No Time For Craft Practice, Writer?
No. 147 | By Christine Carron
Are you getting as much craft practice in as you want? As much as you know would help you grow as a writer and achieve what you want on the page? If not, you are not alone.
Many writers want to have a regular craft practice but they also want to churn out their next draft, and show up for their critique partners, and do the research they need for their next book, and make a living, and be a present spouse, parent, friend, etc. So often our craft practice, one of those things that author Stephen Covey would call “important but not urgent,” gets pushed back again and again.
And then you might find yourself months, or even years, into your writing journey, wondering if you’ve grown at all as a writer. That is a not a fun moment to be heading toward, so let’s change up that trajectory today, using smart process. (Which is so our jam, here at Goodjelly.)
Get Clear on Your Priorities
The first step in making space for craft practice is getting clear on all your writing priorities. What does that look like?
Let’s imagine a writer name Stuart who is working on researching one story idea, drafting a second story, revising a third story, participating in a critique group, and who wants to spend more time on building his craft skills. Stuart is also going to be querying agents soon with the story he is revising, so he has query prep to do. That’s a lot of writing work, right? But also a realistic scope of work for a writer.
To make Stuart’s work crystal clear, let’s shift his priorities out of paragraph mode into a list. When we do that we get:
- Story C: Research
- Story B: Draft
- Story A: Revise
- Query Prep
- Critique Group Responsibilities
- Craft Practice
This is what I call a “Big Bucket Backlog.” A backlog is a collection of uncompleted work that needs to be addressed at some point. A Big Bucket Backlog is the highest level grouping of the work on your backlog.
Set Your Percentages Overall
Once you have your Big Bucket Backlog clarified, the next step is to get real about how you want to allocate your time overall to each bucket on a big picture perspective. The way to do that is to set up target percentages that you use to guide how you plan and spend your available writing time.
Let’s go back to Stuart. He wants to spend a small amount of his time on both Story C: Research and Story B: Draft. He intends to allocate the largest block of his writing time to Story A: Revise. He will divide his remaining writing time between Query Prep, Critique Group Responsibilities, and Craft Practice.
That would translate into big picture percentages like:
- 5%: Story C: Research
- 5%: Story B: Draft
- 60%: Story A: Revise
- 10%: Query Prep
- 10%: Critique Group Responsibilities
- 10%: Craft Practice
At this point, it is totally possible that you might be feeling resistance to, or overwhelm about, the addition of numerical values to the process. That resistance may be numbers discomfort. Or, it could be that this whole percentages business just feels anti-creativity and anti-spontaneity.
It could also be stress bubbling because you’re worried you won’t know what percentages to assign, and because if you do assign percentages you have no idea how you will ensure you are meeting them, and because you can already tell that this is just going to be one more thing for your inner critic and your inner perfectionist to pounce on you about, and . . .
Okay, if any of that is happening, take a deep breath. I will tell you the same thing I tell writers in my program. You use all Goodjelly Jam tools, including ones that add more structure and accountability—like priorities and percentages—into your process lightly.
The percentages themselves are less important than the thinking you do to clarify your priorities. That said, assigning a numerical value to your priorities, however discomfiting to parts of you, does make your priorities crystal clear and also gives you a reference point that you will use in the next step in the process to reclaim time for your craft practice. And that, of course, is the goal, so deep breaths as needed, and on we go.
Decide Your Weekly Plan Percentages
Many writers treat their backlogs as to-do lists, which I absolutely don’t recommend, even once you have set priorities on your big buckets as we did in the previous step.
Working from a backlog creates a sense of overwhelm.
Remember that a backlog is a collection of ALL uncompleted work that needs to be addressed at some point. You will never be able to complete all the work on your Backlog in any given week. Having it constantly looming over you creates unnecessary stress, and for many writers will actually drag on their productivity.
That is not smart process. At all.
What I recommend instead is that, on a week to week basis, you carve out a subset of work from your backlog, meaning you make a weekly writing plan. You fill each writing plan with small, clear tasks from the Big Bucket groupings on your backlog, creating what I called manageable, moveable bits of work.
But the question is how much work from each big bucket do you put on each weekly plan?
Going back to Stuart’s example, your initial thought may be to fill the plan using the percentages we identified above.
Not quite. The week-to-week plan percentages do not have to exactly match the big picture percentages, but they do have to average out over time.
Hang with me, if that last sentence didn’t make sense.
There are actually two key caveats that Stuart needs to take into consideration when making his weekly plans, in addition to his big picture priorities and percentages: slack and deadlines.
Caveat 1 | Slack
Let’s start with slack. I’ve written about slack before, which you can read here. In context of this discussion, it means allocating a time buffer to each weekly plan so that your plans have wiggle room.
That means in our example, instead of allocating work to max out all his available time, Stuart will leave a percentage of his time “free,” so that if tasks take longer than he expected, or some emergency arises, it is less likely that those scheduling hiccups will completely throw off his plan.
Caveat 1 | Deadlines
In context of deadlines, let’s say it’s the beginning of the year, and Stuart has signed up for a big writing conference in September where he has signed up for a pitch session with an agent. In case that agent asks him for the full manuscript, Stuart wants to have the revision done and his query letter ready to go by September.
That means, even though Stuart’s big picture priorities for the year have him spending 60% of his time on the revision and 10% on query prep overall, if all that work has to be done before September, his earlier-in-the-year weekly plans will have to front load those two buckets of work.
These are just a couple of reasons why your weekly plan percentages may not always exactly match your big picture percentages.
The Sample Weekly Plan
So, taking into account slack and deadlines, one of Stuart’s pre-September weekly plans might look like this:
- 0%: Story C: Research
- 0%: Story B: Draft
- 70% Story A: Revise
- 15%: Query Prep
- 5%: Critique Group Responsibilities
- 5%: Craft Practice
- 5%: Slack
Stuart decreased his allocation for Story C: Research, Story B: Draft, Critique Group Responsibilities, and Craft Practice, and upped his allocation for Story A: Revise and Query Prep, and also added some slack. But notice where he zeroed out the allocation. For Story C: Research and Story B: Draft.
This is because one of the commitments Stuart made to himself this year was to consistently allocate time for craft practice, even during the weeks when the amount of time he could allocate was small. This is a definite change in the way Stuart is showing up for himself as a writer. In the past, he would have dropped any effort toward craft practice immediately when deadlines loomed.
In fact, prior to integrating Goodjelly’s smart process approach, Stuart wouldn’t have even put Craft Practice on his priorities list. That list would have only contained what he considered to be his “real” writing work, meaning his three writing projects. But one of the Goodjelly “smart process” moves that Stuart made was to expand his definition of “real" writing work to include craft practice. That move also freed him up to fully acknowledge how important it was to him to consistently commit time and energy to building his craft skills.
Craft Prowess through the Power of Smart Process
That inner acknowledgement, buttressed by smart process, now means that Stuart can make plans that allow him to consistently deepen and expand his craft skills.
And so can you.
Taking time to think through priorities and percentages on both the big picture and weekly plan levels is the key to carving out time for your craft practice. When you give yourself space to focus on craft practice, your creative confidence will grow, your motivation will grow, and your productivity will grow, too.
Such is the power of a little Goodjelly-style smart process. Wahoo!