more of a challenge, and this year my schedule is probably going to be just as demanding. (In fact, one week into the year, I’m already three weeks behind in my schedule thanks to repeated illnesses, the Christmas rush, travel and my youngest sister’s wedding. So, you know, nothing big.) But I need to make sure I take the time to refill my creative wells, especially with a busy schedule.

I’ve blogged before about how hard it is for me to read while writing. With my yearly schedule, I know when I’ll be drafting and when I’ll be editing, so I can anticipate when I’ll be able to read more.

Not just about the numbers

If you have a goal to read a set number of books in a year, that’s great. I know that setting a specific number in 2011 definitely pushed me to read more. But I also like the freedom to read—or give up on—as much as I choose.

On Twitter this weekend, I heard about a “Book Gap Challenge” to read the books that we haven’t gotten around to yet, or the genres we tend to neglect.

As I was looking over what I read in 2012, I was surprised to discover where my (recorded) tastes fell, almost exclusively. Bottom line: I need to read more adult books. This is a challenge for me partially because I avoid books with excessive language, sex and violence, and partially because even very good adult books often don’t reel me in the way a lot of the YA I read does. I

For 2013, I think that’s how I want to try to stretch myself: focusing on my adult-book gap. So . . . any recommendations?

What do you think? What are your 2013 reading goals? Will you focus on genre, total, or another factor?

Photo by Lauren

Predicting the future: plans for 2013!

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday was fantastic, and didn’t involve, I don’t know, your first trip to the ER in 25 years or something like that (yay! Pleurisy!). I love a fresh beginning (and a clear bill of health 🙂 ), but I don’t particularly feel inclined to make New Year’s Resolutions (basically ever). However, I do have big plans for this year.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve really become devoted to scheduling to help achieve my goals easily, and this year is no different.

2013 fireworks

Blog schedule in 2013!

Last year, I created a blog schedule with themed days, which I sometimes even stuck to. Each month, I’d write out post ideas for each of those days. This made blogging pretty easy! So I’ll try to continue that pattern this year, but I’m changing up my days a bit. In 2013, we’ll look at:

  • Mondays: ups & downs of the writing life
  • Tuesdays: the Neverending TBR pile
  • Wednesdays: Writing craft
  • Thursdays: TBA
  • Fridays: all kinds of fun

I’ll also be working on several writing guide PDFs this year, including last year’s marketing series, and updating some of the older PDFs throughout the year.

Writing in 2013

Naturally, I’ve got big plans in writing, too. I actually made up a day-by-day production schedule last month—leaving the end of the year a little open, but still. Kinda scary, huh?

If I can keep up with my schedule, I’ll finish two new books and a short novella this year. Unfortunately, I’m already behind in my schedule (I really hope this isn’t indicative of the future!), so I’ll probably be playing catch up a bit this month—but I’ll writing that novella and starting on one of my novels. My production schedule also takes into account lots of editing and critiquing—but I actually tried not to push myself too hard.

Writing slower

Yes, shockingly, one of my goals for 2013 is to write slower.

I wrote two new novels in 2012, in a combined total of less than six weeks. I kind of love letting my fictional worlds consume me, and I found that writing so much, so quickly had some definite advantages in quality (no, really!)—but also some distinct drawbacks.

To put it bluntly, writing isn’t my only—or even my most important—responsibility. I’ve got three small children, and I’m not going to plant them in front of the TV forever. So one of my most important goals this year is to be more careful about my writing time. I’ll still shoot for a decent amount of words when I’m drafting, but it’s less than half of my 2012 daily drafting goal. I really don’t want to spend more than ~4 hours a day on my work, and most or all of that while my kids are at (pre)school or asleep.

I absolutely believe you have to guard your work time—but novels aren’t the only things I’m working on right now, and I’m pretty sure my fictional characters can wait much better than the real characters who awe weawwy, weawwy hungwy!

What do you think? What do you hope to achieve in 2013? Come join the conversation!

