QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

For When Things Aren't Working Out

Ash had a wonderful post last week about the bravery and necessity of creating plans. Unlike her, I am and always have been a planner, not a pantser. I have made new year's resolutions without fail since I was 17 years old. For something like the past 5 years, I've broken those resolutions into quarterly, monthly, and, ultimately, weekly goals. I like check marks. I like seeing my progress. I will argue to a stalemate with anyone who tells me lists aren't important.

But, as Eisenhower says, "...I have always founds that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

We've talked about how indispensable planning is, so I want to focus on how useless the plans themselves can be sometimes.

In 2011, I had some ambitions new year's resolutions. Already a resolutions veteran, I knew I had to make actionable, measurable goals if I wanted to get anywhere. So I did. And one of the things on my list was to be able to run two miles without having to walk. I was getting married that September, and though I wasn't out of shape, I certainly wasn't in shape, either. So I joined a gym and got on a treadmill. I followed my plan.

By early summer, I still couldn't run two miles, and I'd learned something: I hated running. I didn't enjoy that time in the gym at all. I had to focus on anything else to keep me on the treadmill. My knee, which has a stress injury from doing gymnastics as a kid, was hurting me again. Instead of looking forward to meeting my goal, I was looking forward to lifting weights, which I did after my dreaded time on the treadmill.

That goal, and many others in 2011, I never met. But I learned a lot about myself in making them. At the time, I was frustrated that I didn't meet my goal, instead of happy that I learned something.

Fast forward two years to when I decided to write a novel. I made a plan: write it, edit it, query it, publish it, profit. Simple. I planned on the whole process going quickly, so I edited as little as my CPs would let me get away with. I started querying long before the book was ready. I wrote another book, edited it, queried it. I saw some small problems with how the plot was going, and knew my word count was on the short end. I decided the agent who would inevitably fall in love with my book was going to help me fix it, so why bother.

When 2016 started, I had 40,000 words of novel #3 and no agent. My goal for this year was to finish my third novel and be querying before the year was out. I finished my first draft at the end of May, but unlike with my previous novels, I decided to take the advice of basically the entire writing world and set it aside for a month. So I did. Then, as I revised, I was determined to do the best I could by this book, because it's one I really believe in. So it's the middle of November and not a single critique partner has seen my novel yet. I'm not going to be sending out my first query by the end of the year.

I need to remind myself that it isn't a failed goal. It isn't something I stopped working toward, and it isn't a story I gave up on. The unchecked box on my Resolutions page represents not giving up, but hope. I believe in this book, so I'm going to take the time I need to make it as good as I possibly can before I query it. I'm going to send out the most polished writing I can muster.

Without my plan, I would never have gotten as far as I have on this book. Every week, I write out a new micro-goal that will push me closer to sending this book to my critique partners, and ultimately to agents. Every week, I fail that micro-goal but make progress. I am not defined by that box I won't check at the end of the year, because that goal is the reason I am as far as I am, and the unchecked box is my hope that this book, with enough time, will succeed.

Rochelle Deans sometimes feels like the only writer on the planet who rushes through the writing so she can start editing. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids two and under. Her bad habits include mispronouncing words, correcting grammar, and spending far too much time on the Internet.


Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

You make a really good point.

I think the key to continued success is planning. The discipline, the forethought, the goal definition.

Plans are great, to be sure. While checking off our boxes can be very satisfying, it's important to know that sometimes things get rotated off our list of plans because they simply aren't appropriate anymore. Our work or our scope has evolved past old plans into new ones. That's part of growing as a writer.

So plans are great, especially when they work out, but planning is an indispensable skill that will never lose its value. Planning gets us where we'd like to go, even when our endpoints keep changing!

Rochelle said...

Exactly, Ash! My plans rarely actually work out, but I would get next to nothing done at all if I didn't plan. :)