So this week I’m focusing on the dirty part of the job – planning out what to write and when. Not story outlining, which is worth its own series of posts, but the forest view. That way-out-there perspective that helps to answer the question “What the *$#% am I doing?”
There are a slew of ways to answer that question, and it’s best answered through a combination of tools. The one I’m talking about today is the Publishing Calendar – it sounds boring, it is boring, but, like a dishwasher, it’s pretty freaking useful and will save you a lot of time.
Imagine a treasure map, where X is the end of the year (or years, you ambitious punk) and the O is right now. This very minute. Not second, or millisecond, because those are too short, but minute is pretty good. That map is your publishing calendar, and it might lead you through the Swamps of Sucky Sales, the Forest of Facebook ads, and Rewrite Ravine, but the real milestones along that map are going to be your books. Short stories. Screenplays. Puppet Shows.
Like any treasure hunter, when looking at that map, you’re going to have to be honest about your abilities and your goals. You might want to run through the Castle of Constant Content, but that’s only viable if you have the time and ability to make that happen. Have a full-time job and a family? You might want to take a different route that’s more feasible. Instead, maybe the Quarterly Quay is more your speed. Nothing wrong with that, by the way, because a backlist builds up all the same and experience will help you navigate more treacherous paths in the future.
So pick your favorite calendar (*cough* treasure map *cough*) software or analog spread and get to work. Plot out, for the next twelve months, exactly what major works you want to get done in that period. I find it’s easy to get ambitious here to the point of ludicrousness, and you’ll have to judge for yourself whether you’ll be able to take shifting dates down the line when the inevitable crops up and you’re not able to hit a deadline. Or, and this is the real power of that treasure map, of wanting to get to the X, you’ll use this as the extra motivation to get up early, to drink that afternoon coffee and power yourself through another thousand words.
My publishing calendar for 2017 has me at a novel a month, and right now I’m on track to hit those goals. For this instance, my novels are between 60-80k words. If you’re dropping epic fantasy tomes of 100k+, then take that into account too. But don’t be cowardly, or you’ll never make it. I’ve heard before that there needs to be a substantial risk of failure for people to grow, and in my soon-to-be-prior day job, that was absolutely true. It holds for writing as well. If you’re not pushing yourself, you won’t grow. These deadlines should be difficult, and you should always be pushing yourself to try more/new/different things. If you wrote three books last year, try for five this year. Or look at developing a new market (audio, scripts, or marketing in a new way).
Which brings me to the other parts of that treasure map. Your major works are the main milestones, but any good map will take you through interesting sidetracks as well. If you have a blog, map out what subjects you’d like to talk about on a given week. You’ll find it makes writing a post much simpler. If you want to try a certain marketing channel, remind yourself to start investing in it on a given day. Set up a series of weeks to learn a new skill.
Lastly, as you fill out your map, you’ll learn what things you need to leave out. What things you need to protect. If your calendar is crowded, it’s easier to say no to that appointment, or to justify going because you’re on track for your goals. It eases stress because you know exactly where you are in relation to where you want to be, and allows you to plan in changes when you need to.
So take a shot. Build your map for the next year. Aim for the X.
You might be surprised where it takes you.
Sidenote: I use Google Calendar because it’s free and integrates happily with so many of the other things I use. Ideally, your calendar should be something that’s painless to access and use. Don’t spend hours slotting in events in great detail. Brief notes ought to do it.