Strap In And Grab Your Important Bits: Planning Your Year In Writing

Get in, loser.

All right, we’ve talked about ideas and talked about getting excited. Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Except we’re dealing with the imagination, so I suppose we should be getting down to…brass dendrites? Brass gut flora? Something brass, anyway. * We need a plan.**

Here is your plan:

1) Define your goal.

2) Figure out the steps along the way.

3) Fucking do it.

I recognize that some clarification may be in order.

Part of your plan is going to depend on your goal. Want to write a novel in 2014? Figure out how long you think it’ll be. If you’ve got no fucking clue, guess. I usually say 100,000 words. Why? It’s a nice round number. And it translates to roughly 400 pages of a paperback book. A good length for fantasy or horror, which is what I tend to write. I’ve written shorter and longer, but this is my benchmark.

Got a length? Good. Now figure out how long you have. Got a year? Then that means you have to write…273.972 words a day. Better round that up to 274, just so you don’t stop mid-noun. Not much, is it? Even assuming that you’ll only write five days a week, that’s only 385 words a day. You can do that. So you do. There we are: plan set. All you have to do is colour it in a little.

But what if your goal isn’t to write something, but to publish? Well, assuming you have a finished manuscript—you do have a finished manuscript, don’t you? If not, finishing that is the first step, so back the fuck up—then start researching places it could find a home. Agents or publishers for a novel, magazines or anthologies for short fiction. Make a list. Write a letter. Start sending. When it gets rejected from one place, move to the next on the list.*** Repeat.

And what if, like yours truly, your goal for the year involves not writing something entirely new, but editing an existing project? It’s not such a clear cut goal then, but it’s still definable. I will come back to this in a later post–actually, I’ll come back to most of these in later posts–but for now, here’s the bare bones: go through the manuscript with a red pen; make a big list of what needs to change****; make a plan for those changes and figure out how long they will take. Good rule of thumb for editing? Unless you are very experienced at it, it will take three times longer than you think. At least. You think you can have the changes written in a month? Budget three. If you get done early, then, hey, happy handshakes and big bottles of booze all around. But budget more time than you think. Trust me.

Making a plan—especially one that you figured out the timetable for, and not one you got out of a book that claims anyone can write a novel in two weeks or can be published in three—keeps you on track. It breaks down the bigger goal—Write A Novel, Get Published, Edit The Unmerciful Fuck Out Of That Story Until It No Longer Resembles A Half-Digested Dictionary—into smaller ones—write 500 words today, send out a query letter today, figure out the end of the first chapter today. It grounds you in reality. Which, for people who work inside their own heads, is not at all a bad thing.

Some caveats:

1) Goals change. It happens. Sometimes you think you’re working toward one thing, but realize halfway through that you’d be better off working on this other thing. It’s cool. Don’t panic. Just re-evaluate. Sticking with something that’s no longer what you want is a waste of time. Just make sure it’s really a change and not just you giving up. I suggest strategic reevaluations at three, six, and nine months. That way, you have enough time to get in there and have a go, but also ample opportunity to make course corrections if they’re required.

2) Don’t forget the all important Step Three. Fucking do it. Or all this talk is just masturbation—might make you feel good but it sure as hell doesn’t accomplish anything. You can abandon plans, you can change goals, you can fling yourself out of the literary airlock and into the great vacuum of I Don’t Know What I’m Doing….as long as you keep moving. Plans are good, steps are good, but at the end of the day, the only part that matters is strapping into the launch seat and putting the pedal to the floor.

Now go forth and conquer.

*I really do think like this. It’s amazing I get anything done.
**If you’ve ever read A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, you know the importance of a good PLN. If you haven’t, go read it.
***This approach assumes no simultaneous submissions, but if your market allows them, then go for it. Just keep a list so you don’t forget what went where.
****Don’t be upset if it says ‘everything’. Mine does.

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3 thoughts on “Strap In And Grab Your Important Bits: Planning Your Year In Writing

  1. I like your plan. I am on the submitting part. My genre is memoir, although I am starting to rethink this a bit to increase my chance of getting published since: 1) I’m not famous, and have no platform, and 2) agents’ feedback from how to publish books seem to suggest this is a less than hot genre right now.

    My question to you is this: if you know you have no platform, and agents are saying to the general public, not to you in particular,that you need one to get noticed, what do you do? I started my blog: Breaking the Cycle (cardamonefive.wordpress.com), which is also the title of my book, but I have 22 followers (not complaining, but if I were an agent, I would not consider this a platform.) You can’t hustle your way around this portion of the book proposal. I have submitted two short stories to writing contests, but won’t find out about those for a few months. In the meantime, I want to submit, but am scared of the almost certain rejection.

    You seem like a tough, honest feedback giver. I’d love to hear your thoughts besides the obvious stop moaning and do it.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

    • I guess the question is: do you want to have a platform*? Because you can build one, but it takes a lot of time and energy. You could start with your blog; putting out quality content on a regular basis helps grow an audience. And start being a regular commenter on relevant blogs to start conversations, but, and this is important, don’t be a spamming asshat who is only interested in getting follows. Fine line to walk, there. But that takes a lot of time and patience. Even in the internet, nothing happens overnight.

      As for the fear of rejection thing, there is a a secret to that: it’s always scary. No one likes getting rejected. And, yes, you will likely get rejected. It’s part of the deal if you’re trying to publish traditionally. You must learn to deal with it in a non-setting-the-computer-on-fire sort of way. The only way I know how to do that is to submit and get used to it. Kind of like Muay Thai fighters who beat their legs with sticks so they deaden the nerves and it doesn’t hurt to kick someone in the face as much.

      But the thing about submitting and rejection is that you’re waiting on someone else’s decision, and that’s dead time on your brain. Why not use that time productively? Here’s some things you could do in the meantime:

      1) Really get that manuscript into shape. Make it the best possible version of itself that it can be. This might mean seeking out critique groups, online or in person, and listening to what they say. Be warned: this is just as hard as dealing with rejection, but it makes your writing better.

      2) Work on something else. If you feel your memoir is good as is, or if you just need a break from it, write something else. You mentioned that you submitted short stories; why not write another? Or a novel? Or poetry? Or spend some time really turning your blog into its own project, a thing that you enjoy.

      Wow, longer reply than I expected. Hope it helped. And good luck with your memoir.

      *I am a little averse to this word, but mostly because it’s such a marketing word. I prefer to do stuff–like blogging and twitter and such–because I like to, not out of some sense that I’m trying to force people to do something. But your mileage may vary, and you might think of it differently.

      • Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply. I agree with all your points, esp. about using dead time to focus on things within my control. I so appreciate your thoughts and your challenges, although I have yet to take one. Love the idea of describing what a setting would be like as a person. Just brilliant. Thanks.

        Best regards,
        Elizabeth

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