Five Year Writing Plan Part II: Setting Up Your Plan and To-Do List Driven Writing Scheduling


Motto: Set grandiose objectives and strive in small, calculated steps towards them.

The Five Year Writing Plan you are creating will begin on January 1, 2007 and end on December 31, 2011. The pre-work for this was outlined in the last edition of this column and can be found in the archives: Five Year Writing Plan Part I: Getting Started.

The Tools You Need
In order to complete this part of the exercise you will need: a notebook and pencil; a copy of January 2007 to December 2007. If you use an electronic calendar, printing out the calendar pages for that year in the month as well as the week view (including weekends) will be helpful for the scheduling portion of this plan. If you use a store-bought paper calendar, make a photo copy of it. From last months column, you will need copies of your completed Project List, 5-11 Driving Objectives, and numerical values for your RG.

Sample Author Example
The sample author examples throughout this article help to illustrate the basic concepts. They should not be used as realistic bench marks as I made them up to illustrate potential situations. The specifics of each example, such as productivity or benefits to your career from the tasks used, have no basis in reality. I will only be using one sample author as the steps for this section aren’t affected by the length of time you have been writing.

Focused Agenda Review
A clear Focused Agenda is the first step in setting up a functional Five Year Writing Plan and applying it to your To-Do List Driven Writing Schedule.

A Focused Agenda (Gabarro, HBS) works by:

  • Establishing 5 to 11 Short-to-Long Term Driving Objectives
  • An understanding of what you must accomplish to get there
  • A screen to judge which activities are most important, which can be deferred, and which do not matter
  • A means to make choices about how to spend your time

The first step in constructing a Focused Agenda was addressed in last month’s column and the remainder will be addressed in this column.

Resources: Understanding What You Need to Accomplish to Get There
Every project you take on requires two resources: your time and your creative energy. Both come in limited amounts and are inter-dependent on each other. All the time in the world won’t help you if your creative energy is low and vice versa. Being honest with yourself about your resources — both time and creative energy — will allow you to make better informed decisions about how you use your resources. Which is ultimately the goal this Five Year Writing Plan and To-Do List-Driven Schedule aims to help you achieve.

Creative Energy
While your creative energy maybe at the mercy of your muse, there are things you can do to help foster its growth and to protect it. By not over extending yourself on any of your fronts — not just your writing front — you will help to keep your muse happy and your creative energy high. Maintaining balance in your life between the things you have to do (work, chores, etc.) and the things you want to do (movies, dinner out, trips, friends, etc.), that is work and fun, will also help keep your creative energy flowing. And remember, while writing can be fun; it is also work and should be counted as such.

Time, to some extent, can also be controlled. By establishing a writing schedule and sticking to it, you can guarantee you have some time to write. You can also control the time you have to write by picking and choosing what writing projects as well as what non-writing activities you will engage in. I’ll address this in more detail under Hard Choices. Simplifying your entire life by reducing unnecessary stress and organizing your self will also help with both time and creative energy.

Constructing Long, Medium, and Short Term Goals
Short Term = 1 year (2007)
Medium Term = 2 to 3 years (2008, 2009)
Long Term = 4 to 5 years (2010, 2011)

    1. Take 3 new sheets of paper in landscape orientation. At the top of each sheet Write: SHORT TERM = 1 year, MEDIUM TERM = 2-3 years, or LONG TERM = 4-5 years.

    2. Take your 5-11 Driving Objectives with your Project List on which you have already assigned each project to a Driving Objectives and transfer them to the Long, Medium, or Short Term Goals sheets. Use the date of completion (actual deadline) to determine which list each goes on.

Sample Author
Driving Objectives
5 short stories a year each year
Write a novel
Take 2 classes 2007 and 2011
Attend conference in 2008
5 poems a year each year
2 essays a year each year

Project List
2 deadlines in March 3 and April 26 of 2007 for short stories

The Sample Author wants to write five short stories, 5 poems, and 2 essays per year for each of the next five years. She will list these items five times or once for each year of the plan — once on Short Term and twice each on Medium and Long Term sheets. Additionally, she wants to attend a class twice during the next five years so she has selected 2007 and 2011. She lists it as a Short and Long Term goal. Any items with deadlines should appear on the list that corresponds to the year of the due date. Her items are both listed under Short Term goals because they occur in 2007. She wants to attend a conference in 2008 so she lists it as a Medium term goal. And she wants to write a novel, so this is listed as a Long Term Goal.

