Writers are, by nature, a creative lot, and often more than a little rebellious. Many of us are trying to create full-time careers so that we don’t have to report in to an office or a boss every day and so that we can shape our lives the way we want them to be.
So why on earth would you willingly schedule out your life? Don’t be a slave to the calendar, man!
But hold that thought. One of the greatest triggers of stress is a sense of not being in control. Even if you’re churning out 5,000 words a day, rocking out at a full-time job, shuttling the kids to soccer practice, and cooking a gourmet meal every night, if you don’t feel in control, you’re going to be a ball of stress.
Dana Gionta, a PhD psychologist, notes that the more control you perceive you have in your work, the more satisfied you are with your job. That goes for writing, too—there’s a lot we don’t control in terms of our work (publishing offers, sales stats, reviews…the list goes on), and so it’s important to control what we can.
Creating a solid plan for yourself doesn’t mean putting a stranglehold on creativity; it doesn’t mean that you can only write in a brief window labeled in bright yellow and no other time.
Really, all it means is that you’re prioritizing your writing and your sanity. You’re creating an environment where you’re in control and you can let your creative spark flare.
Because you’ve planned out when you’re going to be doing what and can see it all at a glance, you can stop worrying about when you’re going to take care of X task or how you’re going to squeeze a chapter in today. It’s all right there.
And knowing that you have a certain amount of time blocked out for writing can even help enhance the creative process. You’ll quickly start to look forward to writing time and find yourself jotting notes for later, then getting back to the task currently at hand.
You may be able to focus easier (both on your writing and when you’re doing other things, because you can just tell yourself “Okay, I can do that during my writing time”) and slip into the writing groove better when it’s time, because you know you don’t have anything else demanding your attention right then.
On a broader scale, planning means that you can keep track of your goals and aspirations and take concrete steps to reach the milestones you need to succeed. When you’re working to build a sustainable career, not just write one blog post or even one book, you need to map out where you’re heading.
That’s what planning is, plain and simple: mapping out where you want to be and the broad strokes of how you’ll get there.
Key Areas of Planning
There are several levels or areas of planning that can help you make the most of your writing career. They all interlock and support each other to help you be exponentially more effective and intentional in achieving your goals.
Let’s take a look at the scope of each and why it’s important for moving your career forward.
Daily planning simply means taking a look at what you intend to get done on a given day. It’s all the different activities you need to get done today: the appointments, the meetings, the chores, the word count.
A great daily plan should include some flexibility, because there are always scheduling changes and last-minute surprises. And it should always include some downtime where you get to rest, recuperate, and take care of yourself, whether through watching a movie or going to the gym.
By having a daily plan, you’re making sure you build in time for your writing every day and not just trying to squeeze it in wherever. That’s a recipe for never actually getting around to it.
Mapping out your week helps you focus on larger areas of engagement, like ensuring that you’re working on the overall scope of your book. Instead of looking at this as simply mapping out each day, look at it as more of a strategic whole.
You’ve planned your day to have, say, writing from 6-7am. Now look at the structure of your week and set up what you’ll write each day. Maybe Monday you’ll work on outlining the next chapter, then some background research on Tuesday, then write the first 2,000 words on Wednesday.
Or maybe you’ll focus on writing a chapter Monday and Tuesday, take a break to work on a short story or some editing on Wednesday, and come back in to revise on Thursday. As you do more intentional writing practice, you’ll start figuring out the rhythm that works best for you and works best within each project and be able to plan this out in the scope of a week to maximize your results.
In a monthly context, you should be looking at the major items you need to accomplish that month and how you can break them down into your weekly and daily plans for the best results.
If you have a speech to give at the end of the month, make sure to plan in research, writing, and rehearsal time in the first two weeks so you’ve got time to get it done without stressing.
If you have an article due on the 15th, plan out the first 14 days of your month to allow the time you’ll need to get it all done and revised.
By mapping out the important points of your month, you can spread the load around and budget your time effectively.
It can also give you a great overview of where you’re loading too much work, or where you might be able to fit some time for, say, starting a new online course or trying your hand at writing some fiction while you wait for edits to be returned on your business book.
