Do you have a planner? It’s the start of a new year, so you might have just gotten a new one. If you haven’t, you’ve at least seen them all over the damn place.
Planners are either something basic that everyone needs, or a really unhealthy scrap booking obsession, depending on your outlook on life. I’m sort of part of the second group, but I’m working on it. You need it to remember appointments, class and work schedules, due dates, the whole thing. The more chaotic your life, the more you need a planner. And if you’re trying to fit a writing career into your life, it’s chaotic.
Personally, I use two planners. My fiance and I keep a google calendar that we both add to, so we’re not planning things that overlap each other. I’ve also got my personal weekly planner that’s on paper, journal style that comes with me everywhere. I use this to keep track of work and school and appointments, but chances are you don’t give a damn about that. More importantly, I use my planner to keep track of my writing.
Here are some things I do with my planner that makes me a better writer.
First thing, of course. I like to try to enter contests when I’m not working on rough drafts. Contests have deadlines. I write the deadlines on my planner as soon as I decide I’m going to enter a contest. Because it’s me, I also put a little bomb sticker next to them, so they stick out when I’m flipping through pages. This not only helps me keep in mind deadlines, it lets me know if I’m about to over commit myself. If I flip to February and see I’ve got two deadlines that month, that’s a big red stop sign telling me to not enter any more contests with deadlines in that month unless I’m ready to sacrifice one of the others or have already submitted a piece for it.
I make a date with myself, at least once a week, to go out and write somewhere that isn’t home. I write better then, and can focus more when I’m not at home with the kids, cat and dishes. Not to mention this great new smart tv that’s got Netflix. My goodness, nothing is more distracting than knowing I can sit down and watch all of Firefly any time I want.
I also block out writing time the same way I’d block out time to take kids to the doctor or work. I have to do that thing then, there’s no getting around it. Seeing it on paper makes me feel committed to it.
Projected final dates for big projects
Once you’ve been writing awhile, you’ll get a rough estimate in your head of how long it takes you to do stuff. Take a really big project like writing a book. I know it will take me about fifteen pages to write a chapter, I can write about ten pages a day, so in a week I write about three, maybe four chapters. Because I outlined my book before I started, I know how many chapters are in my rough draft, 60. So, it should take me about fifteen weeks to write my rough draft. So far it’s been eight. Then I know it should take me about six months to edit it, three to write the third draft, three to write the fourth draft after my beta readers read it, another two for a final polish, and then about three weeks to get together an agent packet and start looking for an agent. So, giving some time in there for your beta readers to read it and some cushion, it takes me about two years to finish a book.
Your time will be different, so take some time to consider habits and productivity levels.
Once I have an idea of when my milestone moments will be, like finishing a draft, I write these moments on small sticky notes and put them on estimated dates. Now, this is something I highly advise. I call it a rolling deadline. These are the dates that I think I should be done. But things happen. For example, when I was writing the first draft of my last book, I realized halfway through that I’d deviated so much from my outline that the rest of the book didn’t make sense anymore. The changes were great, so I threw out the rest of my outline, and spend three days rewriting it. That set the end day back a bit.
Daily and weekly check ins
I try to have my days pretty planned. So, once a week I sit down with my planner, bullet journal and binder. (We’ll talk about binders later.) I put my day job schedule down for three weeks in advance, then factor in any obligations like deadlines, birthdays, holidays or things like that.
Then I look at the time I’ve got, and write in my bullet journal what needs done that week. I have to take that calendar into consideration. If I’ve got five appointments that week, I’ve got to know that I’m not going to have time to also write blog updates, work on Woven and still have time to edit my latest short story. Somethings not getting done, probably the short story, so I know it needs to go on next weeks to do list not this week.
I check in with my planner daily, too. Every morning, I glance over what’s still to come this week, and do a quick review of the next three weeks to come as well. That helps me keep in mind that if that contest deadline’s in three weeks, and I don’t have a rough draft done yet, I need some extra ass in the chair time.
I heard a great quote the other day. It’s not mine, but I’ve been saying it to myself ever since. “Your brain is for processing, not storing.” Don’t expect yourself to remember everything. You can’t, you won’t, and something will fall through the cracks. So keep a planner, and see how much more productive you are at the end of a year using one.