Developing a Writing Plan That Works For You

First a confession: I was never a model student. My early report cards always included comments like “She could do so much better if she tried” and “Getting assignments in on time would help.” Even in college I struggled with a lack of discipline. I cut way too many classes, neglected to study, and left papers until the very last minute. Once, in an English class (my major, mind you), I cut the class where an important paper was assigned. Then I cut the class where the paper was discussed. I was present the day before the assignment was due. That night was a marathon. I read a whole book (Evelyn Woods would be proud) and wrote the paper while two of my roommates (bless their kind hearts) stayed up all night with me to proofread and type as I wrote.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson that night but it wouldn’t be true. All those early comments—“She could do so much better if she tried”—became my excuse. Like Lady Catherine de Bourgh who said about playing the piano (and I paraphrase), “I could have been a true proficient if I’d ever taken the time to learn,” I told myself I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I just never did.

What does all this have to do with developing a writing plan that works? Here’s the point. Things did eventually change for me. I learned a few things about myself. I need external accountability, and I require specific short-term deadlines.

Some people (apparently) possess an inner desire to do well, just for themselves—a personal work ethic that motivates them do what is required and more. Whatever that inner quality is, I don’t have it. And yet, in my twenty-five years of lecturing on theology, I never once failed to deliver. Why? Because people were depending on me and because I developed short-term goals—a daily and weekly schedule that worked.

Here are the top five things I learned about myself:

  • Short-term goals work best.

Long-term deadlines leave way too much room for procrastination. I need an immediate goal with specific daily and weekly tasks to complete.

  • I need external accountability.

If I’m working just to please myself, it probably won’t happen. I need people who expect something of me and will be seriously let down if I don’t perform.

  • Compartmentalizing helps me focus.

I don’t toggle between tasks very well. I’m not a good juggler. Focusing on one thing at a time produces the best results.

  • Momentum is everything.

When I’m on a roll, stick with it. One of my fantasies is having a cook to call me to the dinner table so I can eat and get back to my work as quickly as possible. Since this will never happen, I plan meals that take seriously minimal prep time.

  • Distractions are deadly.

I write best at the cottage where there are few outside tasks to complicate matters. When I’m at home, I try to schedule appointments and outside activities in a cluster—more compartmentalizing.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? The things I need to develop a writing plan may not suit you at all. The idea here is to know yourself. Learn who you are and what motivates you—identify your gifts and your shortcomings. Then, instead of trying to squeeze yourself into someone else’s mold, tailor a work plan around who you are. For you, the stress of deadlines may be a creativity killer. If so, self-publishing may be exactly what you need. How about a periodic writing retreat where nothing else is required of you for a time? If you need one, take one. Do you get more done if you vary your daily activities—working on one task in the morning, for example, and another in the afternoon? Variety may produce results for you. Are you a person who works best in the early morning, or are you a night owl? Tailor your schedule to capture your best writing time. Maybe an accountability group or a critique group is what you need to get that book finished. The point is, writing routines are not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

So—what does work for you? Share here or on our Facebook page.

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