BATTLE PLAN Part Three: Organizing Your Plan

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Welcome!  This is Part Three of a six-part post series entitled Conquering the Page: Creating Your Own Fiction Writer's Battle Plan.  You can find the first two parts here:

Part One: The Overview
Part Two: Defining Your Writing Mission

Your homework from Part Two was to come up with up to three writing goals.  Today, with those goals in mind, we're going to start sketching out the broad outlines of our Battle Plans--or BPs.

If you don't know, the military has a plan for everything.  Going to chow, clearing minefields--even invasions of entire countries have detailed plans.  It is part of our culture, and when conducting military missions, we plan without even thinking about it.

As we set out to plan for our writing though, we don't want to go overboard.  Writing is a creative and dynamic process.  Writing can't be organized in the same way that one might organize an assembly line, but organizing your writing process can still help.  Let's face it: if getting published were as simple as sitting down and banging out 1,000 words a day, everybody would be doing it.  But it's not.  For this reason, a tailored BP--one aligned with your unique needs as a writer--can provide you with a number of important benefits.

Planning Hierarchy.  In order to understand how we will construct our BPs, it will be helpful to understand a little about military planning.  Military planners organize their tasks using a hierarchy.  Plans are strategic or tactical (there's an intermediate type of operational plan, but it is not needed for our purposes).  This sounds complicated, but stick with me.

Strategic plans relate to high level efforts.  A plan to invade a country is a good example of a strategic plan.  Tactical plans apply to individual units--occupy and defend this road intersection, for example.

In order to win the war, the overall plan--the BP--must synchronize tactical level operations with the strategic objectives.  Problems occur if this is not done.  For instance, the Generals may have an amazing attack plan, guaranteed to catch the enemy by surprise, but the troops on the ground are poorly trained (no one thought to put it in the plan), so the attack fails.  Conversely, let's suppose the troops at the tactical level are highly motivated and trained, but the Generals have no real plan.  Individual units wander around the battlefield in disorder, and the strategic objectives are not met. 
The same idea can be applied to writing.  The concept for your novel is amazing, but your language isn't polished.  Therefore, you can't find an agent.  Or you write so beautifully that your first drafts read like published work, but your novel concept isn't all that inspiring.  Again, no agent.

The point is these different efforts rely on each other.  All your writing activities--first drafting, editing, critiquing, beta'ing, querying, platform building, market research, etc.--must work in concert and all be of high quality if you want to be published. 

Are you a General or a Foot Soldier?  Let's take a look at the goals you identified after Part Two.  Are they strategic or tactical goals?  If one of your goals is to publish a novel, then I would put that in the strategic category.  If, on the other hand, a goal is to write 1,000 words a day, then that would be a tactical goal.

For our purposes, we're going to call writers with tactical goals Foot Soldiers and writers with strategic goals Generals.  You may be a little of both and that's OK too.  (By the way, it's not better to be either a Foot Soldier or a General).

Generals tend to think big picture, but tend to not work out the details to get where they want to go.  I am about the biggest General around.  I always have some bright idea--writing or otherwise--that I think is earth shattering and amazing, but I struggle to do the day to day legwork needed to achieve the vision of the ideas I've chosen.  Generals tend to start lots of projects but finish only a few of them.  If you think you're a General, your job in constructing your BP will be to think more like a Foot Soldier.

Foot Soldiers are great at digging in and producing day after day, but they haven't plugged the constellation of their efforts into a larger set of long-term goals.  Foot Soldiers may finish the year and have accomplished a ton of work, but in terms of moving forward in their career (strategic level effort), they are really no better off than they were the year before.  If you have more than two finished novel manuscripts that you've never submitted to an agent, you may be a Foot Soldier.  If you're a Foot Soldier, your job will be to think more like a General.

If you find you fit somewhere in between these two definitions then pat yourself on the back.  You're already ahead of the power curve.

Constructing a Battle Plan.  Writers who want to be published have to be both Foot Soldiers and Generals.  The BP process will help us adjust our efforts to cover all the bases.

The job of building a BP begins with identifying all the different activities we need to accomplish to reach our writing goals.  This is alot like balancing the checkbook or building a monthly budget.  We need to make a list of each individual process in our writing effort.  Here are some examples (not an all inclusive list):

Strategic:
  • Career planning and development
  • Novel/story concept development
  • Platform building
  • Query plan and tracking
  • Mid to long-term planning
  • Market research
Tactical:
  • Plotting and scene development
  • Editing and rewriting
  • Drafting query letters and correspondence
  • Reading fiction (for fun and to see what published authors are doing)
  • Reading fiction how-to books (for craft and knowledge development)
  • Writing classes
  • First draft writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • Exercises and games
  • Production tracking and assessment
  • Muscle memory development and training
  • Fiction case study and language study
Homework.  The post this coming Monday will cover how we implement the BP--in other words, how we transmogrify this list of tasks into a real plan.  Here's how you create your own list of tasks:
  • Get out a legal pad (or you can do it in MS Word if you prefer) and title it [YOUR NAME HERE]'s Battle Plan.
  • Below the heading, write down your goal(s) from Part Two.
  • Next, place two headings on the page:  "Strategic" and "Tactical."  Decide whether each of your goals is strategic or tactical, and place them under that heading.  Then start brainstorming other tasks you think you need. 
  • If your a Foot Soldier, you'll be building up.  Begin to think about and identify strategic activities that your tactical goals ("write 1,000 words a day," for example) support.  The trick here is to start thinking big picture.  Where do you want to be six months from now?  A year?  Five years? 
  • If you're a General, the opposite will be true.  You'll goals will be high level, and you'll build down.  Your strategic level goal might be to publish a novel.  A corresponding tactical goal that you should write down will be to "write a first draft."  Edit, beta, etc. might be others.  So the game is to capture all the smaller efforts that are needed to get your novel published.
  • Simply provide a single line placeholder for each activity.  Don't worry so much about capturing the scope of each activity.  So "write every day" without mention of a word count is OK.  The idea is to have every kind of task listed--in the way you would try to capture every flavor of expenditure in a budget.  Next post we'll start defining these activities further and taking a look at how much time they take individually and together.
When you finish, pat yourself on the back.  You have started building your BP.  Woo hoo!  Let me know what questions you have. 

Monday will be Part Four: Implementing the Plan.  Thanks for stopping by!

8 bolts from the blue:

Emily Cross said...

Excellent post JP!

I've mentioned your post on DW and my blog, think you're offering some real insightful info :)

Catherine Denton said...

Oh this is good! I'll be back to read the other two. Thanks for sharing!
Winged Writer

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

What an excellent, methodical approach. Well done, good sir. Worth a bookmark.

Postman said...

This is beyond helpful. Again, a logical approach, sensibly written and easily comprehensible. Thanks, buddy. This is going to be of immeasurable assistance.

Jon Paul said...

Thanks for reading, and for the kind comments guys!

Liza said...

I repeat. You should think about teaching.

Jon Paul said...

Liza--thanks! If I can ever learn to write worth a darn, that might be a good option.

I've often imagined myself an old weathered English professor at a small university or community college in some distant, dusty future. We'll see if that vision turns into truth over the next few years.

Claire Dawn said...

I'm a half-breed.

I pick a wide plan, for example "get published" then I pound out a novel in 20 days, and never edit it. :(

Waddaya wanna say?

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