It’s Time To Get Organized
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.
Once upon a time…I found myself with a Juris Doctorate, a crippling student loan, and an apartment lease just about to expire. I was living in San Diego with no job, no prospects, and no family members or close friends near enough to lend a hand. And so I made that tough, tough decisions many have made before me: I moved back in with my parents. I rationalized the decision by telling anyone who’d listen, that I was taking a break to focus on my writing.
Now this was pre-Google – and I’d just spent the last three years studying law – so I had few resources to help me embark on a freelance writing career. Yahoo’s search led me to a few basic websites for freelancers, but for the most part, I was left to haunt the “career” section of the local bookstore; buying up copies of The Writer’s Market (complete with CD-Rom!) and fruitlessly searching the local papers for any sort of listing that involved words, sentences, and paragraphs.
One day I took a step too far to the left in that bookstore and found I’d wandered into the “Spirituality and Self-help” section. And that’s when I first hooked up with Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. Eventually, I also picked up Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and – after a while – I even unearthed that gem of writerly advice and inspiration, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
These ladies were instrumental in helping me establish a set of habits and strategies that I still use: morning pages, artist dates, narrative timelines, and checking in daily with other poets, authors, and essayists who can provide me with insight and inspiration. They helped me start dreaming of a different existence – one where writing and artistry were integral pieces of the puzzle.
During that time in the desert – you couldn’t ask for a more metaphorical location for a starved artist thirsting for something more – I also realized that if I wanted to change my life, really change the circumstances that currently dominated my day-to-day existence, I needed a plan. A good plan. A well thought out plan.
An executable plan.
So one day I broke my aspirations up into different categories: health, career, writing and spirituality. Then I wrote out goals from large (find a career in publishing) to small (exercise every day). Each week I’d check in to see if how far I’d progressed down each path, adding and subtracting benchmarks and goalposts. Every three months, I’d reevaluate where I stood and wrote out a new “to-do” list for the next 90 days.
These Plan-of-Actions, as I eventually called them, helped me transition from jobless-law-school-grad-living-at-home to a paralegal living in Santa Barbara, CA. And later, when I found the legal profession untenable, I used those same action plans to carve out a career in publishing.
Planning works. Lists work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started off a new year or a travel adventure with a catalog of goals and wants, only to check back in later and find that I can cross off 90% of the roll. Even crazy desires that seem impossible find a way of falling in your lap; earning another checkmark and gold star.
And you have to have a plan.
Yesterday, thanks to the power of Facebook, I discovered The Art of Nonconformity. Chris Guillebeau’s site provides a wealth of information for anyone who aspires to a more authentic life. Or anyone who dreams of ditching the daily grind and traveling the world. In his bio, Chris admits that he’s amazed at the life he’s been able to craft for himself.
When I’m asked to speak to companies, I look out at the people in the audience. Sure, some of them are occupied with their iPhones, and if alcohol is involved, some of them are a little tipsy. But given a large enough group, I can look and see that some of them are hanging on every poorly-phrased sentence I produce. They write things in their notebooks that presumably relate to what I am saying, as if they should remember them or follow-up on them later. Why? No clue. But this much I know is true: I’m damned fortunate.
I’ve yet to explore all the content on the site, but the one link took me back to those good ol’ Plan-of-Action days “How To Conduct Your Own Annual Review.” Another Action-plan acolyte! And while Chris’s methodology is most certainly more intense and thorough than mine, but I suspect the results are probably even more profound and powerful.
You might be reading this blog in the dank, dusty little office where you spend the majority of your waking hours shuffling papers and spreadsheets from one bin to another. Or you might be reading this at 11 am in a coffee shop, on a break between trawling through Craigslist postings for gainful employment. Or maybe you’re perfectly happy with your day job, but you just know you need more, something with a little bit of drama, creativity or adventure.
Maybe you keep dreaming about being a writer, and you just need that little push.
So make an Action Plan of your own. Start out from the best-case scenario – the outcome that would be a “dream come true” – and work backward. What would need to happen a year before that outcome? Six months? Ninety days? Two weeks from now. Start to plot it. Create small goals, achievable ambitions. Do one thing today. Two tomorrow. Etc etc.
And if you’re feeling more ambitious, check out Chris’s post “How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review”.
Good luck with your ambitions, desires, and dreams. Know that I’m right there behind you, filling out my own checklists and establishing my own set of priorities. Fall’s a great time to contemplate change and transition, so pick up a pumpkin latte and a Moleskine and challenge yourself to craft a new, authentic, creative life.
All Content is the sole Property of Elizabeth Cutright and The Daily Creative Writer, if you are reading this blog on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
- Start Paying Attention (thedailycreativewriter.wordpress.com)
- Autmnal Resolutions (thedailycreativewriter.wordpress.com)
- Filling Up the Well (thedailycreativewriter.wordpress.com)
- Creative Droughts (thedailycreativewriter.wordpress.com)
- Chris Guillebeau on The 100 Startup (marieforleo.com)
- A Space-age Writer (thedailycreativewriter.wordpress.com)