Plan out your year - Strategies for achieving creative goals amidst your busy life
I have a major revelation for you, are you sitting down? There will be twelve months this year, some with 30 days, some with 31. Only one with 28 days (which means my Leap-Year baby father will go birthday-less yet again).
Beyond getting organized [read blog 2 in this series] and setting aside time in the week to write or create [read blog 1 in this series], a critical part of being successful in your resolve to generate more creative output or to develop your life-giving hobby is to open your calendar and plan out your year.
A funny thing about modern hairless beach apes (to quote the hilarious comic strip Sherman’s Lagoon) is that we have so much capacity and ability to track and plan, and yet we leave so much to our spur of the moment whims.
If we can track the paths of stars all the way back in time to before Christ, thanks to Johannes Kepler, computers and some awesome software, shouldn’t we be able to map out our year?
I find that one way to keep me on track in my writing and creative goals is to block out the year and include prospective dates that I aim to finish projects. It’s not always accurate to the month, but it reminds me what I should be focused on and spurs me to produce.
In the same way that you know when Christmas break will be, track statutory and school holidays so you can plan fun activities in the year, look at your calendar to plan concentrated times to create and deadlines to finish projects.
Here’s a few suggestions for how to map out your year:
1. Scratch it out on a piece of loose leaf paper
This sounds a little silly and totally without pomp or circumstance, and that’s sort of the point. As a creative person you might feel automatic pressure to create a schedule that’s pretty or super detailed. Something that’s organized and captured in a very fixed and official way.
I like to use a scrap of paper two reasons:
- So that as I start to plan out the year it doesn’t feel like I’m locking myself into something or committing too quickly to something. If I need to I can scratch off an item or even throw the sheet away and start all over.
- It disarms a potentially loaded or explosive creative conundrum. A simple, hand-written creative map somehow takes off pressure that comes with the creative territory: it’s a way to tell the perfectionist, literary critic in my head (for whom nothing is ever good enough) to ignore the draft and to just start the process of planning and therefore get to work.
2. Create a block for each month and put something creative in each
Another simple but important aspect of my year’s creative map is to account for each month. I have a sense of what’s taking place in my family and in my business in the year and what writing projects are automatically part of that (as in income-generating and therefore with a deadline) and ones that are in development (passion projects that may not have any official contract or work order associated to them but hopefully will some day). Every month needs to have something in it.
3. Diversify and account for multiple forms of writing or creativity
I make a point of accounting for the multiple ways that I create (page, stage, screen and social media) in order to mix up my creative practice and plan for all the ways I write. This not only keeps my writing life in shape like some CrossFit style workout plan so that all my muscles are moving and I don’t atrophy creatively, but also serves as a reminder not to overlook certain forms, especially when I get neck deep in a project (at which point I have the tendency to forget about anything outside of it).
Here’s a sample of my low-tech, completely un-sexy writing map for the year:
This is the first draft of the Writing Map I created for 2019. I don’t have a second draft. It may change, I might not do each thing on it. However, if in August I have a lull I can revisit the map and get a jolt and start working on an Advent Book (if I’ve already burned through the three or four other major projects I’ve put on the docket).
Side note: For 2019, I actually did this as my first step before breaking down my daily writing routine. I went macro to micro. However, it’s sort of a chicken-or-the-egg kind of scenario. For some it’s helpful to start by imagining a daily or weekly schedule before plugging it into the year.
Great resources that have helped me map out my creative year:
Buffer - Social media can be a total time suck and it’s easy to get pulled into the vortex. However it’s an important way to connect with other like-minded people, share your work and also advance and explore creatively. I personally manage upwards of 10 social accounts on various platforms in my professional life. I’ve found Buffer to be an affordable way to plan out posts and segregate social media time in my process in order to carve out creative space. Sprout Social and HooteSuite are two other platforms I’ve used to help with this. All have free options in their pricing plans which can be a great way to help organize your year.
Papermate 1.0 M pens (blue) and Pilot G-Tech-C4 (black) - These are my two favourite pens to write with, especially for planning. The Papermate flows so nicely and is cheap (I’ll still accept sponsorship Papermate). And the Pilot is so precise and sharp. My dear friend Chad Corman is my personal supplier (he gives me a download every few years because he is a kind soul). I’ve only ever found them in Malaysia, so Pilot, if you’re listening, let me know where else I can buy them in bulk.