A Writing Calendar
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position where you can concentrate on your writing full-time, all year round, then this calendar provides you with guidelines for proceeding in an orderly fashion to build a writing life. If you’re not in that position, you should still be able to take the principles outlined here and adapt them to your own individual circumstances, either reducing or expanding the time scale or making further adjustments so that, over time, your writing career builds into something which eventually should allow you to write full-time.
The notion of a calendar suggests that careers take time to create, like harvests in the agricultural world. For some reason, in the world of fiction writing, many assume that success will come much more quickly than for other careers and vocations: many writers — perhaps the majority — have in mind the ‘overnight success’ model, in which they write a close-to-perfect novel, have it accepted by a major publisher, and then see it hit the bestseller lists as soon as it is released. The idea that Time has a role to play strikes many as foreign; any kind of ‘Plan B’, which requires a strategy just in case overnight stardom does not happen, is normally absent. This calendar is a suggested outline for such a strategy. (A version of this calendar complete with illustrations will appear in the Inner Circle Writers' Magazine in November.)
Another oddity is that many writers assume that success will come and is always achieved through the writing of a single book — whether that be a literary saga, a fantasy epic, a 500-page thriller or some such mighty opus — which will explode into the top selling lists and rocket the author to celebrity status. The concept that things could be any other way — and in fact might need to be done another way — escapes them. A more solid approach to success, a longer term and more thoughtful and thorough approach, is to concentrate on many and varied works, on building a cathedral of works, in fact.
One key item a writer should acquire, before we begin looking any further, is Steve Carr’s little manual Getting Your Short Stories Published: A Guidebook, which lays out the technical ground rules for achieving results in this field.
But now let’s take look at a long-term, calendar based approach to building a writing life.
Organise all your fiction according to your own system of filing after the winter’s work.
Prepare the stories to be submitted by editing and proofreading thoroughly, adding new levels of meaning and symbolism if you feel that a story needs it.
Make the most of submission opportunities as many publishers launch their year’s output plans.
Be ready for those publications which you know favour work that you have written; complete any unfinished pieces according to submission guidelines.
Broadcast your submission-ready stories to appropriate places, and be ready to combat the emotions that arise when rejection letters are received.
Meanwhile, take copious notes for new stories and begin to outline fresh characters and plots, without expecting necessarily to complete each one — but any promising ideas push through to completion by setting aside strict times for isolated writing.
This is also a good time for working a little bit on any longer works in preparation for submission or self-publishing later on.
Research upcoming publications and note submission dates on a weekly calendar.
In early summer you might expect to receive some news of acceptances.
With the summer come longer daylight hours and you should expect and plan to write nearly every day.
Store stories and notes for review in the winter, and work on longer works.
In midsummer comes the occasionally mind-numbing, but satisfying, business of revising and editing. You will need help from friends and professionals and you will need plenty of encouragement.
Full completion, including editing and proofreading, of major works in late summer is the crown of the year. Again you will need help from friends, and again you will need to consciously and authentically celebrate completions which may earn you repute and money in the future.
Short stories, novellas, poems, plays and notes are gathered, and go into files to be stored.
Note-taking continues through this time, and the last of the summer short story submissions go out.
Autumn is the time to harvest new ideas, and clarify them or store them in notebooks or files.
Go through any material which has been repeatedly rejected or which you feel, upon review, is below par. Do not throw it away, but recycle it if possible into new material.
In midwinter, go over your finances and routines, restructuring as needed. Sharpen resolve, renew tools like computers or pens and paper, restore balances to your life and environment.
Winter is then a time for thoughtful reflection and a deepening of understanding of your work and others’ — make plenty of time for reading widely.
Use the longer evenings after Christmas to review and/or complete short stories ready for spring release.
Of course, the above constitutes guidelines only. Make of them what you will— but please remember that building a writing career parallels the life of a farmer in many ways: tilling the soil of the imagination, nurturing ideas through to fulfilment and sending the products to market in a seasonal rhythm which eventually bears fruit.