Cycles, balance, and making plans

Lately, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cycles in our lives. Cycles in nature—life cycles, the water cycle, seasons, etc.—keep our physical world in balance. Man-made cycles keep the government running (usually), prevent mechanical failures and medical mistakes (hopefully), even wash our clothes and dishes for us. If you’re an author, you’re probably familiar with the creativity cycle (see below). And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite Emu’s Debuts post was Melanie Crowder’s The Run/Rest Cycle, about sustaining balance as a writer. As creative types, we often have some leeway about how we choose to spend our time each day, so having a cycle in mind can help us manage our activities and maintain balance in our personal and professional lives.

The Creativity Cycle

The Creativity Cycle

One cycle I’ve personally followed for a long time is a year-end review plus goal-setting and planning for the upcoming year. It’s not so much a resolution as a chance to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the last year, what I hope to achieve in the coming year, and how I plan to make it happen. I don’t necessarily follow this plan, or even look at it throughout the year (cough, cough), but I feel like the act of pausing to reflect on the past combined with setting goals for the future helps me feel more centered and guides my intentions.

This year, though, as I tried to plan for 2014, I got a little stuck trying to figure out how to balance the creative cycle, the production cycle (draft, revise as necessary, submit!), and all of the marketing tasks that a debut author ought to be thinking about (make swag! give talks! do blog tours! press releases! curriculum guides! all the things! and more!). Can I be creative AND treat this as a business? Can I keep working on new projects while promoting the books that are coming out? Can I do either of those activities justice if I’m also doing the other? It was starting to make me feel like I’d need to develop a dual personality (or perhaps create a clone) to even survive the coming year, let alone achieve my goals for it.

When I brought up this dilemma to another creative friend of mine, he mentioned how a co-worker of his seems to cycle through various types of activities, choosing one for a given day and focusing on just that particular activity. Apparently, the co-worker knows he can get a little obsessive about things sometimes, so to maintain balance he consciously cycles between days filled with either programming, researching, or interacting with colleagues, all of which are necessary to his position.

I’ve been thinking about how this might apply to me, and I think I’ve formed some guidelines for a sort of cycle:

  • Create—I must keep making new things, or my career will stall. And let’s not even talk about how grumpy and depressed I’ll become if I don’t have a new project to think about!
  • Consume—I want to read more, observe more, experience more. These are the things that feed our souls, and our art. Yes, consuming other people’s creativity feels like leisure time, but it should still be built into our daily routines in a conscious and thoughtful way.
  • Connect—I need to dedicate time to interact with readers, writers, friends, and family. Despite the fact that I’m an extreme introvert, I crave connection. It keeps me sane, and at the same time is the key to successfully promoting my work in the world.

So, how to work that into an actual “plan” for the year ahead? I’m still not entirely sure. I probably can’t commit to doing each of the three pieces every day. Maybe making sure they each get their due at least once per week will work for me. Or, maybe just asking myself, “Which of the three have I been neglecting lately?” whenever I am deciding what to work on next. My main goal for the year will be trying to find a system that reliably incorporates all three.

In any case, being aware of the need for dedicating time to creating, consuming, and connecting seems like a good place to start. With three upcoming releases to look forward to, this year is bound to be more heavily focused on connecting than on creating and consuming, so the challenge will be to make sure to include the other two whenever possible and not be exclusively focused on promotion.

The Deming Cycle of Plan, Act, Do, Check

The Deming cycle

In case any of you are wondering, I thought I’d conclude with a few of my favorite questions to ask myself at this time of year:

  1. What were my goals and plans for this past year?
  2. What did I actually accomplish? (Note: I usually can’t say I did all—or even most—of the things from the answer to the first question, but answering this question always makes me feel better, because I realize that even though I didn’t necessarily achieve my initial goals, I did do a lot of good stuff instead!)
  3. What did I learn this year?
  4. What do I most want to learn next year?
  5. How will I go about doing that?
  6. What are my goals and plans for next year?
  7. What one word can I use as my theme for the coming year?

Do any of you do any kind of year-end self-review or forward-looking career planning? What do your processes look like? What tricks have you discovered for balancing life, creativity, and business? Are you aware of any cycles that help you things in balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

FYI, the Emus are taking a little holiday hiatus, so this will be the last post of 2013. Season’s greetings to all, and a happy new year! See you in 2014.

Happy New Year!


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House, and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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18 Comments

Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Book Promotion, Creativity, Promotion, Writing and Life

18 responses to “Cycles, balance, and making plans

  1. What a terrific post, Laurie! I’m going to bookmark it for future deeper perusal. Thank to for sharing your year-end processes with us.

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  2. This is a great post, and I love your list of questions, Laurie. This is a difficult year-end for me, because this year did not go at all as I expected–or wanted–it to. Career-wise, I’m doing a lot of reassessing how I look at the flow of my work, trying to pinpoint and circumvent the work and thought patterns that make me crazy, trying to find ways to stay calm through the waiting periods and put nervous energy to good use.

