The following is an excerpt from On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, a book I coauthored with Charity Singleton Craig, published by T. S. Poetry Press. This is from Chapter 10: Plan, and explains, briefly, why I decided to be a little more intentional about having some kind of plan as a writer.
In fact, that’s the subtitle of Chapter 10: I am intentional about my next steps.
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I traveled out west the summer of 2013. As my family and I barreled down a New Mexico highway through a barren landscape, we saw a storm. Winds, like a giant, invisible broom, swept sand up and around. Swoosh! Currents pushed against the side of our vehicle, and debris shot across the road.
“Look!” I pointed. “A tumbleweed!”
It hopped over the fence and bounced like a beachball twice to cross the highway, before soaring high over the fence on the other side, disappearing into the swirling dust. I had to shout over the roar of the wind for my husband to hear. “I always wanted to see a tumbleweed, but I didn’t realize I’d see it under these circumstances!”
I’d only seen tumbleweeds in movies and cartoons. This was my first glimpse of the real thing, and realizing that its movement depended on violent, threatening gusts, I decided to stop comparing myself to a tumbleweed. In my Midwestern mind, tumbleweeds had seemed sort of go-with-the-flow, lazily rolling across the desert in whatever direction a puff of wind might send them. That’s also how I viewed my life as a writer. I didn’t plan my direction much or set definitive goals; I just went where the wind blew.
In the early days, I could never quite see the big picture through the blustery dust of the tumbleweed approach. When I stopped being buffeted about, I was able to schedule my weeks and days to align with the vision I have for my writing life. I developed a long-range plan, hoping to look back decades from now and say, “I’m glad I invested in the creation of that work,” instead of, “What was I doing all those years?”
But watching that storm hurl the hapless tumbleweed, I realized I didn’t want to be blown completely off the path. I wanted enough control to dig in and stay for a while, especially if I liked where I’d landed. So I’ve abandoned the tumbleweed analogy in favor of something more stable (if overused): my writing life these days is more like the habit of keeping a garden. I sow seeds, watch for growth and fruit, nurture what’s flourishing until it seems the harvest is fading, and a sow a new batch of seeds when the time is right.
My planning isn’t perfect; unexpected events, both good and bad, can throw me off. Nevertheless, my writing life is taking root and growing; I’m making significant, measurable progress each day. I still leave room for serendipity—a phone call from an event planner looking for a conference speaker, or a publisher wanting to hire a writing coach to work with one of their writers, or a magazine editor requesting a 2,000-word article on a topic of my choice.
I edit content for two online communities, submit my work to websites and magazines, collaborate with other writers, coach high school students and adults in their craft, and publish articles at my own website. I intentionally work this literary garden on my own and with others.
Clarity. Vision. Organization. Planning. I’m not waiting for the writing life to randomly bounce across my path. And if the wind whips up a surprise for me, I’m ready.
My fellow gardeners inspire me to plan and set goals. They model risk-taking and organization, tackling new projects and integrating the latest technology. Thanks to the encouragement of others in this broad community of writers, I’m more organized and deliberate. When looking at a project, I break it into manageable tasks and schedule them to pace myself leading up to the deadline. I use a task management system that serves as a to-do list for each day and coordinates with a calendar. I wake up, accomplish my daily routines, and sit down and do what my system tells me to do. Because that’s my plan.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts (affiliate link)
- #4 Goals vs. Systems (early podcast episode)
- #6: What’s the Next Action
- #26: Why Writers Need a Rut to Run In
- #66: Olympic-Inspired Goal-Setting Strategies for Writers
- Charity Singleton Craig
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