Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Creative Writing Plan, Part 2: Expectations and Timing

With a writing friend, 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, and I have been sharing the reasons. This is Part 2. Part 1 is here.

Last week I talked about how beneficial it was for me to limit this planning process, and consider only my creative writing, leaving out issues of exercise, spirituality, and kale. The basic format we used for creating our plan is at the top of last week's post. This week, I look at two related considerations -- expectations and timing.

Expectations. In my previous attempts to create a cohesive plan around my creative writing, the vision statement tripped me up. Anything I wrote seemed so...grandiose? egotistical? ridiculous? impossible?

Oh, vision statements. I've been part of reorganization/restructuring efforts at two large public organizations and a smaller private company. I've jumped off a cliff (attached to a zipline but somehow my brain didn't believe that part) in a team-building exercise. I've stood on chairs and committed to goals. (Yes, I cringe about that, in retrospect. Seriously? Standing on a chair?) And those examples were just for work. That doesn't count all the other exercises for nonprofit organizations or churches.

In my jaded experience, those "vision statement" days, fueled by muffins and peer pressure (with not a little blaming and finger-pointing), produce lots of sticky notes and flip charts but little action. Sigh.

In any case, because a vision statement was part of our template, okay, I wrote a vision statement. I actually wrote it after I wrote down the goals I'd like to complete in five years. That part felt easier, because it was more concrete: a list of projects. The vision statement, which is private, is more fluid. Mostly, it isn't something I'm all het up about. 

The reason I'm feeling more relaxed: I have relaxed my expectations. Although I would love to be a bazillion-millionaire writer of critically acclaimed works with staying power to inspire all future generations and bring peace in our lifetime, most of that ridiculous sentence depends on other people. I can only control the fact that I'm producing writing. 

Which is not to equate "relaxed expectations" with "lazy." I'm still ambitious. Just not about the elements of writing that are beyond my control. So I'm ambitious about the concrete things, the goals. But even there, I focus my goals on producing writing, not on its reception (limits). 

The reason I can relax my expectations? The timing of this writing exercise. Not "time," as in, "this took a lot of time," or "I had a lot of time to think about it," because neither of those statements is true. Timing. As in, this is a good time, both in my regular life and in my writing career, to do some planning.
  • My personal life is pretty settled -- no foreseeable deaths, births, illness, or moves on the horizon. Granted, events like these often are hard to predict. But one of the perks of having lost one's parents, for example, is that you don't need a contingency plan for it anymore. So I'm taking advantage of the relative predictability of my personal life to get this big chunk of Meaningful Life on track.
  • No one, including me, depends on my creative writing to generate income. I have other goals for income-producing writing; my husband and I have other sources of income. More money would always be nice, but this planning exercise simply isn't about money.  
  • More years lie behind me than ahead. I often pretend I'm just halfway through my lifespan. When I'm honest about the arithmetic and life expectancies, I have to admit I'm past the halfway point. If I'm not going to get serious about this "creative writing" thing now, when will I? Five years from now, I don't want to say, "Geez, I wish I could get that novel done." Sure, whatever I produce from this plan might be horrible, but at least I will have given it a shot. I won't have to wonder. 
  • I have enough experience writing fiction and creative nonfiction to know what elements of it I can do fairly easily, quickly, and well, and what elements of it receive a "need improvement" grade -- namely, plot. So I can focus on improving those "skill deficits" and incorporating them into my mix of tools. When I was less experienced, I didn't know what came easily, much less how to stretch myself into things that don't come so easily. 
In summary: limits, expectations, and timing. Relaxing my expectations around (a) creating a life-defining vision statement and  (b) expecting external acclaim and reward for creative writing let me focus on what's important to me: producing the writing. I'm able to set those limits and relax my expectations because of the timing of this planning exercise, both in terms of my personal life and my creative writing life. 

What's left for next week, in Part 3? Accountability. Yes, even my own introverted self sees the value of it.