I’m eager to step into 2021 after this year. Besides, there’s something intoxicating about a new year that conjures up hope and inspiration. At the end of 2019, I began dreaming and planning for my upcoming year as a writer. Creating a viable editorial calendar captured the number one spot on my list. It’s something I’d previously tried and failed to do.
Sadly, consistency isn’t one of my strengths.
I often find myself a prisoner of whimsy instead of operating by mindful planning. It’s part of my right-brained wiring. When I feel inspired, I write. When I don’t, vast stretches pass with no productivity. For someone aiming to turn part-time writerhood into a career, I don’t always act like it.
By organizing my ideas and planning out what to work on in advance, 2020 would be a banner year for productivity. The joke was on me. I never disciplined myself to sit down and make a plan before the hysteria of COVID-19 gripped the United States in March. The world spun into disarray and uncertainty, taking my writing life along with it.
Since 2020 cleared the calendar for me, I had ample opportunity to brainstorm and write. Despite this windfall of time, I found it agonizing to gather my thoughts and get words on the page. It felt terrible to have time but lack inspiration.
My decreased creative productivity only added to my 2020 malaise.
The growing pandemic crippled my creativity as I balanced teaching high school from home while trying to keep tabs on my own children with their schooling. Even though I had more time available, I needed a digital detox by the time work ended each day. My brain became uninspired mush.
I tried taking a break between the end of my workday, jumping online to write after a pause. It didn’t work. A perfect storm of fatigue and fear wrung me out. I had no creative juices left. Then summer arrived, and I still couldn’t find my writing mojo.
Upon reflection, I realized my failure to organize ideas and schedule writing time was an Achilles’ Heel I needed to outwit. Perhaps if I’d had a working editorial calendar in place, I could have pushed through my lack of inspiration. If I set routine writing times and stuck to them, I could have simply followed the planning map I’d drawn for myself.
If I am going to grow and be productive in 2021, I can’t drop the ball like I did this year. Planning ahead must come first. After reflection, I decided on a few planning strategies for entering the new year:
Use a paper planner
The way I must teach this year requires way more screen time for planning, grading, and delivering instruction. My creative life needs to be more flexible. By using a paper planner, I can break from screens but still organize my ideas. As a pre-internet child, paper and pencil are my first love for working out ideas anyway.
I bought a planner with a good calendar and a place for prioritizing and brainstorming. It’s easy to throw in my purse so I can pull it out and jot notes when needed. The planner also serves as a living document I can easily revisit to hold myself accountable. When my eyes are ready and rested, I can transfer my ideas to the computer.
Find a buddy
Having creative friends to share ideas with helps with accountability. When I check in with a friend who asks me how my projects are coming, it spurs me to action. A friend of mine wrote a children’s book this year. I followed her progress and encouraged her. We celebrated her completion when she finished. Our friendship provides a mutually beneficial situation as we grow and progress in our writing.
The power of a creative tribe remains a key component of my creative life. I have a good network of creative people who inspire and encourage me. I aim to do the same for them when they need it.
Set specific mini-goals
Back in June, I had a fleeting burst of creative productivity. The end of my teaching year caused a swell of joy and inspiration. I determined to write 10,000 words in June. Astonishing myself, I met the goal. I set the goal and kept track via Dabble each day I wrote. I’ve never logged so many words in a month before. The key was to monitor my progress and keep a note of my daily word count.
I plan to tackle all my projects this way as I enter the new year. Keeping track of a daily word count for freelance jobs works when I keep up with it. Dabble keeps track of how close I am to my monthly goal on manuscripts. Without setting specific goals and monitoring them closely, I am simply not as productive.
Celebrate progress, not just success
Life happens, and sometimes the best-laid plans get derailed by the unexpected. Celebrate both progress and successes. Even if we don’t fully meet our goals, forward motion matters. Progress is important to acknowledge too. I’ve long been a fan of the idea of “imperfect progress”, a term introduced to me by writer Lysa TerKeurst.
Rather than getting caught up in what we didn’t accomplish, focusing on imperfect progress is a better way of framing our thinking. Meeting goals feels fantastic. Not meeting them often produces discouragement. By celebrating what we have been able to do, we fortify ourselves to move ahead. It produces a bump instead of a slump in morale.
Whether your 2021 goals are about creative pursuits, improving your health, or tackling home projects, planning is important. By outlining your desired outcomes and how you plan to get there, you create a roadmap to follow when life gets hectic.
You’ve got this. Let’s show 2020 we mean business by making 2021 the best year ever. Happy New Year!
Tracy is a New Jersey writer who loves Earl Grey tea, spending time outside, and painting. She lives with her husband and children in a home where birdsong and rainstorms provide the soundtrack for her creative life.