Reducing Goals to Project Step
Reducing everything to smaller steps makes large projects more manageable and lets you work toward larger goals with more ease. You are going to reduce the items listed on your Medium and Long Term Goals into manageable short term steps. To do this you need to think about the elements that make up a Long Term Goal. For example, what has to happen for you to write a novel? You may, depending on your style and genre, plot your novel or outline it before your start to write. You need to write a series of chapter drafts, revise them into chapter second drafts, and then rework any sections that aren’t working.

    3. Take your Long Term Goals sheet and reduce each item to Project Steps. Break each goal down into smaller steps. What components make up a goal? Time, money, and parts such as chapters, pages, drafts. Distribute your Long Term goal project steps to your short and medium term goal sheets.

    4. Now look at your medium term goals and reduce them to smaller project steps if you can.

Sample Author Reducing Goals to Project Step
Sample Author wants to write a novel. She is going to reduce the novel to project steps as follows: outline the novel (s) write first draft of all chapters (s/m) write second draft of all chapters (m) revise (l). She also wants to attend a conference, as we saw earlier, and needs to save to pay for it so she will save $10 a month to cover it (s/m).

Why Five Year Writing Plans Fail
Five Year Writing Plans, like any other plan, fail because of five basic factors. First, unrealistic goals that cannot be achieved are set up as bench marks of the plan’s success. Once you fail to meet a goal, you set off a negative loop. Second, a lack of commitment on the part of the participants of the plan. If you don’t follow the plan, it will not work. Third, inflexibility of the plan. Often plans have no flexibility to deal with projects and opportunities that arise after it has been implemented. When a project does arrive that wasn’t expected the user is faced with either turning down the project or discarding the plan. Fourth, over extending yourself. The plan is a road map if you deviate too far the plan will fail. U actuated plans. Plans can only work if you set them into motion. If you aren’t honest with yourself and if you do not committee to the plan; it will fail.

Making Hard Choices: A Means to Make Choices About How to Spend Your Time
You cannot do everything.Yes, it is a very sad fact of life that every opportunity that presents itself cannot be accepted. You must pick and choose from writing projects, life chores, and social activities. It is impossible for you to do everything you want to do.

You will have to make a sacrifice to be an author unless you are wealthy and don’t have to work a day job or you can support yourself with your writing. Even then you will have to make sacrifices. The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2006 said he writes ten hours a day 5 days a week. As an author, you will labor alone, isolated, and without fan-fair. You will miss social events, TV shows, and time sitting around doing nothing. You will work hard. You will toil in fact, while others play.

Some of your choices will seem obvious and be planned. I cannot watch TV with my lover on Tuesday because I have to write. I must go to work or I will be fired. Others will be unexpected. I cannot go to P-town for the night because I have to write. Some choices will be easier than others to make. Sometimes you will be able to swing both the writing session and the trip to P-town. Sometimes you will opt out of writing and go to P-Town or sit and watch TV with your lover. If you find yourself opting out of writing a lot, you may want to rethink your commitment to being an author.

Selecting Projects
All projects offer opportunities. Getting published always opens new doors, provides exposure, and adds to your resume and, usually, your wallet. But a unique opportunity does more than that. It opens specific doors you have been knocking on or provides you special exposure that a normal opportunity wouldn’t.

When a new project or a call for submissions crosses your desk, ask your self these questions about a potential project:

Does this project fit into my long, medium and/or short term goals?
If yes, how? Which goal(s)?
If not, does it offer me a unique opportunity that will positively impact on my career?
If yes, what?
How does this project move me towards a goal?
If I accept this project, what will its affect or impact on my Five Year Writing Plan and Schedule be?
Is the benefit of doing this project greater than the cost?

Revisiting Your Long, Medium, and Short Term Goals
Take a look at your Long, Medium and Short Goal sheets. Consider the implications for your writing goals, the resource required, and other factors in achieving these goals.Are there projects that can or should be dropped? Do your goals seem realistic? Are they in line with your RG Values? Do the projects you’ve listed under each Driving Objective contribute value towards reaching that goal? Adjust your goals by deleting or adding projects where needed to create balance and take the best advantage of your time and creative energies while working towards your goals.

Establishing Your One Year Writing Schedule
About Schedules
A writing schedule is a key component of this process so before we start to set it up, I want to spend some time on how you should treat your writing schedule. Just like you wouldn’t call your mother and ask her to move Thanksgiving Day Dinner to next Monday, cancel your doctor’s appointment, or not show up for your best friend’s 25th or 50th birthday party on a whim or because something more important came up, I want you to treat your scheduled writing times like you would any other scheduled activity — as set in stone, as hard if not impossible to change, as a priority, as not movable, as somewhere you must be at all costs.If you don’t already, I want you to start thinking about your writing as a serious commitment — a part time job, a child under your care — as well as your craft and an art form. If you are serious about writing — even as a hobby — on any level you need to do this and you need to committee to writing be it for 10 hours a day or 2 hours a week and take that commitment seriously.

