A few weeks ago here at 8LW, I threw out a challenge to come back to the blog over the next few months to work out and discuss writing plans and goals not just for your current WIP or the next few months, but for the next year or two (or five). This week, we’re going to start that exercise by going big.
Like many of us, you might tend to keep your head down, focus on the WIP in front of you, and if you’re feeling particularly well-organized, set a deadline for yourself to finish it. This is a good and noble thing. This might be the only plan you need right now. But today I encourage to step back from the WIP and think about the big picture. For the moment, let’s just call it your writing career, or at least the next few years of it.
Question and Explore. What is your ‘place’, your destination? Where do you want to be as a writer and a creative soul a year from now? Two years? Five? Before you answer, take some time to really consider this. Drill down into this goal. Let each question you answer lead to more questions.
For example, maybe your answer is, “I want to be a published romance author.” Excellent. Now define ‘published’. What path will you take – traditional, self-published, or hybrid? (I know, I know – you can’t control what traditional publishers will do, but we are talking about your wish list right now. We’ll get to reality in due time.) Also, define romance. There are scads of subgenres and crossover genres and new types popping up every day. Do you want to write in one of these categories? Many of them? Novels or novellas? Or maybe short stories and anthologies? All or none of the above?
You can see how quickly this simple answer becomes complex. And we’re not done yet. What does published mean to you? Seeing your name on a book spine? Selling a certain number of copies? Making a certain amount of money? Going on a book tour and having total strangers beg you for your autograph?
Maybe your big-picture goal for the next few to several years isn’t even about publishing. Maybe it’s about craft and exploration and creative growth. These are all fine and good and wonderful goals! Now – you know the drill – dig deeper, go further. Ask your inner writer more questions*. Think of those cliché movie scenes with the character on the psychiatrist’s couch where the psychiatrist never accepts the patient’s first, but only asks more questions. You are both psychiatrist and patient. (This is not to imply that all writers need professional help, but…well, we’ll just leave it at that.)
One of the most terrifying things about writing is there is no one way to do it, no single path to choose, no way to duplicate anyone else’s success to find your own. But this is also the wonderful and exhilarating part of it. Why should there be one path we all tread when, in reality, it’s unlikely we’re even going to the same place? Step one of creating the writing plan is identifying your place, your destination, your own version of writing nirvana.
Write it Down. You’ve heard this advice before. Want to lose weight? Keep a food and exercise journal. Want to decipher your dreams? Keep a pad and pen by the bed and write down what you remember as soon as you wake up. Want to remind yourself of that one piece of writing advice or motivation that keeps you going? Write it down (and tape it to your monitor or the wall above your desk).
Now it’s time to do the same with your career goal/s. Put it in writing. Don’t be afraid of this step. Seeing your hopes and dreams distilled into black and white will not destroy your creative mojo. It will help illuminate your path and show you which steps to take next.
Stay Flexible. A plan is just that: a plan. You will have typed out your big-picture plan on your computer screen, or scribbled it on paper with pen or pencil or crayon. It is not chiseled in stone. As the weeks and months pass, life will happen. You will learn things about your writing and yourself. You might change, and so might your goals. Don’t be afraid of that change, or of pulling out your scythe to start cutting a new path to take you to your new goal.
Need an example? Here are my big-picture goals for the next two years. You’ll notice I haven’t included a publishing approach for the mystery series. I’m still undecided about that, and that’s okay!
I will write fiction novels in the historical (Victorian) romance, women’s fiction, and mystery genres with the goal of being a hybrid-published author.
- In addition to novels, I will write two novellas to introduce and close the Victorian Romance series.
- I will self-publish the romance series (2 novellas and five novels).
- I will write occasional tie-in short stories and vignettes for the planned mystery series and 2 stand-alone women’s fiction books.
- I will seek agent representation with the goal of traditional publication for the 2 women’s fiction novels.
So this is your first challenge, tributes…er, writers. Seek, question, explore. Write down your big-picture goals for the next few years. And feel free to share and discuss in the comments!
*If you need some help identifying your own ‘big picture’, Mindy Klasky provides great step-by-step advice, lists of questions, and guidance on writing a strategic plan for your writing career in her book The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts.
Here are my big-picture goals for the next 3 years (I’m not going any further ahead than that right now):
I will write Regency romances with the goal of being a trad/self-pubbed author. Specifically, I will:
— Complete all three books in the Cressingham Family series (Susannah, Isabela, and Ben)
— Publish all three books in the Cressingham Family series (either trad or self-pub…I’m staying flexible)
— Write at least two novellas using Cressingham Family Supporting Characters (Tradwick, Nate’s sisters, Andrew, or anyone else I come up with) and publish them
— Establish and maintain a consistent writing schedule during the school year
— Establish and maintain a consistent writing schedule for breaks/summers
— I will begin to outline the Revolutionary War series (the “before” story to the Cressingham Family series)
This might be too much, but it’s a start.
That’s ambitious, but really exciting. And as an historical romance fan, I’m looking forward to all of these!
Making a plan is a really good idea. My writing plan has always been pretty solid, if flexible: write X words per day, however many life seems able to grant in that particular period given time and attention constraints. The publishing plan, though, is altogether different and is a lot more daunting. Is it enough to write the best book you can, self-pub or submit it, and hope for the best? If writing alone is the goal, then, sure. You’ve finished a book, now you can move on to the next one. But if success is part of the equation, then suddenly you’re looking at developing mailing lists, running Facebook, BookBub, and Twitter ads, and maybe doing blog tours, preorders, and whatever. All of that is important for success, but it does take time away from that “writing” part of the equation.
I have to give the publishing side of the equation a lot more thought in terms of how much time and effort I can put in there. I like the writing, but I also like to sell a few books.
You’re right, Kay, publishing (and the requisite marketing, which now applies to trad-pubbed authors nearly as much as self-pubbed), is its own animal and publishing success is mostly beyond our control. I’ll discuss more about this next week, but when setting up my plan and timelines, I made some assumptions about how much time and effort those non-writing tasks will take and how much I’m willing to devote to them. One of my goals is to do a little bit each week to work on everything from email lists to more interaction on social media, baby steps so it doesn’t crush me like a tidal wave when I’m planning a book launch.
Honestly, my big picture goal is to be read by the grandchildren of people who are reading today. In some ways, that’s easier than financial-based goals. But, there’s so much writing I need to do, and I gotta be so much better . . . . There are perhaps a dozen books my grandmother and grandfather read that I’ll read too . . . . Short stories are even more fleeting, but if I can make it into Language Arts Textbooks at the end of my (long, I hope) life, then I have a chance. I’m afraid I’ll have to write much more depressing stuff to get to those kind of goals.
But then again, there’s Wodehouse and Thurber, who have survived long past their deaths. They weren’t too tragic, or at least they were tragic in a wistful, funny sort of way.
Now, how do I begin to break that down? First, write.
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