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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

When Your One Year Plan Looks Nothing Like It Had On Your Five Year Plan Four Years Ago

When I was a freshman in college, I met an upper-classman who had a Five Year Plan. One day, he let me see it.

I got hives looking at it. Not only did his planning make me feel like a useless, going-nowhere ingénue, it made me worry that I'd never know enough or be good enough at anything to actually be able to plan anything the way he did.

I suppose all freshmen feel like that. I outgrew it, to some degree, but never got over being intimidated by the idea of a Five Year Plan.

If you're like me, you hate the idea of planning things out but know that without a plan, you'd collapse into a pile of useless click-bait clicking and Candy Crushing.

I once called myself a die-hard pantser. Give me pantsing or give me death! was my battle cry. (Not to confuse pantsing with "a pantsing". Moving right along.)

When I started writing seriously more than ten years ago (gah, wrinkles pop out just by writing that), I had no plan. I had a dayjob and two young children and a bossy dog that stole entire loaves of bread off the kitchen table. Writing was my escape from that. The hour or two that I spent a day thinking about my first novel were respite. It was legal daydreaming. The only plan was to see what would happen next.

I wrote my first novel in a series of vignettes, scenes and conversations and fun little action-packed sequences. There was no outline. There was no formula. There was no plan for what I'd do if I ever got to the words THE END.

Imagine my dismay when I did type those words and realized I had a novel staring back at me. Like bringing a first baby home from the hospital, I knew I had to do something with it, and I'd better learn how to do it--FAST.

Thus, the first plan was born: I had a book. I had the choice to do something with it or let it get forgotten in a Word folder.

My first One Year Plan was super-sketchy. I mean, if it hadn't been safely home-schooled, it would have dropped out when all the other One Year Plans made fun of it. (I also had a secret Five Year Plan, which only included World Domination, but, honestly, who doesn't have one of those?)

The OYP had vague things like Edit Manuscript, Enter Contests, Join Writers Group. They were doable. Baby steps, right? And, unlike a FYP, a OYP didn't give me hives.

There was also an addendum to the OYP that I referred to as the "After OYP", vaguely time-framed because I had no idea how long anything would take to do. Heck, the term ONE YEAR Plan in itself was vague because I never specified if it was an Earth year. (I still won't and you can't make me.) The AOYP included Seek Representation, Finish Book Two, Finish Book Three, Develop Platform, Write and Publish Poetry and Short Fiction.

I still can't say that, at the time, I considered any of this stuff an actual "plan". There were more like goals. The difference between plans and goals is that a plan has a timeframe or completion date. And there was no way I would pin myself to something like that, because I was still learning how to be a writer. I was still learning the craft and the business. You can't make a stable plan when you're still pantsing your way through it all.

So I pantsed along, making goals and changing them with things didn't go the way I'd hoped, and waded through a series of non-concrete OYPs. No failures, just redirections, and eventually, successes.

My first novel was published by a small press in 2012. It had been signed in a three book agreement the year before, after having a string of big accomplishments in the RWA chapter competition scene. The book and I had come a long way since I typed the words THE END in 2007. So had the ever-changing OYP.

No legit FYP, though, because I was still intimidated by them. OYPs were fluid and had more goals than deadlines. One thing, for sure, was that I never had a Five Year Plan that included See First Novel Published. (World Domination seemed like it had a better chance of happening first.)

Prior to 2007, I didn't have a FYP because I had no plan, just a hobby. That hobby evolved as I began placing in writing contests, getting poetry and short fiction published, and actually earning money from it all. Basically, the hobby was becoming a job.

And when you have a job, you need to have a plan. I had to get over the whole FYPs-give-me-hives thing.

We plan because if it's a job we like, we want to keep it. A lot of authors get lucky with their first book, getting it to the right place at the right time. But even those cases of serendipity had a plan behind it, as super-sketchy as it may have been.

People get lucky, but not so lucky as to have kept their work to themselves, done nothing to improve their craft, and bumped into a random stranger in the frozen food aisle who remarked, "Tater tots? I bet you're a novelist. I just happen to work for the biggest of the Big Five. Sign this, here's your advance. Oh, I also have an extra coupon for those tots. Here you go."

