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Episode 035 | Balancing the Big and Small Pictures

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So here we are on the cusp of the start of a brand new decade. It’s tough for me to get my mind around. I would say it’s snuck up on me, in fact. I think in the past I would’ve made a big deal about this benchmark. It would’ve felt like a fortuitous start. I’ve always been a fan of things like that. New Year’s Eve Resolutions, reflective birthday check-Ins, the start of school years and even semesters. I’m a sucker for all of those kinds of things.

I love that feeling of pulling back long enough to examine my circumstances and any upcoming decisions or choices I may be facing. Chugging along with your work is only useful if you’re chugging along in the direction you actually want to go, right?

For a long time, I’ve had the dream of applying the kind of work I used to do for nonprofits — things like facilitating strategic planning efforts — to writing. I wanted to convert that process into a tool that would be useful for writers. I started with the things I knew about strategic planning and then filled up an entire file cabinet and bookshelf with resources that involved some aspect of strategic thinking for writers. It’s how I started thinking of topics in terms of breaking it down into the 5W1H approach, which as a reminder asks:

  1. Who are you as a writer?

  2. What do you want to write?

  3. When are you going to do that writing?

  4. Where are you going to do that writing (and using what tools)?

  5. Why are you inspired to do that writing? What motivates and sustains you?

  6. How are you going to maintain your health and wellbeing throughout the process?

Eventually, I’ll be putting together a course and writing retreats to help walk people through this process. For now, however, let me recommend someone else’s efforts to help writers in much the same way.

I’ve mentioned it before, but here it comes again. Sarra Cannon is my virtual mentor, an experienced and accomplished writer, and a generous and engaging writing coach. Her HB90 System and her Publish and Thrive programs have both helped me immeasurably in the pursuit of my own writing dreams.

As a bedrock of her system, she advises quarterly planning. Over the last year, I’ve become a devotee of this approach myself. While it sounds all dry and business-y, seemingly at odds with creativity, I’ve found the following benefits:

  1. I basically get four times as many New Year’s Eves as I used to. In a lot of ways, I was always trying to create more opportunities to systematically check in with myself and the path that I’m taking. Quarterly planning gives you four chances to make sure that you’re still working on the things that matter to you in ways that are actually both productive and a good fit for your work style.

  2. It helps me to keep an eye on the details. My husband always says that we’re a good team because I’m good about “getting meta” and thinking about whether or not what we’re doing is supportive of our dreams and goals. And he’s great at keeping an eye on the details and day-to-day stuff. Because that latter skill doesn’t come naturally, I find that quarterly planning is a useful and supportive tool to reinforce the skills I do have in this area.

  3. I get four times as many chances to check in with myself and celebrate what I’ve accomplished over a three-month period. I have a tendency to think I should be able to do it all right now, today! yesterday, in fact! Patience isn’t always my strong suit. One of the best things I can do for myself is to have these quarterly check-ins that remind me that even though I didn’t get everything I wanted to do done, I got a lot of work done in areas that matter to me!

For balancing the big picture and the day-to-day details I heartily endorse the following strategies:

  1. Consider giving Sarra Cannon’s HB90 Program a look and seeing if it’s something that can be helpful to you, too.

  2. Try out quarterly planning

  3. Try out different ways of tracking your day-to-day efforts. If you don’t like a super structured approach, then check out bullet journaling. Lisa Congdon’s a big fan. She has a class on it on the Creative Live platform, in fact. (Check out the resources for more information on getting a discount). There are also a myriad of other planners for writers on Etsy. Here is a sampling of ones that I’ve tried.

  4. HB90 Method by Heartbreathings (Sarra Cannon)

  5. The Author Monthly Planner by SPPlanner

  6. The Ultimate Authorship Planner by Audrey’s Printables

  7. The Ultimate Business Planner by MyLifeMyPlans

The Rookie Writer Playbook (2020)

I’ve incorporated elements from a wide range of them in my own planner, The Rookie Writer Playbook, which is also available on Etsy.

We’ll be spending January looking at the editing process. This should be extra useful if you have a rough (or not so rough) draft of something you’ve been working on for a while. I hope you come back.

Until then, happy writing people!!


  1. The Rookie Writer Playbook (2020) by H. Dair Brown

  2. HB90 Boot Camp by Sarra Cannon

  3. How Do You Balance Life & Art? by #The Abundant Artist

  4. Workflow, Time Management, and Productivity for Creatives (Class on Creative Live) by Lisa Congdon (Here’s a $15 Coupon)

#5W1HMethod #QuarterlyPlanning #TheRookieWriterPlaybookWritingPlannerampOrganizer

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