You most likely maintain a schedule now. You show us for and leave work at predetermined times, make appointments with doctors, dentist, vets, repair folks, etc. You may even plan trips, theater, or dinner events with friends. You know about family events — holidays, reunions, birthday parties — in advance. You may even keep or attempt to keep a writing schedule.

Units of Time
You will schedule three types of writing time on your schedule for the year: Writing Sessions (which turn into Writing Blocks), and Slush and Administrative Times.

Flag Dates: dates by which you want to finish a draft or final version or dates on which items are due. Deadlines both internal and external.

Writing Sessions: each block of prime time you will work on writing

Writing Blocks: any given number of Work Sessions used for each project goal. Example: three consecutive Work Sessions used for a draft of a short story is a Work Block

Administrative Time: time slots used to deal with administrative tasks such as reading calls, preparing or tracking cover letters and submissions, etc.

Slush Time: lunch hours or travel time you will work on writing items.

Setting Up Your Five Year Writing Plan
How to Set Up Your Schedule
Calendar Task: block off at least two 2-hour sessions per week and potential times for slush and administrative task.

    1. Think about your life. Your work schedule and life commitments. Add these to your calendar pages if they aren’t already there.

    2. Consider your writing style. Do you write best in the morning or late at night? Do you need at least two hours or can you produce in small chunks of time spread out? Do you need to be at your computer at your desk in your room alone or can you write anywhere at any time with any number of distractions? I recommend at least two two-hour blocks of time per week be set aside for writing. More is better if you can accommodate it. I also recommend that these blocks of time be at the same time each week if possible. Keeping in mind your lifestyle and writing style, select these two two-hour blocks of time for 2007. Write them into your calendar starting with the first week of January. Look at each week for potential problems that will interfere with the days you have selected and compensate for them now as you add the schedule to the calendar.

Sample Author Example
The SA has selected Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00 to 9:30 PM to write. As she adds these slots to her calendar, she realizes that Thanksgiving is always on Thursday and chooses to write that week on Friday instead. (Monday or Wednesday would have been fine choices also.)

    3. Now consider when you can “squeeze” slush time to write out of your schedule. Would it be possible to write two days a week on your lunch hour if you brown bagged your lunch? Can you write on your 45 minute commute home on the bus? Apply these times only to the month of January. In February, you can access how well they worked. Keep, change, or modify them accordingly.

Sample Author Example
The SA has selected to write on Monday and Friday over lunch. She realizes that she will have the Friday after Thanksgiving off and selects Tuesday of that week to write at lunch.

    4. Administrative time refers to non-writing writing task such as preparing manuscripts and cover letters to send to a call, updating your resume, looking at calls, shopping a novel, etc.. I recommend one hour every other week as a jumping off point for this. Apply administrative time to January through and including March of your calendar only (three months). At the end of March, you can access how well they worked. Keep, change, or modify them accordingly.

Sample Author Example
The SA has selected Monday nights starting with the second week in January from 6 to 7 PM to do administrative items.Schedule Summary

Prepare your Calendar:

  1. Mark off non-writing commitments including but not limited to work schedule, social events, doctor appointments, trips, etc.
  2. Determine when you will write: How long will the sessions be and how many sessions a week? Block these off adjusting for holidays or existing commitments but maintaining the same amount of time each week and whenever possible the same days and hours.
  3. Slush time for January only.
  4. Administrative time January through March one hour every other week.

Preparing Your To-Do List
I keep a weekly handwritten to-do list in a small, pocket size bound notebook — much like the assignment books you had in grade school. I cross off items as they are completed and each Friday I start the list over on a new page transferring any items I didn’t complete that week to the top of the new list. I leave the old list in the notebook as a reference. This system works well for me. However, any system that works for you is fine. A word of caution, don’t let your to-do list become your project. Its purpose is to keep track of what you need to do. Keep it simple and neat. If you like you can also keep a monthly Master list.

Ultimately, your Short Term Goals are what you plan to accomplish the first year of the Five Year Writing Plan and should be in line with your RGVs. Because you have reduced your Long and Medium Term Goals into smaller Project Steps that now appear on your Short and Medium Goal List, in order to apply this to your to-do list you only need your Short Term Goals. Ideally you should only apply your To-Do list to your schedule one month at a time. This will allow you to adjust for any projects that pop up and still keep on track.

