Tis the season for many things. One thing that doesn’t roll off the tongue as jolly as a line in a carol is a writing life tune-up. Yes, tis the perfect time for writing life maintenance.
It sounds so boring, I can’t believe I’m sending you off for two weeks with this message. Then again, I’m convinced if more of us would take the time to develop a simple system that supports our whole writing life, we’d stay on track and meet more of our goals and make new discoveries and find new outlets for our work—in part because we aren’t scrambling at the last minute to meet a deadline.
So it’s time to schedule your writing life tune-up.
Your Writing Life Tune-up
Your writing life as a whole includes both you, the writer, and your work. In a few days, we’ll tumble into the new year with big goals, plans, intentions, and resolutions.
But before all that, at the close of this year, a writing life tune-up looks at what you as a writer need for success, then turns to your projects, so you can determine how to set yourself up to nail deadlines and build your body of work. Doesn’t that sound like a worthy, satisfying activity—even if it’s boring?
A writing life tune-up isn’t sexy, but it’s effective.
I’ll be spending time on a tune-up for myself in the days ahead. Why not join me?
I’ll be looking back at several areas to see what worked well last year and what I’d like to see in the year ahead. I’ll be examining things like:
- Professional Development
- Writing Habits and Systems
- Writing Deadlines
- Editorial Calendar
What did I do last year for professional development?
- Three writing conferences
- Subscribed to multiple podcasts that offer writing-related content
- Attended several webinars led by industry leaders
- Read books about writing
- Read other books, fiction and nonfiction
- Read articles and blog posts with relevant content
Some activities you might consider to advance as a writer that aren’t on my list could be working with a mentor or coach and joining a writing group or author mastermind.
Writing space and tools
Our writing life evaluation can include practical elements such as rearranging our writing space. Does my current desk suit my needs? Are there tools that made life easier—did others waste time with complicated steps? Is your current writing chair a good fit? Mine is, but the arm rests need a little duct tape repair. Did you try a standing desk and find it helpful? How well did a writing notebook serve you?
Make a list of equipment, outings, activities, and input from in the past year related to all of these writing life details.
- What worked and what didn’t work?
- What helped you improve as a writer and what wasn’t worth the investment of time, money, and logistics?
- What gave you energy and what sucked energy from you?
- Also, what from your work and life gave energy to others?
As I review last year’s activities, I’ll determine what helped me level-up as a writer. Then I can make better decisions for the year ahead, scrapping anything that wastes my time and resources and continuing what offered the support I need.
Plan it out
I like to get a big-picture view of how I want to invest in myself and my space so I can include it when mapping out any given week or month.
When, for example, do I intend to listen to a podcast or watch a webinar? I don’t want to steal time from a writing session, for example, to read an article about queries. And yet I want to read about queries. When will I do that?
I know, I know. It’s a boring process, but this tune-up keeps me from scrambling and squandering time. Because left to my own devices, I totally squander my time.
Writing Habits and Systems
James Clear and many others advocate a Kaizen philosophy of improvement claim that tiny goals set us up for success; just a one percent improvement adds up over time. We can decide what small steps we can make that will move us toward our next writing goal.
Let’s say you have a deadline to finish a 1200-word article by January 31st. A mere 40 words a day will get you there if that deadline is to complete a draft. If the finished article is due in that time frame, however, you may want to ramp that up to 100 words a day to finish the draft early and leave time for revision.
Aren’t those small steps? Surely we can write 100 words a day. And for sure 40! I mean, we can tap those right before we drop into bed at night.
So decide some small steps that move you toward your next writing goal. You can do that by looking back to see what small steps worked in the past year, as you reflect.
Then you can work all those details into a schedule—a calendar.
Writing habits and the systems they feed into are boring. They lack the excitement of slamming keys in a rush, but it’ll be sustainable over the long haul and effective at moving you toward those deadlines.
You can binge-write, sure, but what if you pushed it to the last minute and have to miss day one of the writing conference you invested in because you have to churn out that essay in your hotel room while your favorite speakers take the stage? That’s not the way you want to live your writing life.