Photo by Kotomi Yamamura

Dragging myself to the goal finishline

Reaching goals on autopilot

I’m so excited for the new year! But obviously resolutions really aren’t my thing anymore. Goals, however, are a different story. I set goals all the time—and I want to try to achieve my goals on autopilot this year.

That doesn’t mean coasting through the year, or setting absurdly low goals so I can achieve them, though. I kind of beasted Nano 2011, and—especially the first week—I managed to do this without the world falling down around the ears. I’m the mom, of course, and I set the pace of the household. I do most of the housework. So how did I write 5000-6000 words a day (hours and hours of work) without running out of meals and clean underwear for the family?


I was already used to one very useful phone alarm: a 15 minute warning to the time we need leave for Hayden’s school. So I decided to expand on that and use the phone alarm to remind me to do laundry (and switch it, fold it, and hand it off to the kids to put away), work with the kids to empty the dishwasher, read with the kids, start dinner and go to bed on time.

Dinners were also planned: I took the calendar for the month and planned out our meals. Since I knew I’d be working hard, I focused on quick meals, slow cooker meals, meals I’ve squirreled away in the freezer, and family favorites. Themed nights were also big helps. It took a couple hours to write it out, but then for the rest of the month, meal planning was handled and I could just look at the calendar to make out my shopping list.

Even blog posts (on four blogs!) were planned the month in advance. Topics and dates went on the calendar. I made up post drafts for each of those days with the topics all ready to go. I stockpiled topics and full posts. On weekends, I filled in the remaining posts and scheduled them to go.

It actually went really well—until I finished my novel. And then I let a lot of it fall apart. But all that advanced planning helped me to maintain a good routine, be productive and run the house better than I usually did.

So how can that apply to other goals?

Schedule them now.

If you want to write 1000 words a day, pick a time and put it in your schedule. (Doing it at the same time each day can help, too.) Unplug from the Internet. Schedule a time with the fewest kids distractions around. I’ve used a handy plugin that would block certain time-wasting websites during certain times of the day—another helper.

If you want to read a certain number of books next year, start collecting recommendations. Figure out whether you prefer reading on an eReader/mobile device (if you have one) or paper book. I like library books since they come with built-in deadlines—and, oh yeah, they’re free.

If you’re trying to research a project, make a list of resources, get them and give yourself a timeline to read them.

If you want to lose weight, schedule your exercise sessions with yourself. Make up healthy meal plans in advance. Buy and prepare healthy snacks.

We all know that goals should to be broken down into steps to be achievable. But what it really comes down to is to just do it, to quote Nike. Little reminders and baby steps help me.

What does it take to help you just do it?

Photo by Kent Wein

Bring on the new year!

Wherein we review gloss over last year

So as last year drew to a close, I saw a lot of friends posting reviews of their 2011 Resolutions: accomplished this, failed that, oops forgot this, etc. I dug through my archives to see if I should do the same.

The answer was a resounding no. And not because I failed all my goals—but apparently I didn’t make any public resolutions last year. Which kind of explained why I couldn’t remember a single one.

(Except my goal to read 50 books, which I hit after a read-fest the first four days of last week.)

I like that I won’t be starting the new year with the baggage of “oh, I failed at such-and-such.” I love new beginnings—as a child, I actually had toys I never played with because I didn’t want to ruin their pristine state. (Sadly, they were not valuable collectors’ items. We’re talking a rock tumbler and a pottery wheel. Fun, right?)

2011 had some great highs and . . . some nots. I mired myself so badly in edits that I lost all joy in writing, and had to walk away for several months. And soon thereafter, we had a death in my family.

But on the other hand, I had my first book accepted by a publisher! I wrote another book and had so much fun! Hooray!

But I’m ready for a new start. A year without failure and baggage in it yet. A year that’s still mine for the making.

Now to figure out what we’ll make of it.

What do you think? How was your 2011? What do you want to make of 2012?

How did you do in 2009?

