Writers write. It’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
How do you know what to write and when?
That’s where your planning comes in, and in particular, planning for the next year ahead of time.
When To Start?
As early as September or October can work, and perhaps even further ahead for established authors who are months ahead in their production cycle.
If you’re a newish author still finding your rhythm, closer to the New Year will work better for you.
And, if you’re reading this midway through a year, it’s never too late to sit down and make a plan (or revise one!) for the current year. Don’t let remaining months go to waste while you wait for the imaginary fresh start that January 1st is supposed to bring.
Where To Plan?
Planning is deep, big picture work. You’re predicting the future, dreaming big, and then diving down into the details to give it all a framework.
You can try to do it at home, for sure, but there’s every chance you’ll be needed to make snacks, fetch things, answer the phone, do laundry, walk the dog… you get the idea.
You’ll probably be much more creative, and free, if you take some time to yourself away from home to work on this. You could camp out in a coffee shop or library for a day, book yourself into a hotel for a night or two and never leave your room, or take a long weekend to a place that inspires you.
(For me, it’s all about being by the water. Whether it’s going to London with a hotel overlooking the Thames, or travelling to the sea, by the water is where I think best.)
What Equipment’s Needed?
This is a dangerous question, friend!
Is there any limit to the planning equipment you could need? I think not!
Here are the essentials, in my opinion:
- Your planner for the next year
- A4 month to a page calendar print outs for the next year (yes, as well as your planner / BuJo)
- Pens, pencils, highlighters
- If you made goals for the current year, make sure you know what they were
There are several things you can take to help your inspiration flow, depending on what works best for you:
- If you like to do something creative while your mind wanders, take a colouring book
- If you like to think while you walk, take sensible walking shoes
Where To Begin?
Unless you’re a planning ninja, you’ll be helped by having a framework to guide you through the process of planning a year.
There are several options, and you don’t have to limit yourself to those focused on authors only. You can check out the Ultimate Authorship Planner by Audrey Hughey and the Your Best Year by Lisa Jacobs as two examples. While Jacobs’ isn’t designed specifically for authors, but for creative businesses, it’s a product I’ve used for years and really get a lot from.
You don’t have to order a product, though. This post will show you a simple framework you can use and adapt for your needs.
It’s important to remember that your process may not look like anyone else’s and that’s fine. Here’s a starting point. Feel free to tweak it and make it yours!
01: Review The Current Year
It’s hard to plan for the future without understanding where you currently are, so begin your planning by taking stock of how the current year has gone for you. You can do this by writing a journal entry reviewing the highs and lows, or you can go back to the goals you set for the current year and see how well you have done.
There’s a danger in reviewing your year solely by progress towards achieving your goals. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball and priorities change.
Let’s say you set the audacious goal of writing 12 months in the year, and then had a serious health challenge that wiped out several months, or a bereavement, or any number of other things. It may be that an existing book took off so well that your year was spent on book tours and promotions, or that you or your spouse received your dream promotion and had to pack up and relocate to the other side of the world.
This is why I suggest you look at the goals you set, but review the year you’ve actually had, not the year you were expecting or hoping for.
02: Set Goals For Next Year
As futile as it may be sometimes, setting goals gives you an understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.
Your year will look completely different depending on your goals.
Imagine yourself at New Year’s Eve at the end of the next year, raising a glass to yourself, in celebration. What do you want to have achieved by that point in order for that first sip to taste well-deserved?
And remember that writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Set goals for your life generally, not just your writing.
03: Map Out Landmark Events
Grab those A4 month to a page calendar print outs and mark out any holidays, special occasions, and other big events that you know will happen.
This is the first thing you do on your pages for the next year because it’s important to see how much time you really have to work with. It probably isn’t 12 undisturbed months.
Between your vacation time, holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, and school holidays, your productive time may turn out to be a lot less than you’d imagined.
04: Revise Your Goals
If you set goals for 12 months, and have now realised you only have 10 available, you may need to reconsider whether the goals you’ve set are going to be achievable.
Don’t immediately strike goals off your list, though.
Consider whether there is help available to you to get some of that time back – childcare, a division of household labour, hired help such as a cleaner. A few hours gained each week can help reduce the time lost to landmark events.
05: Specify Your Goals
Here’s where you start to get specific about how long your goals will take, so you can plug them in to your year.
There are at least two ways of doing this:
a. Let the goals dictate the pace
b. Let the pace dictate the goals
You can either say, I want to write a book a month and work from that to calculate that you need to write 3,000 words a day (for example), or you can say, I can write 1,000 words a day and work from that to calculate that you’ll write a book every three months.
06: Plot Out Your Year
It really is like plotting, and it’s a lot of fun.
Just remember that the work involved in keeping to the plot often isn’t quite so fun! Don’t get carried away by the pretty pens and paper and decide you’ll write 10,000 words a day when you’ve never managed more than 500 consistently!
With your goals clear, start mapping specifics on to the paper. I prefer to use the A4 printed calendars to record things at this stage, and then I can move on to recording daily to do lists.
Your A4 calendar sheets can record:
- Goals for each month (or the current quarter or year, depending on how you break down your goals)
- Title of the project you’ll be working on that month
- Release dates
- When you’ll send out a newsletter
- When you’ll write a blog post, and even the title
- Daily word count goal
You now have your year planned out, and it will feel pretty good. You did great!
Here’s a word of warning: life may throw you another curve ball. A better opportunity may emerge. One particular series may take off and demand all of your attention.
Your plan isn’t designed to be firm and inflexible. It’s a framework. It can change.