New Writing Plans for the New Year
As we approach the end of December, I tend to get excited for the new year. I like to think of my writing in terms of steps and stages, so a new year always feels like the next step. And whenever I’m faced with something new, I like to make a plan. Some folks think of what they want to do in the new year in terms of goals, but I find “plans” feels more likely to happen. When you make writing plans and break things into steps, then you always know what you need to be doing right now.
Knowing the next step is really helpful because sometimes looking at big picture goals can become overwhelming and dispiriting. For example, I might have a big picture goal of writing a short story every month (and I’d really like to have that goal since short story writing improves my skills so much), but if that goal is all I have in mind, then months when I simply cannot possibly write a short story feel like a failure, and failure is demotivating. I need to think in ways that are positively motivating, and I find plans work better for that.
Among my monthly plans might be things like coming up with a short story premise in the first week and working on a short story draft will be part of the rest of the weeks. Then if I have extra time in the month, I might get the story polished for publication. However, if I don’t have extra time, I’ll still have a pile of short story roughs that I can choose from for polishing when I do have time for the work. And that pile of drafts feels more like work done than like failure, so even though they aren’t polished, I don’t end up feeling like I’ve failed the way “do a short story every month” can, when the inevitable happens and I don’t have one done at the end of a given month.
Right now, I am beginning to work on plans for next year. While not all my plans are about getting words on a page, I do have writing plans. For example, one of my plans is to write a series of short nonfiction pieces at different grade levels. I need these pieces for a specific purpose, but to get them done, I need to put that in my writing plans.
Writing makes up the bulk of my plan for the new year, but it isn’t all of it. I also work in plans for learning. I’m a firm believer that if I stop learning, then I stop growing, and I would begin to stagnate artistically. As a result, I decide now which kinds of learning experiences I want to participate in next year.
Some of these I will need to schedule right away, such as SCBWI conferences and workshops, writing courses, or writing retreats. I need to schedule them so I can do things like register, book rooms, or set aside time for lessons and assignments.
But even writing and learning aren’t the whole pie for my new year plans. Because of the loosening of travel restrictions due to Covid, I can once again think about experiences I want to seek out for the new year. I know crime writers who connect with local police to gain experience with the process of how crime is handled. Equally, I know writers who have managed to observe autopsies, who have tried out adventure experiences like sky diving or whitewater rafting, and who have taken trips, all so they have experiences to help them write better, more realistic books. This kind of experience is helpful for writing fiction or nonfiction, but it takes planning and budgeting.
Make Writing Plans for Writing
As you begin your own plans for the new year, ask yourself what writing projects would you like to have done by the end of the year. There are deadlines I already have, and these deadlines mean I absolutely will write seven novels next year. I know when they are due as I have signed the contracts, but I must plan the outlining time, the writing time, and the revising time for these books or they won’t get done. Without a plan, the books won’t be written. And since I’ve already signed the contracts for these, they absolutely get set into my calendar first before anything else.
My planning stage always involves a calendar as well as a list. I have a list of the things I want to accomplish and the things I must accomplish. The must side already has deadlines so they’re organized in the list by deadline. Then I open my calendar and I begin putting in all the deadlines with notations like “turn in first draft of _________.” Once they’re in, I backtrack from the deadline and write in things like “begin revision of ____.” I have enough experience to know how long I require to work through my revision steps so that goes into my calendar.
Then I backtrack again. I can write 2000 to 2500 words a day without feeling overloaded, so I break up the book’s full word count by that number and allot the days necessary for writing. I always add in a couple of extra days in case something like a doctor’s visit or other unexpected event creeps in. Then I write “begin writing _________” on the first day that I need to get started.
I also take two weeks to outline a novel, so the outline process must also be scheduled and marked as “begin outline of _________.” The full number of weeks it takes me to outline, write and revise a novel is pretty set in my mind since I’ve written so many of them, but it’s always based on how much I can get done per day comfortably, not how much I can push myself into doing. Pushing doesn’t produce good work. My writing plans are challenging but not exhausting.
