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

16 Sep 2019 | Business

This post was originally published on Aliventures in May 2016, and updated in September 2019.

So you’ve made a plan for the next few 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. 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 taken a fiction-writing course) but you don’t know what to do next.

Should you focus on writing short stories to begin with? And if so, should you focus on competition entries or on submissions to magazines that take short stories from freelancers? Should you be working on a novel instead? Should you be creating a website for your fiction, even if you’ve had very little published?

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, such as:

  • Write a 1,600 word short story for this month’s Writing Magazine competition
  • Buy a book about outlining a novel
  • Spend 10 minutes each day working on writing prompts or exercises

#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 freelance writer, 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, and you may end up having to write pieces that don’t particularly interest you.

Or should you become a self-publishing novelist, creating your own books to sell directly to customers? There’s the potential to make a lot of money, but you might end up pouring years of your life into your novels for very little reward.

Get Back On Track…

Sometimes, the answer is to find a sensible middle ground that gives you the best of two different paths … especially if one means you’re following your head and one means following your heart.

If you’re torn between freelancing and fiction writing, you might decide to set aside (e.g.) four days a week for freelancing and one day for fiction. That way, you should be able to make enough to pay the bills … but you’ll still be able to spend 20% of your working week on something you really love doing.

#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.

Maybe:

  • 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.


My course On Track is all about (unsurprisingly!) getting back on track with your writing. If you’re stuck on a big project, or if you’re not even sure which big project you want to work on, this is the course for you.

it’s a six-week course with guidance and support, and the opportunity to set your own goals and “check in” weekly with a supportive group of fellow writers. It costs $30 (for the full six weeks, plus four bonus weeks of continued support), and if you’ve taken the course before, you can join us again for just $15.

If that sounds like it might be for you, check out all the details here.

I’ll be closing the doors next Monday (23rd), at the start of Week 1, so everyone can get started together. As soon as you join, you’ll get your welcome pack, plus the link to our private Facebook group.

About

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.

9 Comments

  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. 🙂

    • Kari Grace

      Your plans go awry? Surely not!
      To quote Robert Burns poem, To a Mouse:
      The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry…

  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!

  3. Emma

    Interestingly enough, your “Don’t Give Up” closing note helped me on a level entirely unrelated to writing. I’ve been trying to get my sleep schedule back in order after about two years of my life kind of falling off the rails, and I was actually doing pretty well for about a week—getting up at 8am, getting to bed at 11pm. Then last night I hit the sack after midnight, and this morning I was utterly unable to get up till noon…but you’re right, one day of setbacks is no reason to give up!

    Thanks Ali 🙂
    Emma’s last blog post ..What Keeps a Star Stable?

  4. Tham Poh Peng

    Hi Ali:
    I have just signed up for the 6-week On-Track Course. I came upon your blog while browsing the internet for some writing advice and tips. I read about how you started as a writer and really feel that it is not an easy journey but I suppose with determination and a committed mentality, one should be able to do it in the long run.
    Anyway, I am that sort of person who find writing a colossal task and can never bring myself to sit down to write for 15 minutes although I am surprised by myself how I can write so smoothly now…..haha.
    I really need some good advice on how to stay focused and write every day. I am sure that this basic course (On Track) will benefit me in ways which I have never thought possible…..
    Thank you Ali and look forward to the course…!

  5. Godwin Oluponmile

    Helo Ali, thanks for the writing tips. I’ve subscribed for the newsletter. I just can’t wait for the gift you promised.

  6. Emily Henderson

    Hi Ali,
    Great post. I have found that creating a game plan is the most important part of starting a new money-making endeavor. A few years ago I decided I wanted to be a one-to-one tutor so I created an ad and posted in online. I created branded documents to catalog my sessions and would send clients invoices and receipts via email. It was all very well organized. And I have to admit, having that laid out before I even found the clients gave me confidence that I would find them. And within 1 week of my dedicating time to creating the game plan I had 3 clients, which filled up all my available time for tutoring during the week. To make a long story longer… planning before executing the plan is the best first step toward success. 🙂 In your post, points two and three really stood out for me. I am huge on step-by-step planning, so when someone talks about it, I immediately perk up! I have fantasized about writing a blog but since I have studied and written mostly poetry, I worry that it’s too personal to share! Do all writers feel that way? 🙂 While I get the nerve to share via blog, I earn extra income writing freelance with an online platform called Ultius, Inc. They are a really cool place to keep honing your craft and connect with clients who could use the help of an experienced writer. I just log in when I want to find writing projects and earn average $10 per page. Depending on how many pages I write and how quick the deadlines are, I earn quite a bit each month and it’s all on my own time since I’m writing from home. Anyway, I just wanted to get it out there. Thanks again for sharing your insight.