Prayer—or Plan?

There are those who will dispute this, and they have a point, but mostly I am a proponent of planning your story.

Is it the only way to go?

No. But ambitious projects—if they are to go smoothly from start to “the end”—benefit from planning. The better the plan, the better the project will go.

You can go at it “on a wing and a prayer,” to quote the old World War II idiom, and it can work beautifully, though possibly not efficiently, and there are no guarantees in the open sky.

Why do it?

Efficiency! A good plan will promote better writing and less rewriting.

Doesn’t a plan make things too comfortable?

With all your start-up work—the idea evolved, the plotting, the thinking through themes and characters, the narrative structure, the voices, the research—you’ve resolved your major challenges and have something solid to serve as a guide.

You feel in control. And when you feel in control, you’re probably more willing to take risks, which can lead to more interesting writing. A plan can set you free.

Does the planned approach create a better work?

The plotted story, if all goes well in the writing, has a better chance of being concise and clear—and of being finished in a timely manner.  This is a lot better than being two hundred pages into it and finding that everything you thought you understood about your story has dissolved into a cloud of confusion.

Doesn’t planning stifle creativity?

Of course not. You still have to write the thing, not to mention the plan itself.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of angel gull by Harald Hoyer.

19 Reasons Why You’ll Never Finish

Spoken from my been-there, done-that, know-it-well life, here is what can complicate a nice, clean run to the finish:

1. Your brain has turned to gelatin. Your muscles are mush. Fatigue sets in. No energy, no writing.

2. Anything is easier than writing. The ironing. The kids. The vacuum. The correspondence.

3. Email and social media: the Bermuda triangle of time. But there’s the actual social world, too, like coffee shops and lunch dates.

4. Errands. The rain. The rake. The dog. Not now. Later . . .

5. It’s not work. More than a hobby, maybe, but work means you earn a buck, doesn’t it?

6. Besides, you don’t know how. You can’t. You’re afraid. You won’t.

7. No place to write. No quiet. The guy next door plays drums. Can’t think.

8. Real life intrudes. Illness. Disaster. Ambush. A barbarian is at the gate.

9. Also, you’re not in the mood. You need inspiration. You’re waiting for the muse to call.

10. You have unrealistic goals. A mere paragraph at the end of the week and you’re disappointed.

11. There’s more to learn. A changing world, changing industry. Never enough time to absorb, strategize, adapt.

12. You haven’t planned your story, and so, when you’re lost, there you are, going around in circles.

13. The story is too big. You don’t understand it yet. Every time you look, it deepens. It’s a shape shifter. It’s an onion peeling. It’s the goddamn mirror.

14. The story bores you to tears. In fact, you’re crying.

15. Or busy pandering to what the market wants. You make a study of it. You are very good at research.

16. You write the easy stuff, or the thing on a deadline, and never get to the other work.

17. You have writer’s block, or more precisely: you aren’t writing, and haven’t yet gone for the cure (read).  Or you’ve hit delete so many times, nothing’s left.

18. Or, you don’t really want to finish. You hate to give it up, close the door to the idea of fixing something however tiny but that will bother you pretty much forever.

19. Besides, if you finished, you would miss it.

Did I forget anything? Readers?

But let’s remember: with the exception of number 8—real life throwing you a doozy—there are choices here, or mostly. When are you done?

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of cat by The Scream; blond aka blondalicious by blog-blond.blogspot.com

The Good, the Bad, and the Unclear

What went well these past twelve months, and what could have gone better? I’m supposed to ask myself this every quarter—it’s in the plan!—but that part of the plan, two years running now, has fizzled. Still, it’s not too late:

1.  TIME

On a good day, I can look up and be amazed that five hours have slipped by. But  I may not have produced much, as it can take me multiple iterations to figure something out. I hate this about my writing. And yes, I do know people who get it right the very first time. (Okay, only two people. And yes, they are MacArthur prize winners.)

2.  VOICE

But hey, not for nothing, all those hours this work-a-day writer has put in, for at least I have established a voice for this blog. That’s one part of the plan that went well. If you say soulofaword, you mean me.

3.  THE VISUAL

Every post, including this one, comes with photographs (part of the plan). And, as was true from the very beginning, trawling the photo sites and picking the pictures continues to be a pleasure.  It’s like accessorizing. The hard part—the writing—is done, and now we get to pick the shoes.

4.  COMPLEXITY

My sense is that these posts are growing in complexity, both in content and in language. This was not in the plan. Is this a good thing? A bad thing?  I’m not sure yet, but I will say that complexity doesn’t add to the ease or speed of the undertaking. And it takes up time that should be spent on other things, like the business of blogging.

