“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you’re a planner addict like me, then you know what I’m talking about when I say that each morning when I’m writing out my daily task list and decorating it (yep… I do that), one of the things I like to do is find a short quote that I find inspiring or that speaks to me at that particular moment. The above quote is one I came across recently, which I found quite timely since I had just published my recent blog post What I Do to Live an Intentional Writing Life. In that post, I talked briefly about how I plan my mini goals for the week so that I know what I am going to accomplish and on what schedule.
As writers, if we want to be successful/effective/prolific/[your adjective of choice here], we need to have some kind of plan no matter what our writing style is. Whether you’re a scripter or a pantser, whether you write in short bursts or you’re a marathon scribbler, whether you take meticulous notes on your plot points and characters or whether you keep it all in your head, you will benefit from some kind of plan on how to move your book forward.
Here are two key areas in which I plan my writing goals to ensure that my next book is more than just a wish.
1. The Writing Bit
Have you ever heard the phrase “Eat That Frog!”? Author Brian Tracey argues (and I’m paraphrasing here) that if the hardest thing you have to do today is eat a frog, then eat that frog first so that everything else that comes after is easy in comparison. For me, writing is almost always my frog. It’s the thing that requires the most time, is the most labour intensive, and is the most mentally taxing. To make my frog easier to swallow, I spend time on the weekend planning out what I’m going to do in the next five days for the one chapter I’ve allotted to the week. Here is what my weeks typically end up looking like:
Monday: This is my outlining and drafting day. I spend time writing out how I want the chapter to go, and what major plot points I want to cover. I identify if the chapter should have a mood, or a theme, or what it definitely should not cover (if I’ve got ideas for later in the book that I don’t want to give away just yet). Then, I draft. Lately, I’ve been using the talk-to-text feature on my Google Docs. Lounging on the couch like a diva while talking into my dictation software is a pretty sweet way to get that first draft down, I must say.
Tuesday and Wednesday: These are my first-edit days where I take those rough but well-planned (thanks to my outline) words and turn them from verbal diarrhea into a more cohesive piece of written work. I expand on ideas and themes I’ve touched on, and where I cut out some of the junk that didn’t come out so well when it was floating around in my head. My first edit is the biggest part of my writing process, hence a two-day timeline.
Thursday: The second-edit day. This is my favourite day of all. It is where I get to play with language. My first edit is pretty good, and probably would be enough to tell the story. But my second edit is where I get to craft words and phrasing. Like an artist with her canvas, words are my medium.
Friday: Line edits! Spelling and grammar, last check on phrasing, etc.
By the end of the week, I have a finished chapter. I’ve fleshed out the characters, who they are and what they’re doing in that particular section of the book, and come Monday morning, I’m ready to go with the next chapter and the next part of my characters’ journeys. In planning out what I’m going to write like this, I make sure the writing keeps pushing forward, rather than having it hang over my head as a big ol’ “Ugh… I have to sit down and write today.”
When I have a plan on how I’m going to eat my frog, it’s easier to git ‘er down the gullet.
2. Social Media
This one’s a work in progress, admittedly. As you may know from my previous post Why I am Nixing My Social Media Activity, I don’t actually like being on social media. I find the idea of chasing engagement daunting, and it leaves me with a great deal of anxiety. That’s not to say that I’m not on social media (obviously I am; I’m writing this blog post). But I’ve developed a strategy for how to approach social media so that I’ve planned out what I’m posting and when ahead of time.
I recently attended a webinar with literary agent Carly Watters called Identifying and Cultivating Your Author Brand. It was a great reminder for me of how important your web presence is as an author (not to mention Ms. Watters provided great insights and resources). As a content writer with a range of different clients (my other writing life), I’m fortunate enough to have a solid understanding of what a content calendar looks like and how it’s used. So I’ve slowly started implementing my own content calendar to keep my social media presence moving forward.
For blog posts, I plan about a month in advance what I am going to write about so that I have a long lead time to actually do the writing. Then I mark on my social media calendar when I am going to post them. I use Google Calendar for this because it allows me to attach a Google Doc with the actual post. When it’s time to go work on the post, I go to that “appointment” in the calendar, and the document with my post is right there, as well as any images I might use in the post.
For Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, I spend the weekend batch-creating content. If the main piece of the content is an image, I upload the image into my Google Calendar for that day’s post, and write the caption or text, plan out the hashtags, etc. In this way I can see at a glance what I’m posting and when, so that it’s not overwhelming when it comes time to actually do the posting bit.
(As a note, I have more experience and a better track record of doing this as a freelance content writer. My own social media platforms are a work in progress, as I mentioned, so bear with me as I work on consistency.)
Planning out how we’re going to move forward as authors is essential to being a success. Whether it’s our author brand, our books, our media opportunities or our writing processes and habits, we can all benefit from having a plan so that our goals become reality, instead of wishes on the wind.