I’m finding that in order to keep at my romance writing, I’ve had to introduce a lot of behaviors and tasks into my week that often have nothing to do with actually writing words toward my current work-in-progress. Some of these tactics are stolen from best organizational practices I’ve learned at the Day Job (as a college professor) and some of this is unique to my creative work. Naming these practices, describing for myself their value, and building time to work toward them during my busy week have helped me stay on track with my publishing schedule for my first series, “Love by the Seasons.” (A Time to Fall is available on Amazon, Warm Me in Winter is coming this January and book three is on-track for March!) Here’s a quick recap of what works for me.
1.) Make a plan and review it often
I create a plan of attack for my creative work and I keep it in two different formats: a long-form calendar and a monthly/weekly planner. The long-form plan is very simple, as evidenced in the photo above. It’s a single piece of printer paper with an 18-month plan that helps me figure out my timetable for each book, as well as how project timelines overlap (this, I’ve learned, is the tricky part). Simple project-based codes (“w” for write, “e” for edit, “o/p” for outline/plan”) indicate what my priority is each day. The planner I make pretty, because I’m opening this thing up on a daily basis and I know enough about myself to realize that the more “work” or “dutifulness” feels like a craft project, the more likely I am to keep at it. (Hence, all the pretty stickers, Washi, pens, etc.) This is where I keep daily tasks and social media content organized, as well as my work for the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America. I do keep a totally separate planner for my creative work. Day Job and family obligations are relegated to another one (also prettied up.)
I’ve found that writing a book isn’t unlike so many other disciplined practices, such as trying to lose weight or maintaining a budget — it comes down to calculations. If you want to write an 85,000 word book by a certain date, it’s time to do some crunch some numbers. How many words can you write per day? How many days a week can you sustain that pace? What life events are going to complicate certain days, weeks or months? Surely there’s some trial and error, but with a little bit of time and some careful note taking about what you thought would happen vs. what really happened, you’ll collect some awesome intel and make future creative calendars more accurate.
2.) Visualize my goals and intentions
So yes, I suppose that a planner and that piece of paper on my wall are visual representations of my goals, but I also like to do what I call a “goal map.” (Remember what I said about turning work into craft projects?) This was an idea I saw on Pinterest and just loved so hard. Since my professional life is divided into fall semester, winter break, spring semester and summer break, these goal maps tend to align with those windows, but this practice could easily be done by year, by quarter, by month, etc. I have a binder full of inspiration that I pull out at least once a week, and this visualization is the first page. I see it. I remember my intentions. I think about whether or not I’m making progress toward them. Just because of my personality, I choose to focus things I’d like to add into my life or accomplish vs. things to cut out.
3.) Build in some regular ritual related to inspiration
I lean “woo.” I do. Decks of cards full of positive mantras and colorful crystals and essential oils and visualization journals are all a part of my game. There’s no point in denying it. No, I don’t use these things for healing, and I don’t believe in the Law of Attraction per say, but I do believe in visualizing success and in absorbing words and images and ideas that remind me that success is possible, and that I am capable of setting and achieving goals. I have a ritual I refer to as “tea-vening.” It looks like this: one or two evenings a week, I light a few candles, brew some tea, put on some mellow music, get some inspirational fodder (an article, book, prompt, quote) and something to doodle or draw with and just sink into that space for a good 45 minutes or so.
My “tea-vening” headspace in early 2018 is very much shaped by Austin Kleon‘s tiny books full of massively interesting and impactful ideas. I’m gobbling up his work and rethinking what it means to be creative, to be an artist, and to share one’s work with the world. I see this time, this space for soaking up others’ ideas and inspiration, as a crucial accessory to producing my own creative work, even if it can sometimes feel like a sacrifice to make time for it. Sunday evenings are always set aside for looking at my planners, my inspirational binder (more on that in another post), my game plan for the week, and anticipating my successes and challenges.
These are three small ways I center my creative work and though maintaining these practices does cut into the time I have for actual writing and editing, I find that it’s well worth it for my creativity, my vision, and if I’m honest, my sense of calm and control over my life. Planners and planning-related practices bring peace of mind, friends. This much I know is true.
Jess Vonn is the author of A Time to Fall, book one in the “Love by the Seasons” series,available on Amazon in print, e-book and through Kindle Unlimited. Its sequel, Warm Me in Winter, debuts this January.