Develop a system—or call it a routine, if you like. Whatever you label it, you should see results as you track work at both a high level and at the micro-level, day by day, with habits that support your goals.
One way to do all that is to take time for this tune-up. Look back, reflect on what works, and look ahead, so you’re poised for success.
Our writing habits and systems tie closely to our writing deadlines, so this all works together.
I like to think through all kinds of content:
- social media updates
- blog posts and, for me, podcast episodes
- articles to pitch
- short stories and poems to submit to litmags
- book to develop, propose, and write
Think about all the written content that needs your attention and what tasks are involved. A nonfiction book will require research and development; a novel will require a word count goal to work toward milestone deadlines of hitting the first draft or lining up beta readers. To write a form poem may benefit from studying its requirements and reading plenty of samples to appreciate how others pulled it off.
Determine deadlines for every stage and milestone of every project, whether it’s a project you assigned yourself or one you’ve been assigned by someone else, like an editor. Estimate how long various stages will take, from prewriting tasks like research to final edits that you’ll do yourself or those you’ll send off to a professional editor.
Whether you use a paper calendar, bullet journal, or digital app to schedule your days, you’ll want to integrate your editorial calendar.
You can track lists and plans separately—and that’s part of the whole process—but actual tasks will, ideally, integrate with your personal calendar because most writers work around the rest of life. We write during lunch breaks at our place of employment. We write while the kids are at daycare. We write early in the morning before a workout and on weekends before shoveling snow.
Schedule writing sessions and tasks
Find blocks of time to devote to your work. Set them aside and assign writing sessions, writing deadlines, and writing tasks to those specific times. Commit to the work. Don’t let anything creep into that block. You are a writer and this is your job, even if you clock in at a full-time position elsewhere. So set that aside to do the work.
Regularly maintain the calendar
Though you’re in tune-up mode, this is not a set-it-and-forget-it model. Regular maintenance sends us back into our system and the calendar itself to evaluate where we’re at on any given day.
Heaven knows life throws one curveball after another throwing off our plans. That’s okay. Build that into the system, as well, with this maintenance step of evaluating on a regular basis, at least weekly, so you can adjust and revise.
Ideal for all personalities
If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants personality and this sounds super-systematic and overly organized, let me tell you…that’s me. I’d much rather follow a whim—and sometimes I do! I’m not by nature a routine-oriented person. But I learned that commitments take priority and for me to pull them off and not get distracted, I need a plan, a routine, a system.
Besides, I find this basic approach works even for more relaxed personalities.
You can use a flexible calendar like a bullet journal, let’s say, that doesn’t feel like a taskmaster. However, for procrastinators and forgetful sorts, and anyone distracted by shiny objects (can you see me raising my hand, here?), it’s good to have that plan set up with a system that nudges you to attend to the commitments you’ve made and goals you’ve set. You can achieve them better when you set up and follow an editorial calendar.
Regardless of your personality type, an editorial calendar is a simple way to think, plan, and act like a professional writer. It’s a practical way to take your work seriously.
New Goals and Resolutions
When you finally start looking ahead and you’re ready to make goals and resolutions, your tune-up gives you a system into which you can incorporate them. Because big dreams and small goals are exciting to imagine and start, but the way to pull them off is through the ongoing, boring act of sitting in the chair and churning out words, day after day after day.
And to set yourself up to do that is to create systems and schedule time on an editorial calendar. That is how you pull it off. And that can be done in a writing life tune-up, especially here at the end of the year.
Join me! Join me in a writing life tune-up. Together, we can head into the new year ready to achieve our goals in the most boring but effective way possible.
- Course: The Organized Writer: Tap into the Power of an Editorial Calendar
- Ep 172: 4 Simple Ways to Put Your Own Writing First (discusses binge-writing)
- Ep 33: Start with Three Sentences
- Ep 131: Reverse Engineer Your Editorial Calendar
- Ep 114: Make the Most of Your Time with an Editorial Pipeline
- Ep 115: You’ll Write More When You Use an Editorial Calendar
You can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.