So I saw my first book published in 2012. I also wrote my first FYP. It was time.

Next year will be Year Five. I decided to crack open the vault and take a look back to way back then (another wrinkle just exploded somewhere, I can feel it.) In 2012, my FYP looked like this:
• Promote Book #1.
• Complete revisions on Book #2 within 6 months.
• Be ready for publication of #2 in 12 months.
• Finish Book #3 within 6 months.
• Begin revisions on #3 in 12 months.
• Attend conference within 12 months.
• Arrange library visit within 12 months.
• Plan and write new story idea out aiming for 1 new title each year.
• Get 10 poetry/short fiction pieces each year years 2 through 5.

And that was it. Some of those goals, to me, seemed pretty darn reaching.

Like, super-reachy. I mean, a new novel each year? For an emerging writer? With a full time dayjob and two middle-schoolers and a bossy dog who learned how to steal the butter while she was stealing a loaf of bread off the table?

Sure, why not? Because, although I'd pantsed my way through a slew of OYPs up to that point, I'd accomplished some pretty neat stuff.

So, now to the big question of the day: Am I following my plan?

Actually, yeah. No one is more surprised than I am.

I did see books #2 and #3 published in 2013 and 2014. I did get many short pieces published, well over the goal I'd set. I did a con and a few library appearances. And that novel a year thing, that super-reachy over-the-top goal? I did it. I sat my butt down and I wrote those books. If it wasn't for all those Plans, I might have dribbled away all my writing time on BuzzFeed and Netflix (I just discovered Royal Pains. #Boris!)

But there is a huge difference, now. I rely on yearly plans to keep going. I don't even need anti-histimines to keep the hives away when I think of a FYP. My system stopped rejecting the idea of structure when it realized structure makes me productive.

Another difference is that my OYPs are a lot more specific. In particular, my OYPs looks nothing like the vagueness of 2012's FYP. Here's why:

I've grown as a writer, indie author, entrepreneur. I learned how to network and I have a wonderful professional pool of writers and publishers who share camaraderie and resources. I'm neck-deep in the business. I can make plans because I know what I'm capable of getting done.

But I also know I'm not done learning. I'm pretty sure my OYPs are going to get more and more detailed as I learn more about publishing, promotion, marketing, and yes—writing. Writers never stop learning how to write.

And new opportunities for authors never stop coming. I listened to a podcast in August that really had the gears turning in my head. In fact, that same day I added "Participate in NYT-worthy box set" to my FYP.

Super-reachy, I know.  Especially with two teen-aged kids, a fuller-than-ever full time dayjob, and a dog that needs things reached off the table for her because she's not a puppy anymore.

But the world changes around us every day...The least we can do is develop plans that can change in time with it.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde as well as WORDS THAT BIND. She also writes for YA and NA audiences under the pen name AJ Krafton. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is now available.


Kim English said...

I too have become a convert to the advantages of planning.... Great insights!

Unknown said...

I moved from pantsing my novels to meticulously outlining, and it really improved writing. This was after years and years of believing that pantsing was the only way that I could truly write. Maybe it's time to give a five-year plan some consideration!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I love plans. When it comes to novels, I plan.

Actually, I plan all the important things in my life. I have a 12 months plan, a 5 year plan, a 20 year plan, a 50 year plan and a thousand year plan (yeah, you heard me).

The 50 year plan is the span of my writing career.

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

I wonder if the reason so many are initially adverse to planning (early me included) is because we lack confidence in ourselves.

I mean, that was the case when I was a college freshman. All I wanted to do was keep from flunking calculus and here that senior friend of mine had plans for med school applications. I was no where near the apply-for-med school point. So his plan made me feel wobbly, weak, and very, very incapable.

Novice writers may feel the same thing. I guess the most important things to remember are 1) keep learning, keep writing and 2) persevere. With experience comes confidence and with confidence comes the courage to look out to the horizon, setting distant goals, and working to get to a better place.

Beth Gallagher said...

So inspiring and at a perfect time! Thanks for the reminder that planning=productivity. :) Wishing you much success on your next works!