Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Creative Writing Plan, Part 1: The Freedom of Limits

A writing friend and I just completed a brief planning process that addresses our respective creative writing lives. Here's the outline we used, along with some completely made-up examples:
  • Vision statement: "In five years, I am...." [statement of your writing self in five years. Example: a writer of poetry and mystery novellas who is confident in my use of form and imagery.] 
  • Goal statement: "In five years, I will have:" [bullet list of projects completed/underway. Example: completed four 20,000 word mystery novellas, completed a revision of my sestina-based collection "Lilacs and Lavender," drafted four other novellas, experimented with up to three writing schedules and committed to pursuing the most successful for a full year]
  • Milestone statement for this year: "This year, I will:" [bullet list of projects to complete. Example: complete the draft of novella #2 and revise #1 and #2, use mind-mapping to generate 50 images relating geology and cosmology for further exploration, write an hour every weekday morning before the rest of the family wakes up. ]
Short, sweet, simple. And extraordinarily valuable for various reasons, which I'll cover this week and in two upcoming weeks.

Most important: This plan, by design, is limited. It is a plan for creative writing.
  • It doesn't include resolution-y elements of life: to meditate every day or work out or run a 10k or eat more kale.
  • It doesn't address the writing I do as work or as a volunteer. Those activities may expand my tools, but they aren't directly related to the creative writing goals in this plan.
  • It doesn't include activities that develop craft -- like attentive and analytical reading (some of which I will do anyway), targeted reading of craft books, or taking writing courses (formal or informal). I may revise this choice, but it is right for me, right now.
This limit was important because the other things in my life seem to get done. I shower and brush my teeth. I pay bills and taxes on time. I could always exercise more, eat better, spend more time with family, or volunteer more -- but I do those things at acceptable (to me) levels. I'm more ambitious for the creative writing I want to do. So, this plan looks only at creative writing. The closest my plan gets to addressing areas "other than creative writing" is in its submitting component and its writing practice component.

A. Submitting: I will continue to submit pieces to publications, but my goals require me to focus on producing and revising words. So my submission rate (about 1 per month) will stay the same.

Here's why: I am drawn to administrivia like a moth to a flame (and often find myself sizzled, with no new writing done). Administrative work lends itself to to-do lists, completed tasks, and accomplishments. It is relatively easy to research markets, plan submissions, or print stories and put them in envelopes (or, increasingly, format documents, attach them to emails, and click "submit"). In comparison, it is relatively hard to open a vein or two and bleed onto the page. It is even relatively hard to write when I get over my bad self and just put words down, without all the the "bleeding" imagery and general sturm und drang.

Bottom line: I can push papers around and pretend I'm writing, but I'm not -- I'm doing administration. Therefore, submissions will continue at the current level -- ramping them up isn't a big focus. Note that however this decision changes (and it could), having a strategy for submitting creative work will remain a part of this plan, because that's a part of the creative process that's important to me.

B. Writing practice: I have written before about my love/hate relationship with structure and the freelancing life. Evenings? Weekends? What do they mean when it's possible to be connected 24/7? Et cetera.

I've recently admitted to myself that on long projects (like curricula, or, probably, novels), I work better when I have an outline. So rather than think that I shouldn't need an outline, that only baby writers need outlines (and I'm no baby) (am not) (NOT), that an outline is a crutch, that I need to be a real writer and write without an outline -- rather than bludgeon myself (for any longer than I have already), I'm going to (duh) work to an outline. (What can I say. It's part of my unique charm to imagine that if I can do something in a particular way, I must be doing it wrong and therefore shouldn't do it that way.)

Same with general daily routine. My life really does go more smoothly when I write early, even though I am not (SO NOT) a morning person. Summer is an especially tricky time because mornings here are reliably lovely, and this is the season for outdoor activity, so I say, "I'll write later." But the part of me saying "later" apparently means "October." Fortunately, the largest part of me has these goals around creative writing, and, furthermore, has met my postponing self before and isn't fooled by its attempts to get me to do important things "later."

Bottom line: Aside from planned and designated vacations, I'm giving an honest shot at getting the required writing done before 11 a.m. on weekdays. Note that although this particular writing practice may change, considering whether my writing practice is working for me will remain a part of this plan -- because life changes, but creative writing is an important element of my life.

And here's another important limit I put on this plan: My goals (mostly) address producing and revising words. Although one of my goals addresses published work, 90% of my goals are about production: writing, revision, submitting. Why? Because they are the things I can control (mostly). Having work published depends on others. Yes, revising carefully and submitting well, or revising with an eye toward a particular journal or publisher, can improve my acceptance rate, and I'll be doing some of that. But I won't be looking at specific publications and pitching or writing to them. I'm not writing to a market.

I can do that because this plan is about MY creative writing -- my CREATIVE writing. Which ties into next week's topics, expectations and timing.

I recently made a plan for my creative writing life. No stranger to unsuccessful planning efforts, I have found this particular planning process to be extremely helpful. I will share the reasons why in three posts: this is Part 1. Stay tuned for Parts 2 (expectations and timing) and 3 (accountability).