Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stop, Take a Breath, and Plan

Please remember those in the eastern states who are dealing with the destruction from Hurricane Sandy.  

Halloween ushers in the beginning of our biggest holiday season.  From October 31 through January 1, most of us hit the ground running for the race to the end of the year.  For writers, this time can be even more difficult, especially if deadlines are involved.  There's nothing like looking at a bare Christmas tree for days, waiting to be decorated, while trying to reach a word count goal.  Or planning Thanksgiving dinner for twenty, while a story is begging to be written.

So what's a writer to do?  First, don't panic.  It's still early.  Thanksgiving is still three weeks away.  *YIKES!*

Let's take it one step at a time. 

  • Stop worrying.  Nobody is perfect and the best memories of holidays are the ones that at the time were on the embarrassing side.  We managed to make it through those intact and hopefully with a giggle or laugh, even if years later.
  • Take a deep breath.  The last thing you want to do is hyperventilate over a schedule.  Tell yourself you can do this.  Stay positive.
  • Gather some simple supplies.  This includes a pad of paper, something to write with and a calendar.  A comfy place to sit is a great addition.  (I like to use MS Word's Calendar template and make my own blank calendar, but any calendar will do.)
  • Make a list of important non-writing dates and goals.  These are things that can't be ignored. (hint: November 22 and December 24/25 should be on there, or any other pertinent holiday or celebration.)  If those aren't marked on your calendar, put them on.  In bold.
  • Make a list of your deadlines and goals.  Anything in early January should be listed, too, because what we do in those weeks before is going to affect them.  If you don't have a deadline that must be met or a goal you're in the middle of reaching, be gentle with any of those splendid dreams you've been having of writing the Great American Novel between now and New Year's Day.  For those participating in NaNoWriMo, be sure it's on the list.  
  • Mark those holiday things that can be done in advance.  Some baking projects can be done early and put in the freezer.
  • Remove any unnecessary items from your lists.  Yeah, it's easy to think it can be done, but does it really need to be?
  • Get the family to help.  If possible, let the kids, hubby, or any other able-bodied person in the household pitch in.  Simple things that won't require your total attention are best.  If deadlines are tight, loosen your expectations on the meals, holiday cards, gift wrapping, or decorating.  Why do we believe everything must be perfect?  There is no such thing.  And think how great it will be to see the pride shining in the eyes of those who did the work?  And how proud you'll be that they did!
  • Make gift shopping easier.  This is a great time for gift cards.  Are you thinking they're too impersonal?  Forget that.  My daughters usually give gift cards for shopping and for meals.  It often means I can get something I want when I might not have had the extra to buy at the time, and it also means I'll get a nice dinner without paying anything more than the tip.  (I love Cracker Barrel.)  Neither pass up online shopping.  With so many companies doing this now, you'll quickly know if an item is available or not.  You also may get free shipping at some.
  • Check that list again.  We're about to move into the actual scheduling and then the doing, so any whittling down of things-to-do gets one more chance.  Look at each item and ask yourself what will happen if you don't do it.  If the outcome isn't pure disaster, remove it from the list.
  • Put those non-writing dates on the calendar.  If you're using a pen, change to a pencil.  You may be doing some moving around of times at some point.
  • Add your deadline or final goal to the calendar.  Simple enough, right?
  • Add any other personal or professional appointments to the calendar.
Now you have the basics of your calendar.  To proceed, break down your goals.  For instance, for holidays do the absolutely-musts first, along with dates of parties and gatherings you need to attend, then add the rest as time allows.  For writing deadlines and goals, break those down by chapters, scenes, pages, or words to write.  You'll want to divide whatever you choose by the time you have free.  Look at those absolute have-to-dos to know when you won't have the time to devote to writing, then don't count them as writing/revising/editing/whatever days.  Knowing how much you'll have to do on a regular basis to reach those deadlines and goals makes it easier to plan around those unexpected things that pop up.

Some things to keep in mind:
  1. Someone or something will always come along and interrupt your schedule.  Instead of getting upset, tell yourself you can take care of it without it affecting everything.
  2. Plan one day a week, if possible, to rest or enjoy the day.  When #1 happens, you can always use those resting days to catch up.
  3. Try not to get off schedule unless absolutely necessary.  Catching up isn't always easy and 
  4. Holidays should be happy times, not times when we wear ourselves out to the point of exhaustion.  Beat yourself up too many times, and you'll stop looking forward to some of the best times of your life.
  5. Take a few minutes to smell the roses...or the cinnamon and peppermint, and have a wonderful holiday season!
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”  ~ Confucius

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