5.  THE LISTS

The stories are one thing, and people have their favorites, but many of the most popular posts here deliver information in neat, tidy lists and/or have titles that begin “How to . . . ” What to make of this?  Are my readers pressed for time? Are they looking for instruction? Do they prefer to graze, not read?  And from a writer’s point of view, is it easier or more difficult to use this form?

These are some of the questions I’ll be answering as I make my year-end plan. For now, though, I’m off to gather the hard data, another something I’ve left for the very last moment, but oh well, it’s not too late.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credit – Giacomo Lorenzo.

A Last Look at the Numbers


There are still 2 weeks before New Year’s, still time to sweep out the old, prepare for the new, our writing house included.

The past  2 posts looked at what went wrong and what went right.  Today, for the 3rd and last time this year, I look at my numbers. People who favor words don’t always see the value of numbers, which is unfortunate, for a look at even loosely gathered facts can lead to very useful changes.

This blog is number 80. To date, I’ve written roughly 32,000 blog words. (By comparison, my novel has roughly 110,000 words. My most recent nonfiction book has roughly 90,000. A new essay, forthcoming, has 3,000.)

Highest number of rewrites on a single post: 7. The 2 biggest reasons a post didn’t work: a failure of heart and/or a muddled mind. Posts, on the other hand, that went like silk through the hand: 3. I am grateful.

0 posts abandoned of late, which is an improvement. The last time I looked, it was several .

Once only, and with careful deliberation, I used the blog to speak to a particular person.

Once only, and purely by chance, the photo came first, then the text.

15 times, I hit a spike of pronounced reader interest that created a stir for this modest life. My all time high this year remains 655 viewers on a single day. The least is still 1, but you can’t get much lower than that.

9 posts prompted lively conversation. Youngest reader weighing in: 17. Oldest: 82.

I’ve tested 3 things this past year: the comment feature, a series, and sidebar format.

I spent roughly 50 hours on education, studying a half-dozen blogs, culled from 5 times that. The best of these will be listed here, next week.

Number of times I’ve adjusted a title or a first line with SEO in mind: 0. Number of times I’ve reflected on how this is not smart: many.

Days I had no interest in writing: a few, here and there. Days it went particularly well: some. The rest of the time, it’s the usual ebb and flow of a writing life. Along the way, many things have happened in real life and you have read 0 about it here. This is a blog for writers, not a diary, though real life is certainly a feature.

Daily, I call upon 2 resources for sustenance and inspiration: the newspapers and public radio.

Number of times I’ve read this year that there aren’t any readers left in this world, just techno-consumers, just browsers: 58.

Number of times I’ve ignored this reality to pay attention to my writing: 58.

Photo credit: Ralph Aichinger, sxc

How to Spend your Money

Much has been written on how to make money. Here’s a word on how to spend it in service of your work.

1.  Recognize, please, that at the heart of any creative undertaking is a gamble.

2.  So, put aside your dream, all fuzzy and fantastic, and set the cold, hard plan. State the goal in a single, clear sentence. Break it into pieces, and turn each piece into an action list with deadlines and measures of success. And with this critical thinking complete, buy or barter a couple of hours of an expert or two’s time to critique it.

3.  Next, acquire the tools. A budget sets the parameters on any spending but it isn’t a pair of handcuffs.  A seamstress, for example, can’t do much without cloth, but I did see one once who did wonders with Handy Wipes stitched into a wild wardrobe.  And there was another who made her clothing out of candy wrappers. Both had the press trailing after them, the investors not long behind.

4.  Get some education. Read. Study your betters, and take advantage of what’s online. Much of it is free. Short bursts add up. Just keep them coming.

5.  Then run your game, each action item managed with a ruthless eye, each piece moved strategically toward your goal. Keep track of every dime.

6.  But reexamine periodically. Buy or barter help to find your blind spots. See what’s leaking cash. Learn why. This will hurt—maybe even a lot—but improvement is guaranteed.

7.  Then go back to work. Make some changes. Test. Persevere.

At the end of the day, at the end of the quarter, every outgoing dollar has to count. If you can do that, it will take some risk out of your gamble. But if you can’t make an expenditure count, don’t spend the dollar.

Photo credit: dollar bill – David Siqueira; candy – Chris Chidsey, both stock.xchng

Be Planful

I believe in any rituals that add to clarity. As such, I always make New Year’s resolutions. This year, I have only two:

1.  Simplify

2. Work a whole lot smarter

The first requires looking at things with open eyes, making decisions, and throwing some things away. The second is about education, time management, going paperless, embracing the new, and making a plan.

A plan is a decent road map. A plan is what you need to face all the Mondays of the year. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Photo credit: tijmen van dobbenburgh