A great way to organize your goals and planning is around quarterly 90-day “sprints.” By focusing on an overall aim for three months, you can really get in-depth with what you’re looking to accomplish, whether that’s learning to code your own ebooks or writing a full novel. But it’s a short enough period to sustain your attention and energy while still getting a payoff at the end.
Set up a few larger goals for the quarter and then drill down into your monthly, weekly, and daily steps to execute on those targeted sprints for the best results.
Most of us think on an annual basis when we’re contemplating planning. And taking the year at a glance can seem incredibly useful—a year’s a long time, so you can accomplish a lot of stuff, right?
But many of us also overestimate what we can get done in a year. That’s where the quarterly sprints come in—by organizing ourselves in three-month chunks, we can get a better sense of progress and keep our momentum going. In contrast, if you only look at the full year, you might be tempted to putter around on things that don’t really move the needle until you look up in the thick of the winter holidays and realize you haven’t made any real movement towards your annual goal.
From a yearly perspective, it’s best to pick more of a theme than a concrete goal. Will this be the year you triple sales? The year you write six books? The year you quit your day job?
Take that theme and break it up into quarterly sprint goals that will have a huge impact on achieving that theme-goal. Then go down the line, getting narrower and narrower in your focus, until you’re executing something every single day to move towards the next “level” of planning on the list.
One of the most dreaded questions in any job interview is “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But it’s a really important question to ask yourself as a writer so that you can guide your career with more intention.
Think about it: if you don’t have a destination, how are you going to know when you’ve reached it? Setting a big, ambitious-but-doable goal for yourself to hit in five years can guide your big-picture thinking and planning.
For a lot of us, this big five-year goal will be to be an independent author making a full-time income from writing. You’ll need to do a lot of work to reach that level, and you’ll need to pick up additional skills in areas like marketing, social media, book production, and more, depending on how you choose to shape your author career.
But by having this big five-year aim in mind, you can build towards it at every level of your planning.
Get Some Help
All these levels and layers of planning can seem intimidating when you’re just getting started, but take it one day at a time. Literally! Plan out your day today and then see what works and what doesn’t. Take a crack at planning your week next, then expand upwards and outwards from there to the different planning levels.
If you’re confused about how to set realistic but motivating goals or how to do other kinds of planning, like business planning, financial planning, book budgeting, and so on, consider getting some help.
Kimberley Grabas of Your Writer Platform has created an amazingly in-depth planning system and worksheet series designed specifically to walk writers through every phase of planning for intentional, sustainable, purpose-driven career growth.
You’ll learn how to identify your personal mission and vision and how to create goals that align with those values, then assess the current state of your writing career to develop action plans for marketing, writing, and more. You’ll plan out the next phase of your business growth and learn how to be more strategic with your platform-building efforts. And you’ll gain practical skills for how to develop and execute annual, quarterly, weekly, and daily plans.
Oh, and you’ll even get resources to start planning better for your book production budgets, marketing and sales efforts, and general finances!
Believe, Plan, Act: The Platform + Productivity Planner for Writers
This toolkit includes everything you need to discover, plan and execute your writing and business goals – so you can finally remove the word “aspiring” from all your profiles…
This complete author business planning system is designed to specifically address the needs of writers working to build their platforms and author businesses—everything from tracking daily word counts and book sales, to strategic marketing, launch planning, and developing your author brand.
The Planner will help you map out:
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- your creative and career goals
- your financial and sales goals
- your marketing and business plan(s)
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- your social media goals
- strategic platform planning in 30 and 90 day stretches
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The printable Planner also has undated daily, weekly, and monthly planning pages, which means that you can start using it whenever you’re ready. No wasted weeks or months – just steady progress toward your goals.
This comprehensive planning system for writers is available at an exclusive early-adopter price of only $27 through June 1, 2017. Check it out today!
For more on mastering your schedule, check out Schedule Your Success by TCK Publishing founder Tom Corson-Knowles.
Learn more ways to level up your productivity: