Annual resolutions and plans have a disconcerting way of dissolving partway through the year.
At the start of 2021, I resolved not to write a book in the year. Get the Word Out released in November of 2020, and I intended to spend 2021 promoting and supporting it.
Nevertheless, 33 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Business Emails appeared in September. It was not in my plans for the year, but I’m happy to have written it. (Thanks to Melissa Wilson for inviting me to do it!)
That’s the thing about plans. We need them until we abandon them.
Plans are like outlines. From my Nonfiction Author Survey: only 6% of the published authors surveyed wrote a book that matched their initial outline exactly.
As writers, we need both the Muse and the Scribe (the creative and the focused/disciplined parts of ourselves). Planning definitely belongs to the Scribe. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.
The planning paradox
The plotter/pantser dilemma applies to more than fiction.
If you’re not familiar, in the world of fiction:
- Plotters are people who plan out everything before writing
- Pantsers, in contrast, see where the writing takes them. (They write ‘by the seat of their pants.’)
Fiction writers stake out positions in one camp or the other. Most inhabit a combination of the two approaches.
The same tension applies to our writing plans.
Plans motivate us to act. Yet creativity means looking beyond the obvious. We need to be creative not only about our manuscripts, but about our writing lives in general.
The musician Questlove puts it this way:
“Creative life sometimes means knowing when deviation from the plan should become the new plan.”Questlove, from Creative Quest
So, what do we do?
Do we outline or not? Do we make plans for the year, knowing (from hard experience) that life intercedes?
Just as with outlines, we need plans to set off in the right direction, so we can be on the trail when an interesting turnoff shows up.
Here’s my planning compromise:
Plan the process, not the results
I have no idea what the year ahead will bring. The only thing I can control is how I approach each day—my process.
At the start of 2021, I committed to write something every day in a story journal.
You know what? I did it!
Oh, some days the entries were more observations than stories. Some started and fizzled out.
And I missed a few days of entries, especially when traveling.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was fascinating. (Read my mid-year reflection on the experience.)
I committed to the process, not the outcomes. Then I had the joy of exploring those outcomes.
Lessons from the my story journal experiment
I was tempted on occasion to abandon my story journal project. But I didn’t, partly because I’d committed to and blogged about it publicly. How can I face my readers if I don’t follow through?
Here’s the lesson from that experience: Accountability strengthens our process.
Also, some days my entries were quite short—scribbled down within five minutes. But simply showing up maintained the momentum.
Another lesson: Start with small commitments you can sustain.
What’s your (process-focused) plan?
How does this make you feel about planning for 2022? More relaxed? Curious and open to possibilities?
Find someone to share your plans with. Share them with me, if you’d like. I’ll check in and see how you’re doing. Maybe that will help you stick to your writing process!
For more about the Muse and the Scribe, see The Writer’s Process.