Wait, you say. Didn’t you outline the plan a couple of posts ago?
I did, but that was the plan of attack. Now I’m talking about a different sort of plan. You might call it a defensive plan, a rescue plan, an emergency plan, or a contingency plan.
It’s a plan for when things go wrong.
A year is a long time to sustain effort and energy on one thing. And no matter how much we love writing, there will be times when you just can’t face another night in front of the screen. So the purpose of your contingency plan is twofold: to keep you on track, and to get you back on track when life derails your efforts.
Staying on track
If you’ve written your way through a novel or two, you should understand a bit about what motivates you to write. So the first part of the plan is simply identifying what keeps your butt in the chair. Make a list of the things you have done in the past to keep you moving forward. It might be rewards, writing dates, creative outings, marathons, your local or internet writing group or just lots and lots of coffee.
Make a list of all the things that you have used in the past to keep you going. Set up a reward system if that works for you. Make a progress spreadsheet. Book in your writing dates. Find all the nice things anyone has ever said about your writing, print them out and stick them on your computer. Write out your goal, in big letters. “I will revise and submit this manuscript by December, 2012. I will complete the first draft of manuscript name, ready to revise in 2013.”
I definitely recommend journaling the process as you go. This doesn’t mean writing pages of thoughts about your progress. What I do when I’m writing is have a journal file open next to my novel file. When I sit down to write, I put in the date, and some notes about how I feel. It might be just “ready to go!” Some days I jot down a quick summary of what I want to achieve. “23.02.12: Asia confronts her boss about the debacle.” Some days it’s a pep-talk: “okay, you’re tired, you feel like crud and your manuscript is shite. Well tough nellies. Write that damn scene!”
Then when you finish writing for the day, you jot down a little end note. “Scene complete. Tomorrow work on the scene with X.” “Sorted out conflict, but where now? Work out what’s going on with Nate.” “Wrote nothing. Crappy day. Booze now.”
The purpose of the journal is to enable you to look back and see progress being made, to keep notes on where you are going and to motivate you. It’s not meant to be a public journal. This is all the dross that you carry around with you when you write. It’s also an insight into your writing process. Jot it down, then use it to help you write.
If you’re horribly organised and busy like me, you can be easily derailed when you miss a day of writing due to other commitments. Nothing breaks my stride quite so much as being interrupted by life. So what I do is set a time of day, come hell or high water, where I have to write. And my family knows that is “my time” and that I’m not to be disturbed.
If you’re living in the delightful chaos that is a family, making your time to write is essential. If you’re studying, or working, you need to work out the best time for you to write each day, and make sure you do it.
And of course the next step is not beating yourself up if you miss a day. It’s recognising the interruption as temporary and moving on. And if the interrruption is permanent? Well, we’ll talk about that further down, in the section “when things go wrong”.
Oh wait, here it is.
When things go wrong
Lets talk about the events that can derail you. Family, work, stress induced from either, illness, money…not to mention our capricious writer brains. So lets look at some possibilities.
- Social activities
How will you adapt your life to ensure you keep going? Do you already have a dedicated writing time? Does your family know what you are doing? Are you exercising? Are you prepared to skip some social occasions that you don’t really need to go to?
- Writer’s block
What strategies do you have for when the fear hits? Do you have a writing buddy to talk to when you become disillusioned with the whole process? What techniques do you have to tackle writer’s block? How are you going to cope with negative thoughts from your subconscious?
Each strategy will depend on you as a writer. Use what you know and draft options that you can take to address each option, and any others you know can get in your way.
If I’m struggling to write at home I will:
- ask for an hour of private time from the family
- make my own space to write, away from distractions
- have a writer’s date at a cafe where I can write in peace.
Drafting the plan
Now you need to write it all out. At the top of the page, write down your goals.
Write down how much time you plan to spend on it each day.
Write down any rewards, and encouraging words you need.
Then write down a couple of options for each problem you can foresee.
Try to keep it simple, no more than one page for the whole thing.
Put inspirational pictures on there, if you find that encouraging. This is your
Now either print it out or write it on some nice paper. Then stick it up somewhere you will see it every day. Because it’s important to remind yourself why you are doing this. If you hide it away on your hard drive, it gets easily forgotten, and so can your writing. You could put it near your computer, if you sit down at the computer every day. But if your computer is tucked away in another room and you don’t sit down at it every day, then you need to think of a more visible place to put it. On the fridge, on your mirror, in your diary. Wherever it is, you want it to be where your eyes will fall on it, as a reminder.
The final steps before you are ready to start are:
- Choose what you are working on, both the revision and the new project (if you haven’t already done so!)
- Set up folders, files, plotting cards, notebooks, whatever you need when you are writing and revising.
- Start thinking and planning, but don’t go crazy – you need slow, sustained progress. Don’t burn out before you’ve even started.
Enjoy the new year celebration. See you in 2012!