Cycles, balance, and making plans

[Note: This was originally published on Emu’s Debuts, but it seemed to resonate with people, so I decided to reblog it here in case you missed it. Sorry if you’re seeing it twice!]

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!

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2 Responses to Cycles, balance, and making plans

  1. Loralee says:

    I find that now that my book Candy Experiments is out, and now that I have a six-month-old baby, I am able to focus much better on marketing tasks (that are short and use less of my brain) than serious writing. So lately my endeavors have been mostly about scheduling school visits, reaching out to blogs (a Halloween goal that went very well), and planning to make plans for my creative writing later (later keeps moving). I have written a few short, easy, articles just to keep my hand in, but not returned to focusing on a bigger project. It’s all part of the writing career, and it’s what works for my brain right now.

    • It sounds like you’re right where you should be in both the book and the baby cycle, Loralee, although I don’t know how you’re handling school visits AND a 6-month-old at the same time. Way to go!! :)

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