Sample Author
Sample Author’s Short Term Goals
5 short stories a year each year
6 draft chapters
Outline for novel
Take a class
Save money for conference in 08
5 poems
2 essays
2 deadlines in March 3 and April 26

Breaking Down Your Short Term Goals into a To-Do List
Break your Short Term Goals — what you want to achieve in 2007 — into a monthly to-do list by first prioritizing deadlines and then organizing items without deadlines into the order you want to complete them. Determine how many Writing Sessions you need to complete each step of the task or project. For example, a short story or chapter of a novel. You can do this by looking at your RG values and using your own knowledge of how long it normally takes you to complete a story. Once you have used this system for a while, you will become more adept at estimating how many sessions you need per project. It is a good idea to leave an Open Writing Session between Writing Blocks in case you need more time. The Sample Author example below is very helpful in illustrating these steps. Remember that you can use your Slush Time to write, edit, contemplate, reread your drafts, or anything you like.

Flag Dates
Remind your self of due dates by adding Flag Dates for calls for submission deadlines or project due dates on your calendar. Allow 1 week for snail mail delivery by putting the date a week ahead to remind you to mail it so it reaches the editor by or before the due date. List manuscript and cover letters you need to process in the appropriate Administrative Time periods based on their due dates.

Applying Your Five Year Writing Plan to Your Schedule Using Your To-Do List

  1. Prioritize your Short Term Goals into a To-Do List.
  2. Apply them to your Writing Sessions forming Writing Blocks
  3. Assign tasks to your Slush Time
  4. Assign tasks to your Administrative Time
  5. Flag due dates

Sample Author
The Sample Author has decided to write the short story due March 3 first, then work on her novel until she needs to write the April 26 short story. She breaks her Short Term Goals List into the following order:

Short Story #1 due March 3
Outline for novel
2 Draft Chapters
2 poems
Short Story #2 due April 26
Short Story #3
Essay #1
2 Draft Chapters
Short Story #4
Essay #2
Short Story #5
2 Draft Chapters
3 poems

She will research and signup for a class and use Flag Dates on each pay day to reminder her to save money for conference in 08.

For the sake of the illustration, I’m providing two months of her scheduled Writing Sessions and Administrative Time. You should only schedule one month at a time until you get a feel for the system, then you can schedule three months at a time if you like.

The Sample Arthur has blocked off two 2-hour sessions a week (a total of 17) in addition she has blocked off two Slush periods per week (18), and Administrative Time every other week (5).

She assigns her tasks to her blocked off Writing Sessions, Slush Time, and Administrative Time for January and February as follows:

Writing Sessions:
#1 short story
#2 short story
#3 short story
#4 short story
#5 open
#6 Outline
#7 Chapter
#8 Chapter
#9 Chapter
#10 Chapter
#11 Chapter
#12 Chapter
#13 Chapter
#14 Chapter
#15 open
#16 poems
#17 poems

Slush Time:
#1 short story
#2 short story
#3 short story
#4 short story
#5 Outline
#6 Outline
#7 Chapter
#8 Chapter
#9 Chapter
#10 Chapter
#11 Chapter
#12 Chapter
#13 Chapter
#14 Chapter
#15 open
#16 poems
#17 poems
#18 open

Administrative Time:
#1 update bio, research class and register, research calls
#2 Research calls, update CV, write query letter
#3 update schedule and to-do list for next month, research conference
#4 answer fan emails (you can dream right?)
#5 prepare short story submissions due March 3, update schedule and to-do list for next month

Maintaining and Fine Tuning Your Five Year Writing Plan and To-Do list Driven
Once you’ve used this system you will know values for your own writing style For example, it takes me twice as long to write a chapter as it does for me to write a short story. When I plan work sessions and blocks I use this information to make sure I am scheduling enough time to complete projects.

Make This Your New Year’s Eve Resolution
This year resolve to stick to your Five Year Writing Plan. At the end of the year, compare your hours worked and output for 2006 to 2007. Remember to update your values and plan each year and maintain your schedule. I’d love to hear your feedback on this system at the end of 2007. Let me know what worked and what didn’t and if your productivity went up. Happy writing!Materials created by John J. Gabarro of the Harvard Business School inspired this article.

If there is an issue you would like me to address in Two Girls Kissing, please email it to me, Amie M. Evans, with the column title as the subject line. To be added to my confidential monthly email list, please email me with subscribe as the subject line.

Amie M. Evans
November 2006

“Two Girls Kissing: Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica” © 2006 Amie M. Evans. All rights reserved.

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