Annual Planning Tips for Writers
No. 150.6 | By Christine Carron
Last week I piloted the Plan for Done (PFD2023) challenge, where I taught writers how to plan their writing year ahead, Goodjelly-style. It was a grand success. I am thrilled with the energy and spaciousness that was created for the writers who participated. They are now equipped with a responsive and empowering plan that will help them make consistent, confident progress toward their writing dreams in 2024.
Here are four tips to get you started planning your writing year, Goodjelly-style.
Create a Responsive Plan that Learns
The goal of making a plan is that it spurs you to action, right? So ideally you want a plan that can handle the realities of taking action.
The realities of taking action are that you will learn, you will get new insights, and you will run into challenges and opportunities that you had not anticipated. Not because you are a bad planner, but because you are a human being and not a science fiction precog who can predict the future.
Unfortunately, traditional planning usually weighs a plan’s core intentions down with so many objectives and details that the plan becomes mired in the past. It is rigid instead of responsive, and cannot learn from all the valuable, super-relevant data that comes in from taking action.
Instead, folks often feel like their plan failed, or that they failed at planning, and/or that planning is a waste of time. And often any of those assessments are amped up by lashings from their inner critic.
The way I teach annual planning is that an annual plan is part of a plan ecosystem, and as a result, your annual plan does not have to be bogged down by detail. It has full “what clarity,” or what you will do. But it has little to no “how clarity,” meaning none of the details about how you will get your annual goals done. In addition, your annual plan springs directly from your writing dreams.
As such, it both focuses and inspires the actions you will take next year.
What those specific actions are gets detailed out in other plans in the ecosystem: your quarterly, monthly, and weekly plans.
When your annual plan stays at this higher level, doing its job of focusing and inspiring you, it will absolutely help you stay on track and absorb all the learnings you get through the year. You will have created a responsive plan that can learn.
Rock the Plan Ecosystem
Many folk—writers or otherwise—believe that planning is planning, and that the only difference between an annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly plans are the time horizon.
That perception creates massive problems in my experience.
Plans at each level of Goodjelly’s plan ecosystem are defined and managed differently. To understand the difference conceptually, think of your annual plan as the back cover copy of a book. It tells you what the book is about and is designed to entice you to take action, i.e., read the book.
Your annual writing plan ideally does that same thing for your writing progress, as noted in the previous section: establishes what the year ahead will be about and spurs you to take action, i.e., move your writing and all your writerly work forward.
A quarterly plan is like a book synopsis. A monthly plan is like a chapter outline. And your weekly plans are like the chapters of a book, the most concrete form of a plan, and where the action is actually taking place.
If you are thinking about your experiences with traditional planning, all these levels of plans might feel overwhelming. You may even be thinking, “Will there be any time for my writing in the midst of all this planning?”
There will be. Working the plan ecosystem creates more ease and flow in your writerly work. Flow that feels spacious, confident, and cozy all at the same time. It’s actually quite cool.
Revel in your Non-Doing Decisions
One of the big takeaways for the writers in PFD2023 was the power of specifying and writing down their Not-Doing Decisions.
Whenever you decide to do something, there are inevitably things you are choosing not to do. It is freeing and relieving to say, “By my choice, I am not going to work on xyz so that I can stay focused on the writing and writerly work I have prioritized for this year.”
Anything can go on your not-doing list. Maybe it would serve you to not do all of your writing projects and focus your attention on one or a subset of them.
Maybe it would be a good year to not do debilitating self-doubt. Maybe it would be a good year to not do a group or community that is no longer serving you. (There doesn’t even have to be any conflict involved. You can exit with graciousness and appreciation.)
Specifying your Not-Doing Decisions is not necessarily easy. Sometimes you have to say no to really nice opportunities. Last year I was gifted with a free ticket to a conference in Puerto Rico. It was a difficult decision to not take advantage of that ticket.
Difficult, that is, until I went back to my annual plan and my Not-Doing List for this year and sat with myself and my priorities I had set for the year. Then the inner turmoil fell away.
Understand the Purpose of a Plan
The purpose of a plan (at any level in the plan ecosystem) is not to make a perfect plan. The purpose of a plan is to make progress.
Those two points were the very first points I made in PFD2023. They are the foundation of my approach to planning. They build grace, kindness, and agency into the planning and plan review process.
For example, my annual plan would have held (i.e., not failed) even had I made the decision to go to that conference in Puerto Rico. Traditional planning experts would be highly skeptical of that assessment. What metric would allow both not going AND going to be "successful"?
Effective plans are not only about the metrics, especially at the annual plan level. Each year's annual plan is my direct connection to my writing dreams. I want to be in conversation with them, with my plan, and with myself. The annual plan helped me do that. It did its job. It invited me to think, to consider, and not by rote say yes or no to something because I wrote it in a plan.
That would have left me with a plan that is rigid and doesn’t learn. Basically, my plan would have been in charge of me, instead of me staying in charge of my plan.
Another writer in the program had a similar decision to make last year. Go to a conference and completely upend her plan (in theory), or not? She chose to go. Which would mean in a strict traditional planning sense her plan "failed." That is not a useful perspective in my book.
Even though we made completely different decisions in relation to action-generated data coming in, our writerly work moved forward in powerful ways this year. That progress was facilitated by our plans. They helped us stay in conversation with ourselves and our writing dreams and to be confident in the decisions we made.
Plans and Planning Perspectives Transformed
At the end of PFD2023, I asked the writers to share what their experience had been using traditional planning methods to create an annual plan in the past. Words they used were “overwhelming,” “boring,” “to be avoided,” “forgotten after a few months.”
One writer shared that she’d started to plan, but quit because she got too bogged down in detail. Another acknowledged that mapping out her year ahead in the past had been “exciting,” but that it would also leave “an aftertaste of dread.” The most resounding endorsement? “Mostly useful.”
When I asked about their experience creating their annual writing plans Goodjelly-style, the responses were quite different: “remarkably useful,” “hopeful,” “hope, “non-punitive,” “REAL,” “organic,” “flexible,” “forgiving,” “prioritized,” and “kind and playful.”
So dive on in. Play with these new ideas about planning. Let your annual plan be responsive and learn. Let it be your inspiration and focus. Let it hold clarity both on what you will tackle next year and what you won't. And let it be your touchstone to stay in conversation with yourself and your writing dreams all through the year.
Then you, too, will be well on your way to rockin’ your writing progress in 2024, Goodjelly-style! Wahoo to that!
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