August 8, 2011
I just finished writing a four-month plan for my writing so that I’ll have some sense of what I’ll be doing in my writing life come September. I do this three times a year: in mid-August for September through December; in mid-December for January through April; in mid-April for May through August. I started doing this years ago because I met a writer who convinced me that we writers need to take the time to plan; we need to take the time to think about what we’ll be doing over a swathe of time. This same writer told me that she periodically writes, and then later revises, five-year plans, one-year plans, and then four-month plans. She begins with her five-year plan, and then works back from those goals to figure what she needs to accomplish, say, in year one.
Many of us have chosen to be writers to escape the corporate life. I love the freedom of being a writer, of having no one tell me what to do. I love not having to “perform” for someone else’s set of goals. I love working on what I myself have chosen. Still, I do believe there are many advantages to thinking about our work over time, just as long as we ourselves don’t set unrealistic goals – finish a novel in a year; write an essay a week over a month’s time.
Before I spoke to this woman, I was the kind of writer who put one foot in front of another day by writing day. I’d write one day; I’d write the next; I’d write a day at a time. But in those days – and that was a long time ago – I wondering whether what I was doing fit into any grand plan, any grand scheme. I knew I wanted to write a novel. Yet I hadn’t written that desire down; I hadn’t set myself the goal of writing a novel; I hadn’t thought about when I’d learn how to write fiction or write the novel itself. I felt frustrated, often, because I took whatever came my way and got myself involved in many projects (some were editing projects) that took an enormous amount of time that weren’t what I myself truly wanted to work on. I hadn’t taken the time to think about who I wanted to be as a writer, what I wanted to write, what I needed to do to accomplish my goals.
When I began to write what I started to call my “Game Plan,” I first tried to articulate my mission statement. What kind of writer did I want to be? What kind of audience did I want? What did I want to accomplish in my work? And I think it’s essential that we do this, for in our writing lives, we’ll learn that others might want us to be the kind of writer we’ve chosen not to be. Will we, for example, be willing to “dumb down” something we’ve written because an editor insists upon it? Or will we hold firm to our vision and risk losing publication? Will we be willing to travel to publicize our book even though we’ve decided that we’re the kind of writer who prefers to stay put? Are we willing to accept the consequences of our decisions? Are we writers who want to reach the widest possible audience and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal? Or are we, instead, writers who are willing to write for a limited audience even if it means that in this publishing climate we might have to publish with a small press or self-publish? Do we want to write fiction? Memoir? Creative nonfiction? Poetry? All of the above?
There are no right answers to any of these questions, no single mission statement that works for every writer. Some of us might want to try to maximize our readership; others of us might choose to write for a chosen few. Some of us might want to engage an agent, and try to sell our work to an important press; others of us might choose to publish with small presses and contact editors ourselves.
I think it’s important that we be honest with ourselves, so that once our writing life begins to bear fruit, we’ll know whether we’re acting in accordance with our own ideals. But a writing life is unpredictable, and we may find that the writer we were is not the writer we now are. So it’s important for us to think about these issues from time to time.
So what do I plan on accomplishing over the next four months? More important, what do you intend to accomplish over the next four months?
I’m nearing the end of two books. I’ve decided to put one book – the father book I’ve spoken about in these blogs – aside for the time being to finish the other book – a book about writing. I have an introduction to write; a few more chapters; a conclusion – all possible within four months’ time. I’ve decided to learn about the kinds of books university presses are publishing because I believe I’ll be writing a book quite soon that will be more suited to a university press than a trade press. I’ve decided to read contemporary novels set in World War II – I have an idea for such a novel and I want to see what’s out there. And I’ve decided to read novels from the 20s – that I’m doing on instinct, just because I want to, though I suspect I might want to write about the late 20s, early 30s sometime in the future. Throughout this time, I’ll jot down ideas toward the completion of the father book.
I’ve written a specific set of tasks also, and I’ve estimated how long it will take me to accomplish these goals. I’ll be working two hours a day, four days a week, on my writing, and my plan seems realistic. But I know I can revisit it any time – pare it down, add items to my list if I move through my plan more quickly.
Until I sat down to write my September to December 2011 Game Plan, I admit that I felt lost. I’d hit a rough patch with the father book; I’d been writing and writing at the writing book without a sense of when I wanted to finish. Writing my plan took less than 20 minutes. I did it, by hand, in my process journal, and then typed it out. I’ve put it in a manila folder, and it now sits on my desk beside me as I write this. Less than twenty minutes it took me, but what I gained was a sense of relief, satisfaction, self-worth, and tremendous energy.
Now I can take some time away from writing, but I’m looking forward, too, to September to begin work on my Game Plan.