How to Get Back On Track When Your Writing Plans Go Awry

23 May 2016 | Business


So you’ve made a plan for the next seven months.

For a month or two, everything goes fine. You’re writing regularly, hitting your targets, and feeling great about your progress.

And then something happens. You’re knocked off-course. You’re understandably discouraged, perhaps ready to give up.

Plans do go awry, more often than not. That’s not your fault, and it’s not necessarily a problem. You just need to be prepared in advance to deal with things not going quite according to plan.

How Writing Plans Typically Go Wrong

#1: They Don’t Match Up to Reality

When you create a plan, you don’t have the full picture. You don’t yet know what it will be like to put that plan into practice – in terms of what you can feasibly do, and in terms of the way the writing and publishing world works.

Perhaps you’ve planned to write for an hour ever evening after work, but after a week of that, you’re already burning out. You just don’t have the energy to write at that time of day.

Perhaps you’d planned to get an agent for your novel this month … only to find that the whole process of submitting your manuscript and waiting for responses takes a heck of a lot longer.

Get Back On Track

Explore your options – perhaps by talking to other writers. Think about different ways to reach your ultimate goal.

For instance, if you want to write for a living, would you be happy writing non-fiction instead of fiction? If you want to publish a trilogy of novels, would you be happy self-publishing instead of being traditionally published?

If your goal isn’t unreasonable but you’re just not ready for it, then consider tackling a different goal first.

#2: You Don’t Know What to Do Next

Perhaps your goal simply seems too big and complicated right now. You’ve made some progress towards it (e.g. you’ve got your blog online) but you don’t know what to do next.

Should you focus on writing content for your blog? Should you guest post for other blogs? Big ones? Small ones? Should you be as active as possible on social media, or should you be spending your time creating a sign-up incentive for your email list?

When you feel confused about where to go, it’s easy to end up doing nothing at all.

Get Back On Track

Any big or complicated goal can be broken down into steps. You might not be able to map out the entire path right now, but that’s often a waste of time anyway.

Instead, focus on the immediate future and ask yourself “what’s the very next practical thing I can do to move me forward?”

This should be something very concrete and specific, like:

  • Create a content calendar for the next two months’ worth of posts on my blog.
  • Ask Joey and Sam if they can recommend a good book on copywriting.
  • Write a chapter-by-chapter outline for my novel.

#3: You’re Torn Between Two Different Routes

Perhaps you’ve got a big goal in mind, like “making a living writing” – but you’re not sure what path to take in order to get there. There are a couple of different options that both feel equally “right” (or wrong!) to you.

For instance, should you be a freelancer, billing by the hour (or project) and working for clients? It’s a quick way to start making money, but you’ll eventually be capped by how many hours you can work and by the maximum hourly rate you can realistically charge.

Or should you become an entrepreneur, creating your own products – perhaps books or courses – to sell to customers? That might have the potential for significant future profits … but it could mean a lot of hard work upfront for very little return.

Get Back On Track

Often the answer here is to find a sensible middle ground that gives you the best of two different paths. (Be cautious here that both paths lead you to the same ultimate goal: you don’t want to dilute your focus by chasing two goals at once.)

If you’re torn between freelancing and entrepreneurship, you might decide to initially spend 80% of your working week on freelancing and keep one day aside for your own money-making projects. That way, you’ve got the immediate income from freelancing, but you’re also building for the future. If you find that your own projects go well, you can start to spend more of your time on them.

#4: Life Gets in the Way

Whatever your exact personal circumstances, there’s always the chance that something non-writing-related crops up and takes over a lot of your writing time or energy.


  • You get ill or injured and can’t write for weeks.
  • You or your partner gets pregnant.
  • You have a particularly busy spell at work.
  • You lose your job and need to scramble for money.
  • You go through a relationship breakup.
  • Your kids start waking up – and waking you! – in the middle of the night.

Some of these things you can at least somewhat plan for (e.g. having a baby, seasonal busyness at work) – but they can also take you by surprise!

Get Back On Track

At the planning stage, try to allow extra margin – especially if your life is particularly prone to disruptions: don’t create plans where a bad week will throw everything off course completely.

When something does disrupt your plans, don’t use it as an excuse to quit. Take a mental step back and reassess. Do you need to extend a self-imposed deadline, to give you more time to reach your goal? Can you ask for help from a friend or family member?

If you can, try to continue working towards your goal during the difficult times – even if that means, say, working on your novel for 10 minutes per day instead of 30. That way, you’ll still be making progress, and you won’t lose touch with your project.

Don’t Give Up

If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ll know how easy it is to give up entirely after a bad day or two. This isn’t necessarily rational – but it’s very human.

As a writer, tell yourself that even when things go badly, you won’t give up on your goals. You’ll step back and replan where necessary; you might even take a look at the goal and decide if it’s still right for you … but you will keep writing.


I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.


  1. John Soares

    I love your advice, Ali. I think most of us find all too frequently that we aren’t meeting our writing goals, and you give excellent solutions for realigning those goals and moving forward.

    Like you say, sometimes life gives us challenges and opportunities that take time away from our writing. In my case, my 2016 goals were thrown a bit off kilter when I decided to take a five week vacation in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Some friends offered their home, so I jumped at the chance.
    John Soares’s last blog post ..Why I Did Not Help a Fellow Freelance Writer

    • Ali

      Thanks, John! Wow — what an opportunity, how could you not jump at that?! Hope you had (are having?) a brilliant vacation. 🙂

  2. Margaret Pinard

    #3, #3! I’m in the middle of a muddle right now, but I think I’ve finally made the decision, or at least found a ‘middle way’. The problem is that it was a literary decision, and the draft wasn’t ready to share yet, so I was stuck in a cycle of craft-and-doubt…start the sequel 8 years after book 1, or cheat it closer so people still feel connected? Guh. Going with half a plot right after, then a jump forward. Historicals can make for some pretty problems! 😉
    Margaret Pinard’s last blog post ..5 Things That Spell “Author Life”

    • Ali

      Yay on a decision. 🙂 That does sound like a really tricky situation! I know, as a reader, I find it a bit jarring if there’s a huge time gap between books. Your solution sounds like a sensible one, hope it pans out well!