    I read another blog post yesterday about really analyzing your writing “wish list” and distinguishing between dreams (things you want but can’t control) and goals (things you want and can control). The post was talking about disappointment, because too many people make “goals” that are really dreams–so if your goal is something you can’t control (eg, I’m going to get a book published this year!) you are likely to fail through no fault of your own. So make sure your goals are really goals, so your success or failure is something you can control. It is a good way to think about things, and to maybe take off some of the pressure and sense of loss from “goals” we don’t achieve by letting go of a desire to control things we simply can’t.

    I think I’m going to combine all those insights with your list of questions and set myself up for a more successful-feeling experience next year!

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    • Jeannie, that is an important distinction, to be sure! I find it most helpful to identify the dreams first, then break down what I can do to try to achieve them and make those be the goals. Another friend of mine writes down her goals (actually dreams), and then makes a list of actions she can take under each one. What we call them doesn’t really matter, as long as we understand that we need to be taking steps toward our dreams, but we can only do what we can do.

      Even knowing that, I always feel disappointment at the end of the year because there were goals that I didn’t accomplish. That’s why I love question #2. When I really sit down and think about everything I did over the course of the year, the list is really pretty long. It also helps to look not just at actual writing, but other aspects of being an author, such as how did you improve your craft, how did you network with other writers, how did you grow your platform, etc. All of those things are important and shouldn’t be discounted. And sometimes, there are curveballs! Dealing with those can be accomplishments, too, just not ones you expected. I didn’t accomplish most of my goals for the year this year, but I had the surgery/recovery curveball and the “I sold a book on proposal, and now I have 5 months to write it” curveball. I survived both, which feels pretty good in #2, even if not much else is there.

      Good luck, Jeannie. It’s an ongoing process with me. Email me anytime you want to discuss it further. 🙂

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  3. This is a lot to take in so I’ll definitely be coming back again and again. As I review this after the holiday fun, I will try not to obsess about the cycle to the point that I’m doing more checking than actual doing (a real perfectionist pitfall). I definitely want 2014 to be more productive and forward-moving in an intentional manner than 2013 was. Thanks for this insightful post!

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    • Thanks, Maryanne! Yes, there’s definitely a danger of doing more checking than actual doing. I can easily fall into that trap, too. I also use a task list, and once I’ve set up my plan, I transfer action items to the task list. Then I obsess about checking THAT so I can check off the completed to-do’s. Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

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  4. I really appreciate this post. The next year and a half is going to be so completely crazy, and I’m barely keeping my head above water as it is. I don’t know how I’m going to approach all the marketing and swag and etc., etc., etc., and whenever I start to think about all of it, I get tense. I should be excited! This is an amazing time! So I am going to adopt your three categories: create, consume, connect. Everything I need to do as a writer fits nicely into those buckets, and somehow, having three nice, neatly labeled buckets for all the things makes me feel like I’m already more in control… and this isn’t even my plan! Thanks, Laurie.

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    • Megan, it IS crazy-making, isn’t it!? That’s exactly the way I was feeling, which is why I had to find some way to organize my thoughts. Hopefully the plans and actions will fall in line from there. At the very least, it’s good to know we can freak out together. 😉

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  5. Pingback: Cycles, balance, and making plans | Laurie Ann Thompson

  6. So many wonderful things about this post, Laurie! I need to spend more time with over the next few days. Gives me lots to think about.
    I need to start thinking about marketing, too. I’m not looking forward to adding another thing to my list! But it has to be done. Thanks for a great post!

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    • Thanks, Penny! I’m glad it was helpful. It’s hard to figure out where the time will come from to add in the marketing piece, isn’t it? Little by little, I guess. Do the things you’re good at and enjoy. Let the rest go.

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  7. Great post, Laurie! Love the three Cs — I definitely need to do more of *all* of them. :/

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    • Thanks, Adi! There’s the rub, isn’t it? I feel the same way, but how can we possibly do more of *all* of them, when we’re already doing as much as we can possibly do? *sigh* It’s a good thing we’ve got such a great group down here in the trenches with us to help us figure it all out, and maybe even do some of it for us… I know I’ll be promoting the heck out of STRANGE SWEET SONG once it’s out. =D

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  8. kevanjatt

    Great post, Laurie. The year end questions are a bonus. No pass, no fail. Just very telling. Thanks for this!

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  9. Hello Laurie! i Saw the graphic of the cycles and instantly brought me back memories from college where in some class they talked about the “Creative Solution in Problems”. It helped me all through my professional as well as personal life. Thank you so much. (Now I´ll go and read it thoroughly)

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    • Thanks! What didn’t show up in that graph is the FRUSTRATION phase, which we all have to go through before we get to Illumination. It’s important to remember that the incubation and frustration are necessary parts of the process. Unfortunately, we have to run into the wall before we can figure out a way around it. Thanks for visiting, and good luck with your creative endeavors! 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Resolutions, I've Had a Few - Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

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