Process: Setting Goals, Making Plans

Process: Setting Goals, Making Plans

Weekly planner and pile of notebooks
Weekly planner and pile of notebooks

It’s Monday, which means my weekly session with the planner. About a year ago, I started deliberately planning my week — paid work projects, creative work projects, things I wanted to make — and started setting deliberate goals. My big goals for last year were to finish and send out essays for publication, and to get the mystery novel I’d set aside back on its feet again.

Sitting down every Sunday or Monday and taking stock, then setting goals for the week has helped enormously. I started out using the Passion Planner which I particularly liked for it’s large size and generous real estate per week. However, after a few months, I found the inspirational pages less and less useful — although I have stayed in the habit of doing a monthly summary of what worked, what didn’t work, what I accomplished, and what I’d like to accomplish for the forthcoming month.

Eventually, I moved back to the Moleskine weekly planner because I love the page layout (although I dearly wish they had a bigger size). I like having one blank page to sketch out what the tasks are for the week, and a day-by-day section to track myself. I wrote my first novel with little weekly calendars, where I noted down word counts to keep myself honest, and on track, and I find that essential to my process.

When I was in Milwaukee last summer, I picked up some of these softcover notebooks by Fabriano, and I’ve found them really useful for brainstorming and tracking my various projects: the mystery novel, the essays, the TinyLetter, the BlogReboot. While I still carry a general notebook, I’ve found it more useful to split up into these separate ones, as well as some smaller notebooks I use for reading notes, so I can find things afterwards. I’m not a bullet journal person — all that indexing, while useful, just annoys me — but this way, I can find the notes on say, John Berger that I wanted to roll into a TinyLetter.

My primary goal at the moment is finishing this mystery novel manuscript — I started it several years ago, then put it aside while I was working on a nonfiction memoir, a project I ultimately decided was not so much a book, as it was a series of essays. Abandoning a book is never an easy decision, but that nonfiction project just would not come together the way I wanted it to (and I *really* did not want to write a misery memoir), and after discussions with an agent, I decided to put it aside and mine those ten years of work for essays.

I’ve always been a big chicken about sending things out, and somehow, that changed this year.  In combination with a planning method that seems to work, I managed to pull together five solid essays and send them out. Four of them have been taken, so that’s pretty satisfying. One was taken as a conference paper (I need to rework it a little and send it out again), three were accepted for publication (only one has come out, in the Unearthing Paradise anthology — please buy a copy and help us fight the gold mines on the border of Yellowstone). The other two should be published in the next couple of months and I’ll include links when they do. I had one essay rejected, and I’ve sent it back out. And I have three more solid ideas I’m pulling together, but since I need to draft the mystery novel, I’ve put those aside for now.

And then there’s the new novel. I’d pretty much given up on fiction, and when I decided not to pursue the memoir, I went back to the two half-finished novel drafts I had in the house. They’re both actually pretty good — but I decided to pursue the mystery novel first for a couple of reasons. One is that because the mystery as a genre deals with murder, it allows one a natural outlet to explore in fiction topics like class and money, and good and evil, and life and death. I like people in extreme situations, perhaps because I’ve seen so many of them, and the mystery provides a great opportunity to test your characters under stress. The other reason I started with this one is that I really want to do a series — I love long long form work — and the mysteries I love the best are the ones with a core set of characters who appear across the volumes, and whose development you get to trace as the series progresses. But more than any of those idea-driven reasons for writing this novel — I’m having so much fun making people up again. There are characters living in my head again, and I’d forgotten what a joy that is.

When I quit my job in September, I had about 15k words, and I’m just north of 40K now. I think it’s going to clock in somewhere in the neighborhood of 80K — which is about what Place Last Seen came in at. The planning is necessary because, for instance, I just lost three whole weeks to political madness, and so I found I had to come back, look at the page, and make a real plan. Even if part of me thought I was going to get the whole 40k written in January, and that same part of me is bummed not to be some sort of wordcount superhero, I know myself well enough that if I can come up with a reasonable schedule, and break the project into parts, then I’ll be able to get it done. Barring more insanity from Washington (or more than the level we’ve now become accustomed to), I should have a finished manuscript sometime in the middle of April. And if I can do that, I’ll have proven to myself that I can finish a book in six months, which means that pitching a book a year isn’t totally unreasonable.

The next planning challenge I’m dealing with is figuring out the revenue end of the struggle. I’ll be saying more about that in the days to come, but I’m considering a number of options, including a Patreon. In the meantime, I’ve opened a Store page on the blog, where I’ve linked to books on my Alibris store — so if you’d like to contribute that way, please go buy a book!

Also, please leave notes in the comments — what planning strategies work best for you? Are you a planner? or not-a-planner? How do creativity and planning work in your artistic life?

 


Also published on Medium.

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