I didn’t set a ton of goals (or resolutions) last year (they’re on my personal blog, if you’d like to see all of them). In writing, here’s what I wanted to accomplish in 2009:

Write tons a reasonable amount. I’m nearing completion on the first draft of my latest manuscript . . . . I’d like to get through the first draft of two more this year—and finish those accursed, beautiful revisions on last year’s two manuscripts.

I did most of that. I finished the MS in question and drafted two more. I revised and polished that first MS (and I’m getting ready to do it again). I didn’t go back to the first MS of 2007; if I ever do, it will require heavy re-conceptualizing.

I’m not sure, however, that three manuscripts in a year is “a reasonable amount.” I know it depends on how fast you write and how much time you “make” to write (and especially on whether or not you have an idea that sets you on fire)—but when you’re the primary caregiver to your two young children 24/7, that’s a lot. And creatively speaking, it’s a lot, too—at times, enough to burn me out.

And yet the only goals I’ve even begun to consider for the coming year are almost the same—repolish and rerevise the same MS and continue the submission rounds with it, draft two more manuscripts, and polish one of those. (This may be subject to change, of course; I may end up going back to one of the MS from last year to polish first. Who knows?)

Beyond that, I haven’t really thought about goals in most areas. I know I want to work on increasing the tension in the first half of that manuscript and look at the techniques required to do that. I’m also thinking of doing a series on tension, suspense and foreshadowing.

What do you want to accomplish and learn in 2010? Any requests for writing series?

Writing in the New Year

Happy New Year!

It’s a time for making resolutions (for those things that sound good but we won’t really do) or setting goals (for those things that we actually want to do).

So here’s my favorite advice on setting goals. (It’s from me, but I had to get it somewhere at some point, right?) A goal you really want to achieve should be:

Written down
It’s even better to put them in a place where you can find them, see them often, and hopefully be reminded of them often. (Maybe next to those pieces of praise you’re going to tape to your wall 😉 .)

“Get better at writing” is too vague—if you finally learn the less/fewer rule tomorrow, are you done? We all always want to improve our skills, but a better goal would be to pick a specific skill to work on—to study techniques to create more vivid characters, for example. (It’s still a little vague, of course, but this may be the nature of the beast in this area.)

Use numbers or dates where they make sense: the number of words you write or edit, the amount of time you spend writing, the number of queries and submissions you send out.

Whether the measurement is quantitative (like time spent) or qualitative (like more vivid characters), make sure it’s something you can see a difference in. This will probably involve reading something you wrote last year and objectively comparing your writing now. (If you can enlist a willing helper, outside opinion can be helpful—unless they give bad advice.)

Also useful here is to set a deadline for your goals: I want to study these skills by March 1, finish a first draft of my next WIP in 30 days, etc.

Just because someone else is setting a goal to write two hours a day doesn’t mean you have to. Keep in mind where you are in your writing and your life, and set goals that are suited to you.

Aim high—but don’t literally aim for the stars (unless you a.) are an astronaut slated for flight or b.) like falling short). Choose something that you can achieve, but something you’ll have to work for.

Also in this area, it’s important to recognize when your goal isn’t completely (or at all) within your control: unless you also run a publishing company, it’s not your choice whether something gets published. So if you set more than one goal, be sure to include at least one goal that you have control over. On the other hand, don’t set more goals than you can handle or remember.

Broken down
I don’t mean literally broken—I mean that your goals, especially your big goals, should be broken down into specific steps. “Write better” is already kind of broken down if you go with more specific things like creating more vivid characters. But even that can be broken down: read such-and-such a book (by Feb 15), take notes; discuss these techniques with/at X; brainstorm application; spend two weeks going through manuscript to apply notes, etc.

So, what are your writing goals for 2009? Feel free to share them in the comments—or, if you’ve blogged them, put the link into the URL box.

Photo credits: Nobel Prize—Tim Ereneta; writing list—Hannah Swithinbank