Plan your creative career 2018 part one: Why and how to plan

“Plan” is an ironically vague term. You can plan to stop by Target on your way home, and you can plan a detailed, day-by-day, hour-by-hour itinerary for a trip. Same word, completely different results.

I think this is what makes business planning such a confusing and sometimes frustrating experience for a lot of people. As a freelancer, what I plan to do and what I’m actually able to achieve are often very different things: I can say that I want to be publish five articles a month, but that’s contingent on whether I can get anyone to bite on my pitches or not, or on what other work I get over the course of the month. When I fall behind (which happens more often than I care to admit), it feels like planning is just an exercise in frustration. It feels like it makes more sense for me to not plan, to just go where life and work take me. If that’s what ends up happening anyway, why frustrate myself with goals that may never come to fruition.

The thing, though, is that any smarmy business magazine will tell you that planning is crucial for business success. And if you’re a freelancer, creative or not, you’re running a business.

(In some ways, the term “freelancer” is kinda subversive because it makes it seem like work is more of a side gig or hobby. If you’re freelancing full-time, you’re an entrepreneur.)

The question, then, becomes what to plan. As I’ve said, having hard benchmarks to meet can end up making you feel frustrated and even angry with yourself. They can be really discouraging if you’re not getting to where you thought you’d be. At the same time, you can’t plan for every contingency. Life happens, and sometimes it can derail you. Hard. That’s not anyone’s fault, but it does undermine the process. So what should you plan, and to what extent?

I can’t say what you should do. I’m not your mom. But I can tell you what I do! My planning process has evolved a lot since I started freelancing in May 2016, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Break up the year in a way that makes sense for your work.

I’ve found that planning month-to-month just doesn’t work for me as a writer. Pitching is a long process that involves a lot of rejection. If you pitch a piece, wait two weeks to hear back, follow up, then wait another two weeks only to be rejected, then you’ve already spent a month on just that one pitch and have nothing to show for it. (Keep in mind that simultaneous submissions are a big no-no in the magazine/digital media world). Publishing takes even longer – you can submit an article, and not see it in print (or get paid for it) for two or three months.

For me, what works best is to plan quarterly. It’s much more realistic for me to write 15 pieces over three months than it is to write five pieces in one month. Ultimately, it’s the same amount of work, but it gives me the wiggle room I need to focus on achieving my goals instead of feeling frustrated at a perceived lack of accomplishment.

You may be asking, why three months? Why not four or six? I will say that sometimes I’ll give myself an extra month to achieve a certain goal, but overall, I find that three months is a sweet spot planning-wise. It’s long enough to give you a reasonable amount of time to accomplish something tangible, but it’s short enough that you’ll still remember what your goals were from start to end. If you’re planning every six months, what can end up happening is that you get to your six month mark only to find that you’ve forgotten half of what you’d set out to do, and now you’re so off track it’s hard to muster up the motivation to recalibrate yourself. Three months is the Goldilocks of planning times.

Plan for opportunities, not idealizations

What I’ve discovered is that planning pushes you to take steps that will ultimately open up new opportunities that will help you achieve your goals. If I want to take on one new client every quarter, planning gives me the opportunity to sit with myself and think, ‘What do I need to do to be able to achieve that goal?’ Networking is probably going to be on that list, so I plan to attend three networking events each month, for example. Instead of getting tunnel vision staring at my new client goal and then beating myself up when it doesn’t pan out, I’m pushing myself to create the opportunities that will get me there. Even if I don’t meet my goal, I’ll have almost certainly gained something for having stuck to my action plan.

Adjust, adjust, adjust

When I create my task list for each month, I reference my quarterly goals. Then, at the end of the quarter, I sit and take stock of what goals were achieved and in what time frame. Sometimes, I’ll find that I’m still working towards a goal – I’m making progress, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Other times, I find that I’ve completely fallen off the wagon with regards to one goal. Maybe I started out the quarter strong, but since then it’s taken a backseat compared to other goals. That evaluation helps me figure out how to organize and manage my time, and it helps me readjust my expectations to match reality. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that it helps me really think about what my priorities are. If one goal has been completely forgotten, maybe I need to set it aside for a while and zero-in on what I’ve gravitated towards over the course of those few months.

This is part of why I prefer to plan quarterly as well – it’s hard to figure out priorities and work trends over the course of one month. Three months gives you a much better picture of what your work life actually looks like, while at the same time being short enough so that you can consistently assess yourself and stay on track.

