Essential Strategic Planning for Writers—Looking Ahead to 2013

Since 2012 is winding down and many of us start looking ahead to a new year with hope, anticipation, and uncertainty, I want to devote the last few posts of this year to something I feel is essential for all writers (and probably for just about everyone with any career goals whatsoever): strategic planning. Some of you are probably groaning, for planning sounds a lot like plotting or marketing or promoting—just another thing that times time, effort, and yes—thought! Strategic planning sounds “corporate” to me—all business and no fun. Certainly not as much fun as just winging it with my writing in a creative flair without caring what the future holds. But most of us have some goals for our writing life. Maybe they’re a bit vague, like we want to become best-selling authors, or we want a lot of fans. I’d like to propose that in order to really succeed in your writing career, though, you really need to get a little more specific.

So, I’m going to delve into some very specific things regarding strategic planning that have helped me a lot, and much of what I’m going to share with you was provided for me by the wonderful Randy Ingermanson, who has the popular blog Advanced Fiction Writing (which you should absolutely subscribe to). Some of you know of Randy via his famous (or infamous?) “Snowflake Method.” (If you haven’t heard of it, just do a Google search and you soon will be in the know). Randy, to me, is the epitome of a “planner.” As a physicist, he brings to his writing career an inordinate measure of logical evaluation that, sadly, many of us “creative types” often lack or resist.

I believe that’s why so many novelists don’t want to put on their marketing hat. There is just too much. . . well, strategic planning needed to execute a plan that is time-efficient, productive, and practical. We don’t want to be bothered; we just want to hole up in our little office corner and write great books.

Your Strategic Plan Is Like Taking a Trip

But, just a little planning isn’t all that painful. In fact, once I got into it, I had a lot of fun dreaming up all the milestones I wanted to reach and allowing myself to envision in specific detail what my “success” will look like a year from now. That’s kind of like writing fiction, right? So try this and see if it helps you. I believe it will—on many levels.

For one thing, if you have a clear plan in place, you can set very specific practical tasks to do each week to reach those goals. And as you reach them, it’s very satisfying. Like when you go on a road trip to a faraway place and you’re checking the map for landmarks and towns along the way, or roadside attractions you want to see. So when you get to each place you are aiming for, you can cross it off your list and explore and have fun while you’re there. Strategic planning is just like that but without the corny T-shirt you buy at the souvenir stand. For another thing, it will take much of the mystery and confusion out of your journey, as you have some clear destinations you are striving toward, and that can reduce stress (that and massive amounts of chocolate).

The Four Things That Lead to Success

So all you need are four (yes, just four) basic things in order to succeed in your writing career: vision, strategy, tactics, and action. Here’s a simple explanation of each of these key components of your fabulous strategic plan:

  • Vision: You need to have a clear idea of what you want your career to look like in 1, 2, and 5 years. If you want to just plan next year because thinking too far ahead gives you hives, just focus on that.
  • Strategy: All this really means is you create a road map you will use to get to that town called “Vision” you just described. If it helps, get out your crayons and paper and draw a neat little Western town called “Vision” on the far right side of a map  and draw a long road leading to it. That road is the highway we call “Strategy.” (Or if you want to really get into this metaphor, call it a wagon trail.)
  • Tactics: Tactics are the specific methods and skills you will use to achieve various milestones, each by a certain deadline (the word deadline sounds good in here, right?). Draw a bunch of humpy things that look like tombstones in intervals along the road (Okay, you can write R. I.P. on some of them, but don’t pay any mind to the circling buzzards overhead).
  • Action: Yep, you actually have to saddle up your horse and ride the long road to get to each of those milestones and then finally to the town you aim to end up in. You are going to have an idea how long it will take you to get to each one of those milestones (where you can water your horse and maybe get some grub). You see how this is like a planned trip with a destination in mind? Don’t forget your Winchester for the pesky rattlers!

Don’t ask me how I got started on this cowboy thing. Must be because my husband and I just watched True Grit again (the new remake, not the old one). But I hope a picture is beginning to form.

Let the Dreams Come

So next week, we will take a long, good look at what your vision might entail and why it’s important to have a very specific one—not just a vague idea. If you are going to plan that trip to “Vision,” you really want to know what’s there that’s so enticing and worth the trip. In the meantime, think a little about where you are in your writing career, maybe just brainstorm a bit with those nifty crayons, and throw around some ideas of where you’d like to be, as a writer, in the next year or two.

What does that writing career look like a year from now? What do you see yourself doing? Write down whatever comes to mind, however outrageous or trivial. Hang on to that piece of paper for next week, when we dig in and shape and color that vision a bit . . . pardner.

13 Responses to “Essential Strategic Planning for Writers—Looking Ahead to 2013”

  1. Margaret Delashmit December 3, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Thank you for this timely advice. I always enjoy your columns, this one especially.

  2. Diana L. Flegal December 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Great advice for all

  3. Sheila at Longings End December 6, 2012 at 3:18 am #

    Just discovered your site and Eureka! it’s pure gold. 🙂

    My husband and I returned from a trip West in October (to visit the three sons who ALL decided to move their together) so your wagon trail trip to Vision is timely in multiple ways.

    I participated in NaNoWriMo and completed 50K words in November…now it’s on to filling in the story, editing, etc. and your site, and possibly your services, will certainly be a boon. THANKS

  4. Louise Broadbent December 6, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    Thanks to you, I now have a strategy planned for 2013! Oh and I loved your extended cowboy metaphor. Reminds me of Meek’s Cutoff – fantastic indie film about the Oregon Trail – definitely worth a watch.

  5. Jan Mann December 9, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I don’t know why I wanted so long to join Twitter, which is where I found you and other experienced authors writing helpful articles. Although I wrote a prior book which did really well for a regional book, that was six years ago when I did everything myself, including full time marketing. At that time, I simply drove across the state and walked into a book store with a copy of my book. Today, so much has changed, especially in the field of technology, which I know practically nothing about. This puts me right back in the category of beginner. Thankfully, there are people like you to help me learn. Thanks!

  6. Jeff Carson May 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I think you touch on such a great point here. Looking ahead to the specific vision and goals I’ve set for myself seems to calm me down when I feel I’m not getting enough done ‘right-freaking-now’.
    Thanks.

  7. Robin Smith August 25, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    I love the wagon metaphor … circling the wagons, watching the horizon.. the big picture view and the milestones along the way!
    Thanks for the post…
    Robin Smith

  8. Kathy Steinemann September 8, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    I believe your most important tip is “Action”. It’s too easy to make goals without applying the effort required to make them come true.

  9. Evangeline Colbert November 20, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    I just found this article today! I’ll apply your wisdom as I plan for 2014. Thanks for your insights.

  10. Norah Jansen December 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Hi Cs – I found your blog through a ‘Ten best blogs of 2013’ post and I think it’s wonderful. I’ve read back through your posts from 2012 on strategy and started my plan immediately. Thank you!

    • cslakin December 27, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      Hi Norah, glad it helps you get organized!

  11. Morgan O'Donnell November 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    Hi C.S.,

    I stumbled upon your blog as I was looking for information and ideas to help our web design/development company (Authentic Web Solutions) plan for the upcoming year. I was excited to see that not only are there some good ideas that I can use for our company, but some wonderful examples and ideas for myself as a writer! I’m so glad I found your page and I can’t wait to explore the rest of your blog.

    Thanks!

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