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Thursday, May 14

How to Get Back on Track When All Your Planning Fails

By Aliza Mann, @AlizaMannAuthor

Part of The Writer’s Life Series


JH: Missing a goal or failing a project can be disheartening, and missing enough of them in a row can derail your entire writing career. Aliza Mann shares tips on how to get back on track when all your plans fail.


Ever since she was a small child, Aliza Mann loved to tell stories. It started in the backyard of her family’s home in Atlanta, Georgia. There weren’t a lot of children in the neighborhood, so she would spend hours making up fantasy worlds where everything was perfect and everyone was loved. After her parents decided to relocate to Detroit, Michigan, things changed. In her new home, she learned words like recession, layoff and was personally introduced to a world completely opposite of the life she’d known. As hard as life’s lessons can be, she busied herself by reading anything she could get her hands on. In high school, she would fall in love with literature and alas, romance. From the moment she opened the cover of a historical page turner, she found herself hooked. With eyes wide and a smile on her face, she devoured as many novels as she could find and she dreamed that she could write like that too. Maybe. Like most childhood dreams, she soon found that they could be pushed to the side and categorized with a label that read, ‘One day…’

One day finally came, when she found herself laid off from her day job. As things happen, this set back helped to segue her back onto the writing path. She found herself starting a novel which will probably never see the light of day, but gave her more joy than she’d ever though possible. Today, while it’s been some years since her last layoff and she is actively working in the public sector, she balances her love of writing a great story between two pseudo-adult children, a fabulous son-in-law, a granddaughter, and the man of her dreams. A true book nerd, she is almost always reading and for sure, writing the world in a way that shows its true beauty, served with a heaping side of happily ever after.

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Take it away Aliza…

I am a person who can speak with absolute authority about falling off track. Through years of procrastination and giving up on things before completion, I know how to mess things up. You probably think I’m just being hard on myself, but oh no – I have nearly an embarrassing number of projects that I didn’t get to just yet, or delayed starts. Or at least I did, before last year. I began to take things more seriously and learned some techniques, which I shared last month, to help keep me on track.

Despite all that, I also know from experience, there were times when the best laid plans… well, you know the rest. But what do you do when you had your heart set on completing something extremely important or crucial to your success only to fall off at some point during your journey? Well, there’s a couple of ways to go – you could give up, or you can get up and try again.

I wasn’t always the ‘try again’ girl. A lot of times, I would assume the goal I’d fallen off track with wasn’t meant for me. Maybe it was too big of a dream. Perhaps, I wasn’t good enough to get it done. Maybe I was overly confident in my abilities? Or maybe, I didn’t give myself permission to start again…

In the past, I was extremely hard on myself. I allowed my mind to run wild with all the bad things and intricacies of my screw ups. So, when I didn’t meet a goal, I told myself how terribly ineffective I was in some way, and never considered the possibility of needing to reassess my goals. The last time I veered off course, I was sure there was no way to right my path. There were so many tasks showing as late and incomplete, it all seemed too overwhelming to begin again.

One of the projects, however, was too important to leave undone. The only thing I could do was start working on it. It did require some effort on my part, which I wasn’t looking forward to, on top of all the tasks requiring my attention. Nonetheless, I dove in.

Step 1: Figuring Out the Problem


I needed to understand why I didn’t complete the project before I could do anything else. Since I was into self-isolation for about 5 weeks, it wasn’t COVID. What was it about the project that kept me from considering it a priority?

The issue was, simply put - I had procrastinated. All with compelling reasons, of course. Those of you who have read these articles know it is one of my chief sins. I can procrastinate with the best of them. But even this has an underlying issue. In my case, when something seems daunting, I push it off. It’s a lack of confidence. I needed to tackle my esteem issues for the project to have a fighting chance. That meant telling myself I would only get past failing by trying.

Each person will have their own reason, and true self examination will need to occur. Whether due to outside factors or internal, like in my case, each of us much find the strength to deal with what weighs us down and prevents our success. 

If it means breaking down tasks into something that can be done within a few minutes for those who struggle with focus, or using productivity tools to maximize time for those with jam packed schedules, or even finding accountability partners to hold our feet to the fire when we start to slip, we have to do the work to uncover our unique issues and find the thing that works for us. It’s not one size fits all, and it may even require a few tries, but be honest with yourself in the pursuit. And be kind to yourself as you find your perfect solution. There will be productivity resources at the end of the article.

(Here's more on Rebooting Your Writing When You've Stopped for too Long)

Step 2: Identify a New, Reasonable Timeline


If you refer to last month’s article on initial planning, or anyone who teaches planning, you will know about go-live dates, or projected completion dates, or simply put, when a thing needs to be done. Since already off track, chances are the project would need to be reassessed and a determination made on a new, reasonable completion timeframe. 

Most likely, the original timeline had some project milestones (markers) which give an idea of how far along in the process the task is. Using those original milestones and the amount of work remaining, it may be easy to see just about how much more time is needed. So, if you completed 2 of 8 tasks, 25% of the project is complete. Using your best estimates, consider how long it will take to complete the remaining 75%. 

