Prioritizing your writing & setting actionable goals

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months about what it means to have and set priorities–and then act accordingly. I think a lot of writers think they’re prioritizing their writing but don’t live as though they are.

It’s so easy to talk about, and much harder to carry your priorities out in your daily life. After all, there are a lot of external things making demands on your time. You can’t ignore your hungry dog, the poor thing is depending on you. That means you give priority to the dog’s needs like food, exercise, and medical care. It’s easy to justify the dog over your novel. The dog will suffer if you don’t feed it. The novel will still be there tomorrow. The world won’t end if it doesn’t get written.

But tomorrow the dog will need to be fed again, and the car will need to be serviced, and you’ll have to go to work, and the novel will continue to sit fallow.

Why? Because you’re not actually prioritizing the novel, your dreams, or your passions. You’re not rearranging the things you have to do to make time for the things you want to do.

I think part of this is because our dreams are, well, dreamy. When writing is your passion you may have somewhat amorphous goals like “I want to write and get published.” Okay, what do you want to write? Format, genre, length? Where do you want to be published? What do you have to do to level up your work to make it publishable? How are you going to get there?

Creating a Road Map

A few years back I came across the Passion Planner, a day planner which is designed to help you prioritize your goals. The bound planners are beautiful, but they also provide a ton of really useful downloadables for free on their website. I recently remembered this and hopped on the Road Map downloadable.

The Passion Planner Road Map asks you to create a wishlist of things you want to accomplish, then assign them to when you’d like to accomplish them. Can you do it in 3 months? 1 year? 3 years? Or is it a lifetime goal?

This exercise alone is worth doing, because it forces you to sort your wishlist into ‘things I could be working toward right now’ and ‘things that are amorphous or will only happen I’ve done a ton of other things first.’ The latter are Lifetime goals. My big Lifetime Goal is to be a multi-published mid-list author. That outcome would be the culmination of a ton of other tasks, so it doesn’t make sense for me to hold it in front of myself on a daily basis and beat myself up for not being there yet.

Here’s what my most recent one looks like, by the way. (I filled it in in the car, which is why it’s unreadable…) This was in May and I already want to change parts of it, lol.

Photo of my very messy road map filled in.

It’s important to note that dates are arbitrary in this kind of planning. These are absolutely not hard deadlines, they’re just a shorthand for sorting your short-term and long-term goals.

The second Road Map task is to–wait for it!–prioritize! Look at each branch of this tree and circle the goal that would make the most positive impact on your life. Not what will be easiest, not what will be most impressive, but what will make your life better.

That’s also an incredibly valuable exercise. When you shift your lens to ask what’s going to benefit you most some things become obvious. When it comes to my 3 Month branch I was easily able to say that finishing the revisions on my WIP would be of more benefit than planning the next project, because finishing would a) get something huge off my plate, and b) allow me to make progress on a bunch of goals that depend on having that book polished like querying and securing an agent. I highlighted those positive goals in yellow.

I love how the Passion Planner is always asking what “would make the most positive impact on your life right now.” Every month, week, and day it asks you to do something that will move you closer to that positivity.

The next step is to choose a Gamechanger, the goal that would make the most positive impact. I sort of cheated, cuz I picked “get agented” which is dependent on “finish WIP: UNCHURCHED.” Can’t query without a polished manuscript!

(“Get an agent” is more of an aspiration than a goal, because while I can take steps toward making it happen it ultimately depends on actions and decisions from other people. You don’t want to measure your success/failure against things other people ultimately control!)

Passion Planner Road Map filled in, Step 3

I started by writing out all the things I had to do to get the manuscript in queryable shape. Some of those are multi-step processes, like “give to reader > revise.” Note that they’re not in any particular order beyond what occurred to me. This is a brainstorming task. I also included tasks required for querying, like getting my query and synopsis ready. I did not include things like “reply to all the agents who love my manuscript!” because that’s dependent on other people first taking action. This is about what I can control.

The Road Map then encourages you to add specifics like dates (I was in a car, without my calendar, so I didn’t get to that step, oops.) and quantities. So “send queries” became “send query test rounds x5” and “send queries x30.” Basically, firm up the details of each task.

From here you’re instructed to make a timeline and calendar for when these things should get done. Of course, you’re supposed to use your Passion Planner for the calendar bit.

Although I didn’t follow the instructions exactly I still found this process immensely helpful. At the time I had a lot of things I wanted to do floating around in my head, and this helped me choose the one that mattered the most to me. I’ve been working toward making it happen, slowly but surely. This became my big goal for the end of the year (finish revisions, not get an agent!). I’m still hoping to make it.

If you’ve been battling to make your dreams a reality I strongly suggest downloading the Road Map and working through it. Even if you decide not to implement it, it’s a good exercise in weighing what’s most important to you and when you expect/want to get things done.

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