Sounds stuffy. Like it comes from corporate America. Like something that is the polar opposite of creativity and the freedom to write.
It seems to me that there are any number of writers (even some I consider friends) who bristle and balk at any mention of structure or planning or even the slightest hint of purposefulness. A practice like “strategic planning” is the antithesis of creativity, they might say. But, I’m not so sure.
I’ve done some strategic planning in “the real world” and I see how it can benefit me now, in the freedom of my “writing world”. At its core, strategic planning is simply deciding where you want to end up (as a corporation, a non-profit, a political campaign, a school, an individual) and then working backward, logically, to where you currently stand in such a way that you have a road map to follow from today onward, baby-step by baby-step.
“Too rigid!” some might say.
The reality is different. The best organizations know that the plan is a fluid, ever-changing monster. The true innovators and the businesses who march forward without growing stagnant understand that useful strategic plans lay out the parameters of success without hindering innovation or stifling creativity.
A strategic plan can be altered, changed, re-arranged, all in the service of the greater good and the final goal. What is most important, is the movement forward.
And that is true in our writing.
I envision where I want to be, as a writer. I plan backward from that point, the most logical things I can do to reach that goal. I take baby-steps in that direction. I evaluate my progress. I adjust as necessary.
Throughout the day, I can ask myself, “Is the thing I’m choosing to do right now getting me closer to my goal?” I can only ask myself this question because I have done the planning and I know the small tasks and attitudes that will get me closer to the writer I want to be. Without specifics, I swing like a highly-caffeinated child between the two extremes of unjustified and unrealistic optimism and the paralysis of pessimism.
Once I have some idea of specific behaviors and short-term checkpoints that demonstrate my inching toward my larger, longer-term objectives, I can evaluate a few important things about my life, and how my daily choices are impacting my writing:
When I ask the question, “Is this thing I’m choosing to do right now getting me any closer to my goal?” I can understand what percentage of the time I answer “yes” and begin to decipher how often I have to answer “yes” in order to feel like I’m being a productive writer.
I can find out the days (or weeks, or months) when I don’t answer “yes” to that question at all, and begin to weed out the behaviors/choices/circumstances/people that keep me from a hearty “YES!” (Or two.)
I can identify the circumstances that permit me to answer “yes” and work to introduce more of those things into my life on a regular basis.
And so, in this very simple way (remember: all I’m asking myself is, “Is this action moving me toward my goal?”) I am more and more aware of my own choices to write, or to do something else. I am able to evaluate my daily life. When the answer “yes” pops up often enough, I am satisfied that I am making progress, even if it is barely noticeable to an outsider. If I’m not getting enough “yes” answers, I change what I’m doing. It’s really that simple, and the more I do it, the more aware I am of where I’m investing my time, energy, and creativity.