How to prepare an annual writing plan

Reading time: Less than 4 mins.

If you’ve never produced an annual writing plan, read on to learn why you should, and how to do it….

If I’d been faster off the mark, I’d have published today’s blog post before the end of 2022…. That way it would have been perfectly timed for so-called “clean slate” people – those who like to make annual resolutions or tie their planning to landmarks like the start of a new year.

Still, in this column about why and how to prepare an annual writing plan, I want to emphasize that it’s never too late to plan. It may already be January 10, but most of 2023 is still stretching out in front of you, with open arms, and you still have plenty of time to… 

  • Become a more productive writer
  • Enjoy writing more
  • Improve the quality of your writing
  • Have more fun writing
  • Make your writing less stressful

Choose as many of these goals as you like. But plan, now, how to achieve them.

The best way to begin preparing an annual writing plan is by reviewing what happened last year. And the best way to begin doing that is by asking yourself lots of questions. Here are seven that I ask myself every year:

  1. What good things happened this past year? (List at least five.) What disasters did you avoid? What new skills did you learn? What did your boss/editor/clients most appreciate about you? 
  2. What didn’t go so well this year? (List at least three.) What mistakes did you make? What misguided assumptions did you hold? How did you waste your own time? Who did you irritate? On what did you not spend enough time doing?
  3. What gives you energy? (List at least three.) Is it exercise? Talking to other people? Getting more sleep? Reading? Drinking lots of water?
  4. What takes away your energy? (List at least three.) Is it eating or drinking poorly? Watching too much Netflix? Spending too much time on social media? Working at a desk that’s too cluttered? Working too many hours? Multitasking?
  5. If you were forced to stop 20% of what you were doing, what would you abandon? We all spend time doing activities without really thinking about them. So this is your chance to ask yourself: Are these activities actually helping me? (It doesn’t matter whether your measuring stick is feeling better, being more accomplished or earning more money. Choose whichever appeals to you.) Or are they holding you back from what you’d really rather be doing? 
  6. What would you do if you had to submit a major report/article to your boss or client in X days? (And make X challenging.) How we deal with time crunches reveals a great deal about our priorities, our strengths and also our weaknesses. Most people refuse to stop doing things, but this question forces you to identify what you’d force yourself to give up, if you really had no choice. 
  7. What would it look like if writing were easy for you? Many of us think of writing as a hard, dispiriting task. But play fairy godmother for yourself. If someone could wave a magic wand and make writing easy, what would it be like? You might be surprised by what you can identify here.

After answering these seven questions, I move along to what I regard as the most fun part of annual planning, my From/To section. What’s that, you ask? It’s where I describe where I am now (“from”) and, then, where I want to be one year from now (“to”). Here are two examples, assuming you are a person with the goal of improving the quality of your writing:

From: Feeling embarrassed and insecure about every piece I hand in to my editor.

To: Feeling that each article I hand in meets a basic level of competence.

From: Not knowing how to improve my writing.

To: Using the software ProWritingAid on every piece of writing I’m going to submit.

I always find the From/To exercise to be particularly motivating and essentially optimistic. Use it to shape your plans and goals for the coming 12 months.

OK, now I’m going to suggest something controversial. I have done all sorts of business planning over the last 20 years. Until this year, I’ve always followed a “rolling-three-year-plan.” According to that model, you plan for the next 36 months but you pay closest attention to the next 12. 

You redo the plan every December for the next 36 months, never starting from scratch but always building on what you’ve done before. But, because you pay the most attention only to the most recent 12 months, it’s never overwhelming.

It’s a good model. But I’m trying something different this year. Following the advice of my own business coach (thanks, Ed!), I’m going to focus on one key project for each quarter. Yup, just one. 

I had a hard time wrapping my head around this idea when I first heard it but, on reflection, it strikes me as a wonderful way of staying focused and reducing distractions. Understand, of course, that I’m doing more than one task per day. Way more! I’ll still check email every day, meet with clients every week, write this column once a week. I’m not abandoning any of my regular ongoing stuff.

The one goal per quarter simply relates to a special project that will be my focus for that part of the year. At the end of the year I’ll re-evaluate and see if this new system makes sense for me. 

And, let me wrap up with the single most important step to annual planning. For several years I was chair of a volunteer board and I had the good fortune to meet a strategic planner also on the board. One piece of advice he gave me has continued to resonate: “Never allow your annual plan to sit on the top shelf, gathering dust,” he said. “It’s a living document and you should refer to it at least once a week.”

I glance at my annual writing plan every Friday, as I make my detailed plan for the next week. And I spend even more time with it once a month, as I plan for the month. 

Preparing my annual plan takes me about four hours (which I schedule for early December.)

My monthly plan requires about 15 minutes.

My weekly plan takes 10.

And my daily plan takes less than five. 

None of this is burdensome or overwhelming. And it allows me to avoid the risk summed up best by baseballer’s Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

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My video podcast last week addressed whether it’s okay to talk to others about the writing you’re doing. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  

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Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.

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Do you prepare an annual writing plan? How do you do it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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