For word counts, that may be simple. Using this same scenario on a 50,000-word novel, 25% of the novel is 12,500 words. There are 37,500 words remaining, and if you wrote at a pace of 3,000 words a day, there would be 12.5 days to complete the project. But breaking the remainder of the project down into manageable pieces, it is almost immediately easier to start the recovery process. Manageability means it can be done.

What are the odds of sitting down every single day and writing 3,000 words? With day jobs, kids, spouses/significant others, worries over a sudden pandemic, there may need to be some days off worked into the equation. 

To make the math problem a real-world scenario, we need to add in real world experiences. I usually try to look at any standing events, like birthdays, anniversaries, girls’ nights (maybe we’ll have those again one day), etc., and at least one day off for each week for decompression. The 12.5-day project will probably move into the 15-day zone. 

This means, I need to write most days during the identified timeframe and make my goal of 3000 words. I may even exceed my mandatory word count on some days, which would be great, but I don’t count on it. Finishing early isn’t my goal. Finishing on time is what I’m working toward. Don’t get stressed by racing to completion and remember to be thankful for the times you can meet your goals. 


Step 3: Determine Whether All Tasks are Crucial


I used word counts in my example above, but if it’s something like launching a podcast, other factors may not be as cut and dry. There may be financial considerations to make, such as the new microphone which requires two pay cycles to purchase. 

Write down what is reasonable, and in the interim, consider any other tasks that can be completed before the item requiring the longest lead time. Also, consider how valuable a task or item is to the project, overall. Maybe the luxury goal isn’t critical to success, after all. Perhaps our hypothetical microphone was so expensive, it was almost unobtainable. 

Whether financial and tangible or intangible, everything in a project has a cost. According to Sarra Cannon (HB90 Creator), anything on your project plan costs time and will prevent something else from occurring. During the project reboot, consider if the associated costs of each task is feasible. 

Did those costs deter you initially and perhaps contribute to veering off course? Use this time to consider a.) whether or not each task is crucial to success, and b.) what barriers contributed to falling off track initially. Each must be addressed to prevent future issues through the elimination of things no longer in line with the intended outcomes. This first part of assessing what needs to be done still and whether or not everything remains worthwhile are the most important steps. 


Step 4: Get to Work


Now that a new deadline with fewer or possibly new tasks have been identified, start out each day with the expectation of meeting your goals. Keep your project planner or goals handy and accessible so they may be visited each day before getting started, and each night to check off completed tasks or see what needs to be done. 

By seeing your plan every day, then working your plan, your priorities are within sight, which means they are attainable. One last thing is to stop about halfway through your project and review whether you are still on track to finishing on time. If there are issues, it may be prudent to adjust any timelines, in advance. Finding out at the end of a project that tweaks or mitigation tactics were needed isn’t a whole lot of fun. 

(Here's more on How The 12-Week Year Can Help You Write Your Novel)

I went through these 4 steps, but note, I never called them simple. They are not. Each of them requires practice and patience as you determine what works for you. Allow yourself the time to identify your ideal method. Do the research and afford yourself room to relearn some things. I still struggle with planning, but I don’t give up. Whatever you choose to do, giving up is one sure way to fail.

Productivity Resources:

Forest App: Available for Android and Apple products. This app allows you to plant a tree and write for the amount of time it takes for the ‘virtual tree’ to grow.

Dragon Speaking Software: Available for Android and Apple products or for PC. Dragon Speaking software allows the user to speak into the app/microphone and the words are then transcribed on the page. This is ideal for those who have long commutes, or tired fingers from working a day job before writing at night.

Sarra Cannon – Heartbreathings: HB90 Method – the HB90 method is a planning resource to help authors stay on track with writing goals and projects. The next round is in June 2020

About Disarmed

Jessie Workings was no better for the battle upon returning home from his fourth tour. Having had to deal with the consequences of the Afghan war, his emotional stability was called into question by his commanding officer, leading to some much needed rest and relaxation, albeit in the form of a mandated psychological evaluation. There was , however, a bright side of being forced to come home and deal with the battlefield that was his mind. Chloe.

The memory of Chloe VanHorn had warmed him during those bitter nights on tour and now he would see his high school sweetheart once again. Jessie’s only concern was his inability to provide her with what she wanted more than anything – a deeper, and more committed, relationship with him. For years, he’d skated by with offering only scraps of his love but this time, he wonders whether it will be enough.

As he deals with confronting his darkest guilt and sorting through his feelings on returning to the Marine Corp., all that he’s ever really known, can he explore a more meaningful relationship with Mavis? If he can’t, will Chloe stand for continued exclusion from his life after all these years? In answering these questions, Jessie struggles with the most difficult battle he’s ever faced. The one for his heart.

1 comment:

  1. I too am struggling with reworking my schedule. The first thing I did was identify why I was procrastinating, which is an effective way if you want to change something.

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