I’m not by nature a planner. I am, in fact, more of a tumbleweed.
You know what I mean? If I went with my personality, I’d be blown around with no particular direction—wherever the wind sent me.
On Being a Writer – Chapter 10 Excerpt
I wrote about this tendency of mine in On Being a Writer, the book I wrote with Charity Singleton Craig. In Chapter 10, entitled “Plan,” I explain why I decided to be a little more intentional about creating a plan for my writing life:
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…
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…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…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.1
Macro- and Micro-Level Planning
Over the years I’ve learned to be more organized and deliberate at the macro level and micro level.
The macro level is that long-range planning that looks at the big picture of where I want to be in the next year or two. I break that down into quarterly goals. They often evolve, but I like to have projects I’m working toward, even if the schedule shifts.
Then there’s the micro level, where I plan at a practical level.
Now, the micro level is where the magic takes place. But the thing is, it’s not magic at all.
I make a plan and work the plan.
At the micro-level, I break a project 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.
Both a macro and micro plan are critical for leveling up.
Review the Next-Level Questions
Next-level writers think through those questions I posed in Episode 194. If you haven’t already gone through those ten questions, grab the downloadable worksheet (see the form below) so you can print it out and write out your responses.
You’ll use your responses to start forming your macro plan, determining the writing world you want to level up in and what you need to do within that world.
You’ll have noted where you’re at in terms of experience and skill level compared with others in this writing world. From that list, you’re going to decide which skill or what kind of experience to pursue next.
I do love serendipity and spontaneity. Wonderful things have happened because I was willing to follow my curiosity and embrace opportunities as they presented themselves.
But I have learned to love a plan. I’ve learned to follow through with a plan in order to achieve my writing goals. Don’t worry—I have fun along the way. And if we want to be creative and productive, developing a plan to level up is well worth the time.
Pull out your responses to those ten questions.
Ask yourself where you would like to be in a year.
Next-Level Planning Possibilities
Each question begins to reveal opportunities for growth and investment that can take you where you want to be in a year. For example:
- You could write more of the same kind of writing you’re doing now.
- You could branch out in the same writing world you’re in, submitting to new outlets or increasing frequency.
- You could find new readers in various ways, by interacting more in your social media channels or pitching yourself as a guest on a podcast or writing short stories if you’re a novelist.
- You could determine a skill you want to develop and come up with a plan to learn and practice.
- You could analyze what someone has done who models exemplary work in this world and list some of the steps they took to find inspiration for yourself; they may have started a podcast, which doesn’t interest you, but their live videos on Instagram inspire you to try something similar.
- If you decided you really want to shift into a new world, part of your plan would be to learn all you can about how that world operates so you can move into it with greater confidence.
Where would you like to be in a year? Use that to start to develop your macro plan to level up.
- On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, by Charity Singleton Craig and Ann Kroeker [affiliate link]
- Next-Level Writer: Where Are You Now? [Ep 194]
- Olympic-Inspired Goal-Setting Strategies for Writers (Ep 66)
- Next-Level Writer series
- Write to Discover series
- All podcast episodes
- Kroeker, Ann and Charity Singleton Craig. On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts. T. S. Poetry Press, 2014. (109, 110, 111)