Creative Planning for Authors and Poets | Jane Friedman

Creative Planning for Authors and Poets | Jane Friedman

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Today’s post is by Orna Ross, the founder of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

I don’t believe in the old adage that “if you’re failing to plan, you are planning to fail.” Writers understand the subconscious mind and know you can often rely on it to deliver more elegant solutions than hard thinking.

But I do believe in creative planning for authors, the kind of plan that recognises the power of the subconscious. That emphasizes intuition, imagination, and flexibility, as much as structured, data-driven goals and systematic processes, allowing for organic growth and adaptability.

Through my own experiences, and through observing tens of thousands of authors as director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, I’ve seen poor plans and no plans derail many books and authors. Without a system to integrate the learnings from the inevitable failures and vagaries of the creative life, sub-par performance and associated discouragement become almost inevitable.

Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  Soldiers or social workers might disagree, but yes, blocked, unfulfilled ambitions burn inside us, and create very real, very painful psychological conditions. It doesn’t have to be like this. Recent research and ancient wisdom about the creative process is now available to us all.

and the number one truth about that process is that creative resistance points up where we need to grow, if we’re to achieve the things we want.

The gap between where we are and where we want to be is full of creative challenges.

For many years now, I’ve been working on a creative planning program for writers. It began with my own needs, at a time when planning for me was no more than a to-do list and a daily check-in with my creative self. As a novelist with a traditional publisher, that had worked well enough for me. Or so I thought!

When I took back my rights to become a working indie author, my planning method wasn’t good enough. The to-do list felt like a tyrant. I’d go to sleep ticking tasks off in my head and wake up remembering things I’d forgotten.

I tried other planning systems but either they were too mechanistic and boxed me in, or they weren’t planners at all, just fancy calendars. They didn’t account for the messiness of creativity. They didn’t acknowledge the writer’s need for creative rest and play as well as work. and they had no understanding of the dynamics of creative resistance, block and failure.

As a self-publishing novelist and poet, and director of a busy non-profit, I needed a much more creative planning method.

The common ways authors fail

Writing a book that finds its readership is quite the challenge, and anyone who sets out to do it can be become derailed at any stage of the process.

  • Fail to complete the first draft: The vast majority of manuscripts never reach “The End.”
  • Fail to complete the final draft: A wave of creativity carries most writers through the first chapters but things often peter out, or the writer gets caught in the self-editing process.
  • Fail to publish: Getting your book produced and distributed calls for skills that are very different from those needed to write a book. Whether you decide to publish the book yourself or use a traditional publisher, you’ll need to be highly motivated, organized and resilient. For indie authors, there are extra challenges. Writing and publishing draw on very different parts of the cognitive and emotional systems and the number of moving parts can be confusing, especially on a first book.
  • Fail to build an author platform: No matter how you publish, you need to do the author’s part in marketing, promotion and platform building. So many writers fail to even try. Others fail to educate themselves in how books are marketed in these digital days.
  • Fail to profit: If you just want to write and publish a book for personal reasons, all good, but if you want to make a living as a writer, you need to work out how to do it in a way that’s sustainable for you—so you can write and publish more books. For indie authors, publishing is a business and businesses must make a profit to survive.

When writers experience any of these failures, they can become utterly discouraged. They unthinkingly feed themselves unproven explanations and assumptions. That they “love writing but hate marketing,” for example, even though for a writer marketing is writing. Or that they are not “good enough,” or that success is a pipe-dream, possible for others but not for them.

All of this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is another way. To understand that writing and publishing are two high-order skills that a successful author takes time to master, and each in their own way. That there is a creative solution to any challenge an author might meet on their way to mastery. That our “failures” are flags, pointing up where we need to grow and change to get where we want to go.

This is where good creative planning comes in. When the inevitable failures happen, without a plan we can be submerged by our feelings and emotions. With a creative plan in place, we can integrate the experience, and the learning it affords us, into our creative process.

Writers at every level, and every stage of development, benefit from creative planning.

What is creative planning?

A good creative planning program is much more than a way to divide up time. While it works with quarters, months, weeks and days like any planning system, it allows room for the unexpected and the open-ended messiness that is part of the writer’s life.

Often, there’s an inherent tension between the act of writing (an intimate, self-directed process) and the business of publishing (a public, other-directed process). This tension can be disconcerting for many authors but with a robust creative plan in place, balance becomes possible.

By setting clear boundaries and allocating dedicated time for both pursuits, writers can ensure that their artistic integrity isn’t compromised while still achieving success. When both publishing and writing proceed from creative principles, everything works better.

A robust creative planning system helps us to acknowledge what’s going on for us, and figure out how to harness our own creative energies in an optimal way, through all the varying challenges we meet. It sets us up so creative flow can … well, flow. Getting into flow isn’t just about spontaneous inspiration. It’s about guiding inspiration with intention.

At its core, creative planning is the act of methodically mapping out where you are, where you want to go, and how you are going to process the challenges that are coming up for you today.

  • It defines and sets clear measures of success that incorporate your mission, passions and sense of purpose into your daily work.
  • It filters time and money through processes that boost creative productivity, author platform, and return on investment.
  • It balances qualities that are often wrongly posited as opposites—productivity and pleasure, purpose and promotion, money and meaning—and integrates the different aspects of the job. An author must wear three hats: maker, manager and marketeer. A good creative plan makes room for all three, each week.

It also acknowledges the importance of planning creative rest and play. In our quest for work achievement and the pressure to keep ticking off our to-do lists, we often overlook that creative magic happens in the doing, yes, but also in the undoing. A mind allowed to rest and play is a mind primed for creative flow, when work time comes round.

The act of recharging our creative capacities should not be treated as an afterthought but the very foundation of our most inspired work—in our publishing and platform building, as much as our writing. creative rest and play aren’t breaks from the process, they are the process. My experience, and the experience of so many of the authors I’ve worked with, is that they should be planned for—or they won’t happen.

Introducing Go creative! Planning

Over the years, as I navigated the realms of writing and publishing, I developed a planning method that has kept my creative journey both fruitful and joyful, in the face of many challenges. Now I’ve decided to share it, not as a one-size-fits-all solution, but as a framework that respects the individuality of each author.

I’ve observed many authors feeling adrift or overwhelmed but I know that when we harmonize our work, rest and play; our inner maker, manager, and marketeer; our passions, mission and sense of purpose, we ensure that our creative wells never run dry. We support ourselves in the best possible way, as we unfold our own, chosen vision of success.

I want to see as many writers as possible living out their creative dreams, without getting lost in the labyrinth of overwhelm, resistance and block. Through the Alliance of Independent Authors, we offer self-publishing advice that answers questions and solves problems, but this planning program is more personal. All the advice in the world doesn’t help if you’re not on the right path.

The program is born out of my desire to see all authors not just survive but thrive, and is my way of extending a hand to all.

If you’d like to learn more about creative planning, and how to bring the program to other authors, visit my Kickstarter.

Orna Ross

Orna Ross is a bestselling Irish author, living in London. She writes novels, poems and nonfiction and her Go creative blog teaches methods of applying the creative process to all aspects of life. Orna has enjoyed independent self-publishing and publication by Attic Press and Penguin.

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