Five Year Writing Plans

Sunday, April 14, 2013
by Wonderlane
I'm currently editing articles for our next e-zine, Issue #56, with the theme of psychology for writers. As a writer, you know how much of the daily writing process is mental preparation. You have to mentally prepare yourself all the time to work on your writing, and there are probably hundreds of reasons why you could have writers' block. This is why one of my favorite classes to teach online is Writing for Children: How to Get Started and Take Hold of Your Career. And one of my favorite exercises in the class is creating a five-year plan or vision for each student's writing career.

Why do I think this is important? We already make six-month and one-year goals in the class. The goals are S.M.A.R.T., which is also crucial. S. M. A. R. T. means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, I talk to my students about having a goal, such as, "I will finish my 30,000-word middle-grade novel in six-months by writing 5000 words a month," as opposed to: "I will write three picture books and send them off in six months." We make plans for how we will achieve each goal and make sure it will actually work in the lives of each individual student. This is important for our mental health!  And if you have never done this, I encourage you to, AND share these goals with the people you live with, so they can help you achieve them.

But the five-year plan/vision is something different. It makes you imagine your life as you REALLY want it in five years, but only focusing on the things you can actually control .So for example, a lot of writers want to write: "In five years, my novel will be published and on the New York Times Bestseller List." This is a fine dream and one that should never be squashed. However, it doesn't belong on a five-year career vision because you can't control getting on the New York Times list.. A better five-year plan would be: "In five years, I will have a published novel. I will either publish it traditionally or self-publish. I will be busy marketing by having a blog on the topic, visiting other blogs, working on speaking engagements, and writing freelance articles on the topic. I plan to support myself with my writing in  five years OR have a part-time job that allows me to write in the morning when I am at my best."

I ask students to be optimistic when turning in their five-year plans, but to try to include only things that they can actually control. This is hard--again, I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings or ask people not to dream. But I do think it's important when thinking of your writing as a career that you are realistic with a bit of hope and optimism thrown in.

In my opinion, part of writer's block or even writer's apathy comes because you have set too high of expectations for yourself or even goals that you cannot control. (As much as we try, we can't control those agents or editors or even readers whom we want to buy our book!) Also, if you don't envision your life as a writer, in my opinion, it's easy to let other things take over--other hobbies, family commitments, part-time jobs, volunteer positions, and so on. If you keep the ultimate five-year vision in mind, then you will have an easier time saying no to some of these extraneous things.

If you've never done a long-range vision for your career, I encourage you to. Share part or all of it with us in the comments! We'd love to hear. :)

If you are interested in Margo's class: Writing for Children: How to Get Started and Take Hold of Your Career, which includes a critique on a picture book manuscript or 10-pages of a novel, then you can find more information here. Margo is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg and edits most of the e-zine articles for WOW!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--This is a fabulous post. The things you suggest we consider as we craft our vision/goals--right on the mark.

As for mine? I will have to think about it. However, thanks to you, I will only be including goals that are achievable...reality with a sprinkling of hope and optimism (and the occasional cattle prod).

Unknown said...

Margo, I spent years and years working as a career counselor, helping students develop workable career goals. You're spot-on with the SMART acronym. I used to tell the students (and now myself) keep them specific, keep them flexible. Life has a way of opening paths and doors we can't anticipate and shutting, as you mentioned, ones we have no control over.

As for that pesky muse. I keep a quote by Daniel Pink on my desk: Writer's block is bunk. It's simply a sad excuse for not confronting the blinking cursor and our own inadequacies.

And another by him as well: Don't worry about what other people think. And work harder. Persistence almost always trumps talent.

Thought-provoking post as usual. Thank you!

Margo Dill said...

@Sioux--cattle prod--we all need one of those every once in a while. I need one especially in the winter. :)

@Julie--Love the quotes. Thanks for sharing. That man sounds like a smart one. ;)

I wish I could take credit for making up the SMART acronym, and I have no idea where I first heard it--while I was teaching elementary school. But if you Google it, there are websites galore that talk about making your goals this way. :)

Alissa Johnson said...

You're spot on with the idea that we set expectations that are too high. I've noticed lately that whenever I feel down about writing or my career, it's because I'm tying ideas of success to those things that I can't control.

I've found that in addition to setting realistic goals (focused, as you say, on things I can control) it's helpful to take responsibility for my own apathy. If I start to feel frustrated or apathetic or blocked, I choose to do something that changes my energy. I work on a story that I'm excited about, update my website or even do something completely unrelated for a short while. It's like having a reset button, allowing me to get in a more positive head space. And that is always helpful when it comes to meeting my goals.

Marcia Peterson said...

Margo, I love this post and feel inspired. I really like Alissa J's comment above too, especially her methods for "changing the energy." Keep up the good work, ladies! :)

Anonymous said...

part of writer's block or even writer's apathy comes because you have set too high of expectations for yourself or even goals that you cannot control.

Margo - this is sooooo me! I hope to meet you in person at the conference next weekend in STL. Loved this post. I can't give up my dream of my book becoming a movie, but it may be unrealistic. Time will tell...

Margo Dill said...

@marilyn: I hope to meet you too. I love that conference--every year. I will be signing books at the members' book signing on Friday, so find me there! :)

MP: Thank you and glad I can inspire you. :)

Alissa: Great advice on taking a break and working on something else. I agree--it can really help. I get down all the time about things beyond my control. It's much easier to tell other people not to do it. :) But whenever I start feeling this way, I just say to myself, "The one thing you can control is working harder--oh and your attitude." So, that always helps me, too. (Well, and a glass of my favorite red wine. :)

Unknown said...

Wonderful post. I was particularly drawn to "if you don't envision your life as a writer, in my opinion, it's easy to let other things take over".

A trick I use when I begin to lose focus on my goals is to write my bio in third person. It helps to take a look at where I want to be from another perspective and gets me excited again.

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