How to Author Like a Strategist, Part I: Planning
Like placing sticky notes on a wall, not writing on the wall with a sharpie.
This is an 8-minute read. You’ll be done before your remote commute from bed to desk.
In my last letter, I announced the How To Author Like a Strategist five-part miniseries, announcing the five tenets of project culture to imbibe if you’d like to start and successfully complete a project (especially a book project). This is Part I of those five tenets: Planning Meticulously.
To start, let’s break down how we usually interpret these two words versus how they should rather be interpreted for this context.
Planning: Legos, not concrete
Often, when we think of a plan, we think of something rigid and defined. A shopping list, a roadmap, a book outline, a budget: these are all plans. I think something in our brains tells us that we made this plan when we were at our most clear-headed (i.e. before embarking on the project and getting our feels all involved), so any deviation from the plan has to be a wrong move. That impulse buy for kitchen towels? What are you doing!? Taking the second turn instead of the third? Google Maps didn’t recommend that! Killing off the protagonist’s sidekick in Act 2? Are you okay!?
To be fair, that impulse isn’t always wrong. That’s your body’s natural flight/fright/fight response doing its job, and should be taken seriously often. But not always, especially in the case of plans, because guess what? A plan is not an ironclad factual statement. A plan is a list of suggestions based on a forecast of future events.
Basically, every plan makes you a shaman. You’re looking into the scrying glass, saying, “Hmm, if this happens, then I’ll do that.” But what happens when This doesn’t happen? Do you still do That? (Are you even a good shaman? Smh.)
So, basically, a plan is, in fact, a moving target. You’re supposed to hit bullseye while it is moving, but also while you’re walking a tightrope. Which is why a plan, by default, is supposed to fail at various points. Because if it doesn’t fail every now and then, how would you adjust and re-shape your approach and learn to do so quickly and often enough to understand the patterns of the system you’re working with? A plan, by definition, should lend itself to moving around and be as adaptable as possible, or else, what kind of plan is that?
Build your plan with legos, not concrete bricks.
Meticulous: Focused, not perfect
Another word that’s misunderstood in the context of embarking on a project. Here, just like the act of planning itself, it doesn’t mean your plan has to be perfect. Guess why? Because there’s no such thing as a perfect thing if you expect it to fail at some point. Heck, perhaps a perfect plan is even one that fails exactly as you wanted it to!
Therefore, it’s best to think of being meticulous in terms of focus. As in, paying attention. What are the variables that could affect your plan? Have you considered what you might do if they affect your plan? Taking from the examples above: maybe there’s traffic on your route; maybe the weather changes so you can’t go shopping; maybe you have an event that’s meant to happen at the end of the book where the sidekick is supposed to be present for, so you can’t kill them or you’d have to place someone else in that scene. Heck, maybe having three kids will make it difficult to finish your book, and you must design your writing time around their exact sleep and wake up hours!
Think of being meticulous—with respect to strategizing for your project—as constantly being aware of your changing circumstances and adjusting plans/goals accordingly. Your detour from Google Maps means you take more time to get to your destination, so as soon as you make that turn, start adjusting your expectations and deciding what next step is required to meet your end goal. The aim is to be focused and practical, not perfect.
Putting the two together: How to plan meticulously
Gather all the information about yourself. Often, people make plans without factoring their current and near-future situations into them. Writing a book takes me six months, for instance. What am I going to be involved in during those six months? Childcare, day job, housekeeping, hobbies? When do I ramp up wordcount, when do I reduce, when do I pause altogether? When are my most productive writing times and do they intersect with my planned writing time?
Gather all the information about your project. I don’t necessarily mean researching the story you’re writing (although, it may sometimes involve this) but I’m talking about what you need to write that story. Maybe this book will require you to know more about worldbuilding, describing settings, or the proper definition of YA. Maybe you need to watch Derry Girls to get a sense of a few things before you start (I know I did, lol). Maybe this project lends itself to work better if written with your phone and a bluetooth keyboard instead of your PC (also doing this). Overall, ask yourself: what do I need to get this project done?
Don’t build your plan in stone—build it with spaghetti and marshmallows. Basically, make it easily deconstructible and rebuildable. The reason many people are scared to adjust their plans is that they build them in stone. We all know no project will be executed exactly as planned, so think of your plans as play-doh, not immovable mountains.
Document your plan. The first rule of planning is to never keep any aspect of a plan in your head. Seriously, you will forget it. The thing about a plan is that when all the moving parts begin to actually move, you’ll be so focused on keeping all your juggling bottles from crashing that you’ll forget that teeny little thing that could’ve given you an extra hand—literally. And no, your memory is not that good. Just document it somewhere editable and retrievable, will you?
Be aware of and alert to all the possible factors that may impact your plan. Notice I didn’t say know them, or be sure of the exact thing. I’m saying, keep your ear to the ground, pay attention. You need to know when something’s coming before it arrives, and sometimes pivot early. Also, being attentive means that when you’re blindsided and caught unawares by an issue, you’re in adjustment mode, rather than deer-in-headlights mode.
Be ready to switch it up any effing time. Like, any effing time.
Do you have questions about planning meticulously (or anything at all)? Hit me in the comments below! 👇🏿 I’m happy to draw from my own experience to help you get through whatever you might want to achieve.
Catch you at Part II: Executing Immediately. Ọkhionwiẹ!
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