Ruth E. Walker
My colleague, friend and partner in Writescape, Gwynn, is a masterful planner. So, it’s no surprise that at all our business meetings, setting out a plan on paper is our foundation. Once the plan is on paper, the tasks are divided up along the lines of who can best accomplish each one. Add in the deadlines for each task and voila! A workable plan with accountability.
Gwynn brings that focused approach into our writing retreats. No first gathering of participants misses the opportunity to work on a plan for their writing escape. Everyone considers the big picture of “ideal” accomplishments during the retreat and then – and this is the most important part – breaks it down into manageable pieces. And then they choose the top pieces to complete. Anything more accomplished is a bonus…once the main steps are achieved.
Looming ahead of you is a new year. No doubt you have writing goals you want to accomplish. Maybe it’s just one big goal, like mine: finish the first full draft of the second book in my science fiction/fantasy duology. Or maybe you have several smaller or more general goals for 2021: take some workshops, sign up for at least one writing conference and finish a short story.
No matter your goals, it’s helpful to put them down on paper and then check them off as you accomplish each one. Here’s some ways to do that.
Make a list
Review what you hope to accomplish and then break each goal into steps. For example, your goal is to get one of your finished stories published:
- First, create a list of magazines you want to get stories published in.
- Second, create a list of stories that are ready to submit.
- Third, read each magazine’s guidelines (word count, deadlines, themes, submission methods) and match with any of the stories on your list with that magazine.
- Fourth, pick the best story for that magazine.
- Fifth, submit the story
- Sixth, create a table or spreadsheet or even a handwritten list of what you sent, where and when you sent it, how you sent it and make sure you leave room for the response.
- Final step? If the story is accepted, celebrate! If the story is rejected, take another look at it and see if you can improve it at all. If you’re satisfied it’s the best it can be, choose another magazine.
Make a visual
If you need more than words on paper, develop something to tickle your creative self. Again, I take a page from the Book of Gwynn. She comes up with the most creative techniques to excite the imagination while being practical and focused.
A favourite of mine is the daisy:
The heart of the daisy holds the broad or large goal: Develop Fiona’s character more.
And then each petal contains a different way to develop or deepen a character: Up Fiona’s stakes. Who is her best friend? What are Fiona’s fears? What does she want? What does she need? List her positive attributes. What is a small obstacle? What is her biggest obstacle? Create a chart of how others react to her.
Once all the petals are filled in, participants choose 3 to 6 petals that can be accomplished over the course of the writing retreat and then commit to focusing on them first.
Set yourself a time frame: 6 days or 6 weeks and you can use the daisy to break down a big writing goal into 3 first steps toward that goal.
Make a promise
Pull out a sheet of paper and write down in a sentence or two that describes one simple task or small accomplishment that will help you take a step toward a big goal. Stick it in an envelope, add postage and mail it to yourself. Remember to write on the back of the envelope: Step #1. When it arrives in your mailbox don’t open it until you have accomplished Step #1.
Move on to Step #2. Then Step #3. And so on.
Variations: If you knew Steps #1 through #5 right from the start, go ahead and prep them into individual envelopes.
You can even mail them all at the same time if you want. But you only get to open them as each one is accomplished. That combines accountability with keeping you focused.
2021 is not 2020
Yes. This almost-over year has been one for the record books. And far too many of those records have been too terrible to bear. A strangeness settled over everything. A few of my writer friends refer to it as “a fog” and for many, it made the simplest tasks a massive challenge.
And our plans…oh those lovely plans we had for our lives, for our livelihoods and for our writing — they were thrown out the window months ago. If we only had started on those plans in January, by mid-March we might have accomplished…
We can’t predict what 2021 will bring us. But we can be better prepared to dive in to our plans right away. By the end of the year – even if global disruption strikes again – we can look back and know that some of what we planned for came through.
Here’s to a New Year when your muse fills your pen with unstoppable ink and your plan keeps you on track.
All the best from,