Ultimately, how and what you plan is up to you, but hopefully my approach will help you brainstorm one of your own. In Planning Your Creative Career Part 2, I’ll be discussing my planning system in more detail, showing you the tools I use and how I use them. In the meantime, check out these new year planning tips and these writing goals (which can totally be adjusted to whatever you do as a creative).

Get crackin’ on your creative career in 2018

It’s hard to believe that it’s already December. It’s true what they say: time flies when you’re having fun, and I’ve been having a ton of fun with Creative Quibble this last year. But December, for me, is a time to buckle down and get serious about what I’ve accomplished in the last year and what I want to accomplish in the year ahead. It helps that my birthday is in January, so the new year always feels like a new start and a chance to redefine my goals as I get older and, ideally, wiser.

Last week, I was interviewed by Rikki Ayers of the Own Up Grown Up podcast about being a freelance writer and teacher on Skillshare. The episode focused on the business aspect of freelance writing: the challenges and the opportunities that come with going your own way. Listen to the episode here.

For the rest of the month, I want to capitalize and build on that episode to zero in on building a creative career, and specifically building a plan for the new year that will help propel that career. So if you’re in the throes of creating that kind of career, or if you’re considering making that shift, stick around! I have plenty of ideas that I can’t wait to share with you, but in the meantime, feel free to share your own advice in the comments!

Here’s to making 2018 the best and most productive year yet!

15 writing resources to keep you going through NaNoWriMo 2017

That time of year is upon us once again, fellow writers – National Novel Writing Month. While some of you may know that I have never attempted NaNoWriMo myself, I am an avid fan and follower of the influx of writing inspiration and advice the month invariably brings.

1. Fiction Writing Tips by Kris Noel

Author Kris Noel is an on-and-off Tumblr user, but come NaNoWriMo she floods feeds worldwide with all kinds of helpful tips on how to actually buckle down and crank that novel out.

2. Writrs

This blog runs prompts all year round, but it focuses on what aspiring writers need to keep them creative and inspired in November.

3. Fuck Yeah Character Development

Characters are pretty much the most important part of any written work, so if you ever find yourself struggling with that aspect, this site provides all kinds of brainstorming questions, as well as insight into how to write characters of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences.

4. It’s a Writer Thing

You are not alone! The lovely folks at It’s a Writer Thing have plenty of support and advice to offer if you’re struggling with an aspect of your story, whether it’s scene, dialogue, character – no matter how small it is, you can find someone or something that can help you here.

5. Sacha Black

While author Sacha Black’s website isn’t dedicated specifically to NaNoWriMo, it is dedicated to her own journey as a writer and the experience that comes with it. She also offers writer resources and interviews other writers for their perspectives.

6. The Spinning Pen

This site is dedicated to YA authors, but the advice and insight available on the writing and publishing processes are useful to any writer.

7. Shannon Thompson

Shannon Thompson is another author whose blog is focused more on her own work and what’s relevant to her in the writing world, but I continue to find her experience incredibly useful and encouraging. Thompson is a YA author, so if that’s your genre you may find her writing experiences particularly relatable.

8. Cecile’s Writers

This blog is an offshoot of Cecile’s Writers magazine, a publication dedicated to intercultural voices. Their blog is a great way to get insight on the industry from a diverse set of writers.

9. Eye of the Writer

If you need a little humor as you sit chained to your disk, your digits slowly numbing from hours of typing, Eye of the Writer is the place to be. The style is hilarious and the advice is excellent.

10. The Muffin

The Muffin is WOW! Women on Writing’s official blog. They’ve been online since 2006, so there’s no shortage of advice for women looking to break into the business and keep themselves motivated through the month.

11. Creative Writing Contests

This is a more of an “after” resource, but if you’re focused on publication and want to give your novel its best chance, this website has an endless list of competitions, grants, and literary magazine issues that can help you focus your plot and give you a prize to keep your eye on.

12. World Building Question of the Day

Every day, this Tumblr blog gives you something to think about as you create the world your story exists in.

13. And World Building Too

This website I especially like because it provides visual inspiration to help you think about what your world looks like.

14. I Suck At Writing

This is a great resource for writers looking for help with productivity and creating clean, professional copy.

15. Silly OC Prompts

Another blog focused on character creation and development, this provides daily questions that will give you a much clearer focus on who your characters really are.

There you have it folks! What are some of the resources you rely on to motivate you through NaNoWriMo? Share in the comments!