Plan Your Writing Year Now

A scant two weeks into the year, and it is the perfect time to plan your creative year if you haven’t started yet. Think of last year’s accomplishments, appreciate your progression, and applaud your successes and learning experiences. Set your goals for this year now and hold yourself to them.


British author and teacher Joanna Penn recently shared a webinar on planning your 2017 and she used the metaphor of filling a jar to explain the process. If you’re filling a jar with big rocks, medium stones, and sand, you have to fill it in the right order to get all of them in the jar. Here’s an exercise to help break it down:

Start with the big goals. Ask yourself what major creative goals you want to accomplish this year. You might consider three subcategories, if you need help: what do I want to learn? What do I want to practice? What do I want to accomplish? Publishing a poem, writing your novel, making your first $100 as a writer? Start with the big ones for your current moment. A handful of minutes might be sufficient to come up with your list.

Next, start figuring out the pieces that need to be in place for you to accomplish those big tasks. If you want to get into a graduate program in writing, you’ll need an application, recommendation letters, and a writing sample. These might be your intermediate stones. This process might take a few hours or a few days.

Finally, you’ll fill in the details, the tasks that will lead you to those larger accomplishments.


Another strategy for planning out your year that seems promising is to break your year down into four 90-day sprints, each with its own big goal. This takes the idea behind Nanowrimo and expands it over a three month stretch. You can adapt this structure to any goal and to your own work processes.


Switching gears, we read an excerpt from Camille Paglia’s Break, Blow, Burn to see what close reading is like. Going word by word and line by line through a piece of writing to explicate what processes are at work is a great way to interpret a piece of writing and to understand what makes it work. Paglia’s book is a nice introduction to the process and a peak behind a few “classic” poems. You can look at an excerpt from the book here.


Try this variation of an x-page (for more on x-pages look at the archive of Lynda Barry’s tumblr): play some music, relax your body, and draw a slow spiral on your page. Keep the lines as close together as you can, and don’t rush. Think back to your early days. When the song ends or when you feel ready, look at this picture, and write on your page the first ten memories or fictional situations that come into your mind. Keep your labels for these memories short and descriptive.

Pick one of these stories, and write that title at the top of a blank page. Then, mark an X from top left corner to bottom right, top right to bottom left. This X releases you from the need to be perfect. Set you timer for 8-10 minutes and write that memory or story. Don’t let your pen stop, don’t go back and correct, don’t overthink. If you go onto a second or third page, X it off before writing.

Once your timer goes off, read it out loud. Over the week, when you have a few minutes from your other projects, try revising this piece into its “best” version. But be sure to keep the original so you can compare the two.