As a result of this first step in writing planning, I know what writing absolutely must be done for each of these books and when that writing needs to happen. Once these “must-do” books are in place on the calendar, I can add anything I want to write that isn’t one of these seven books. Those nonfiction pieces I need to write will be planned for as well, slotting them in during realistic breaks in writing time which I can now see very clearly on my calendar. I won’t assume I’m magically going to have time to write a nonfiction article on a week when I am doing novel revisions or during a week when I am outlining a book. I need to find actual breaks in my schedule to slot in items that aren’t under contract.
Also, I don’t really want my writing schedule to be wall-to-wall. One important element to consider in any writing plan is burnout. If you write seven days a week (which I do sometimes) you risk burnout. I’ve known so many people who have burned out on jobs they love simply because they had to go at it too hard for too long (and often without sufficient success, support, or appreciation). So don’t overload your plan. That is a recipe for failure, and I try hard not to plan myself into failure.
Make Writing Plans for Learning
Some learning experiences are easy to plan around. For instance, my local SCBWI conference happens around the same time every year, so if I know I want to attend, I pick and choose my writing projects carefully, so I don’t miss the opportunity to get to that conference. I have given workshops at the local conference, I’ve led online workshops for a couple of regional SCBWI groups, and I’ve even had some of my Institute blogs used as references for SCBWI workshops given by others (and yes, my head swelled so much from that), but I don’t consider SCBWI to be a place where I can’t learn.
There are always people doing workshops on writing I haven’t tried, and I can learn more things about these options and consider whether I want to try something like that myself. There are also craft workshops that give me new ways to look at what I do, and I’ve often gotten new insights from them. The conferences are also simply inspiring and there’s a lot to be said for the energy that comes from being inspired. This is why I always make time for learning. I produce a lot of writing during a year and all of that takes energy, so I need to include plans for things that will pour energy in. Learning always does that for me.
When I learn something new, I become excited to try it. I feel all the creativity bubbling in new ways and I want to get to writing. Face-to-face workshops let me benefit collectively from all the inspired people around me, but they aren’t the only learning experiences I plan. I also budget money and time for new writing books. And I’m always looking at and considering children’s writing classes. For me, all learning is inspiring, so I’m constantly looking for new ways to learn.
Also, I find learning in a lot of different ways (webinars, books, in-person workshops, classes) sometimes offers me new breakthroughs because I’m experiencing so many different learning approaches: hearing information, trying things hands-on, or seeing how someone does something in real-time. There are so many modes of learning so the more I sample, the more well-rounded my understanding of writing and the writing business becomes. And that has had a huge impact on how successful I am. I make a living writing, and I have been able to do it because I never stop seeking out new ways to learn.
Make Writing Plans for Experience
When I spend all my time writing, my writing suffers. I have a vivid imagination (to the horror of my parents when I was a child) but it can only produce so much without input. This is why I always plan for new experiences and why I make an effort to draw experience into myself in a way that fuels my writing.
Some years ago, I went with my daughter to a convention of sorts for mostly young people, all of whom are creating content for places like YouTube or Twitch. I was never going to get into that kind of content creation. I was mostly there so my daughter could go, but it also dumped me into an experience I’d never had. I was absolutely surrounded by young people, from middle school age to those in their twenties. I was seriously the oldster as I went to panel discussions and workshops and stood in line at meet-and-greets for young performers I knew nothing about.
But the experience allowed me to see things about large group energy, about the passion of people sharing the joy of something they love. I learned a lot about new methods of storytelling, from animation to role-playing to moviemaking. And I made it a point to pay attention to what I was learning. I paid attention to the interactions around me. I was impressed by these kind, generous, young people making a living in new sorts of creative pursuits. It was an incredible experience, and I am a better writer for having had it.
But experience can be had in small things too. When I served jury duty, I paid attention to every element of that including the decor. And I ended up writing a novel that had that experience at the center. And keeping in mind how much I gain from every experience helps encourage me to schedule in new experiences for the new year when I plan to visit a cryptid museum, check out a renaissance faire, and some historical places around me, and even pop in on some unique fan conventions. The experiences will benefit me by adding real feelings and unique detail to my writing.
So consider starting your plan for the new year. What kinds of writing, learning, and experience will you include? What’s your new year adventure and where will it take you?
Make a plan. You’ll be glad you did.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.