I’m currently taking a writing and blogging sabbatical due to family health issues. For now, I’ll repost selected articles from my Fiction Writing School.
How The 12-Week Year
Can Help You Write Your Book
By Rochelle Melander
A few years ago, fresh from a visioning weekend, I created an ambitious writing and business schedule for the year. I made an Excel spreadsheet and listed everything I hoped to develop that year including blog posts, business programs, and book projects. I color coded each project and laid out a beautiful plan.
But it didn’t work. Three months into the year, I hadn’t made significant progress on any of my projects.
Where did I go wrong?
I had too many projects. I did not have clear, actionable steps. Every time I looked at the spreadsheet, I felt overwhelmed.
Clients often approach me with a similar problem: they have a book they want to get done this year. They’re also launching a podcast and working part time. But they haven’t made progress on any of their projects. Can I help them finish something?
You bet. But it won’t be easy.
In order to finish that book, they need to let go of all of their other projects. For now.
This process is explained well in the book, The 12-Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington. The authors recommend that we look at our vision and choose one project to focus on each quarter. The idea comes from a sports training practice called periodization. In this practice, athletes focus their training on a specific skill or discipline for 4-6 weeks. The tool allows the athlete to make significant progress over a short period of time.
The 12-Week Year provides an opportunity for focused writing on a single project, increasing your chances of being successful. Here’s how it works:
Choose a single project
Stop thinking you can get it all done. Instead, imagine what it would be like to complete a single project in the next three months. What do you want to have done by the end of June?
Pro Tip: Consider what you will need to let go of to complete this project. Do you need to take a break from another writing commitment? Can you let go of social media updates for the next three months? Is there anything else that could be put on hold for three months?
Make a plan
How much time will you need to write your book over the next 12 weeks? Remember, when we’re writing a book, we need more than just writing time. We need time to research and outline. We need time to daydream, ponder, and imagine what might happen next.
Get specific. How much time do you need to plan the book? How many scenes or chapters will you need to write each week? Do you need to build in time for anything else?
Schedule time. Schedule blocks of time to work on your book. Know when and where you will write each week. Then, once a week, decide what you will write during each session.
Pro Tip. The authors recommend that people build in “buffer blocks”—sections of time dedicated to doing daily tasks like answering email, exercising, meal prep, and more. They also suggest having “breakout blocks”—free time dedicated to enjoying life. I’ve discovered that breakout blocks are essential to the writing process—they give your brain time to rest and often lead to aha moments.
Ditch the distractions
If you want to finish your book in the next three months, you need to dump the things that distract you.
When you are writing, turn off your phone. Stay offline. Don’t check email.
You know all that. When it comes to distractions, it’s helpful to go deeper. What else distracts you when you write? Are you thinking about the blog post you owe a friend? Are you planning your next Target run or dinner? Are you worrying about other work you need to do? Before your writing session, schedule time to deal with these tasks. During your writing session, jot down any worries or tasks that pop into your head and add them to your schedule later.
At the end of each week, evaluate your progress. What worked? What didn’t work? Are you achieving your daily and weekly writing goals? If not, why? What changes do you need to make to improve your productivity?
Plan the next week. Make changes to your schedule based on the previous week’s challenges and successes.
Pro tip: Be ruthless with your schedule. If you are trying to do too much, and it is getting in the way of your writing, let go of something.
Rest, reflect, repeat
The authors of The 12-Week Year recommend building in a 13th week to finish up tasks, rest, reflect, and plan for the next 12-week cycle. I think you need a bit more time. Take the 13th week to finish up tasks and rest. Then, during the next week, you can start visioning and planning your next book.
This process works a lot like National Novel Writing Month. During November, we focus on a single book, block out time to write it, and let go of any commitment that threatens to distract us from our big goal. Think of The 12-Week Year as a sustainable way to bring NaNoWriMo into your daily life. Give it a try and see if it increases your finish rate on book projects.