Sunday, September 15, 2013

Army Action Planning: The Writer Surrenders

By Jodie Cain Smith

Recently, due to another Army-mandated move, I left my sixth job in 12 years. I knew well how to start again at the bottom and catapult up the ladder, but I didn’t want to. A hidden family tragedy had been bouncing around in my head for 20 years. So, I made a deal with my husband: give me one year to write a book. If I don’t, I will get a “real” job. But if I do…

After 12 months of research, writing, revising, and perfecting the manuscript and query letter, I submitted my work for publication. My heart broke with each rejection. Then, the unimaginable: a small press accepted my work.

“What now?” the husband asked.

“Well, I keep writing,” I told him, content with being a slave to the creativity gods.

“No. Not good enough,” he said. “You need a plan.”

Several weeks later, the husband reminded me of the plan. Boxes appeared for another move.

“Jodie, you still need a plan,” he said.

We unpacked the boxes. He grabbed a legal pad, a pen, and a six-pack. I surrendered, opened a beer, and the plan that will guide me through the next two years was born.

(Full disclosure: creating the plan required several six-packs over a few weeks. I often wanted to punch the husband in the throat for imparting his soldier stuff on my writing world, but I resisted. He is extremely supportive and incredibly useful. If I start punching him, he may stop being so cooperative.)

1. Identify the Lines of Effort

After much discussion, I identified what I want most: to sell my book, to establish myself as a writer, and to sustain a writing career.

With my action verbs identified, I wanted to jump over a few steps and brainstorm individual tasks. The husband forced me to cool my jets and follow the action-planning process. This was the first time I felt a tingling in my fists.

2. Define an Endstate for each Line of Effort

Specifically, what would each line of effort look like when accomplished? What is my sales goal? Describe an established writing career. How do I define sustainment?

After several hours, I answered these questions. But my head hurt. Possibly, it was the beer. More than likely, it was from thinking so hard.

3. Create the Task List

Finally, I used my squirrel-like attention span to write down every possible task having anything to do with accomplishing each line of effort. I pinged from sell to establish to sustain– on and on, the list grew. Each task was assigned to one line of effort.

4. Create the Calendar

Next, the husband drew a chart containing three rows (the lines of effort) and twenty-four columns (monthly blocks representing July 2013 through June 2015). The endstate for each line of effort was placed in the last month of each row. Working backwards from June 2015 to the present, I placed every individual task on the calendar; ensuring tasks were performed in the correct sequence. Backwards planning forced me to focus on the endstates.

5. Evaluate the Plan

My two-year calendar was complete, filled with tasks directly related to accomplishing my dream. My husband then leaned on the back of my chair and began to read the plan over my shoulder. He read each endstate and searched for tasks in the corresponding line of effort to accomplish that endstate.

“Are you checking my work?” I asked.

“I’m making sure we didn’t miss anything,” he said.

Oh. Smart. And he did say we. Uncurl your fists, Jodie.

6. Display the Plan!

Would I be able to resist the temptation of online shoe shopping if the plan is hidden in my desk drawer? No. So, I hung the action plan on the wall next to my desk. Now, when I walk into my office, the plan orders me to work, to move my wild dream forward. Now, my dream doesn’t seem quite so wild anymore.  

As for undertaking a project like this with your significant other, consider yourself warned. Your fists may start to tingle.

1 comment:

Sarah Herlong said...

I'm not sure what a squirrel-like attention is, but i like it! I think you should bring your plan to writer's meeting. We all may learn something.