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!

2 thoughts on “Cycles, balance, and making plans”

  1. 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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