Lessons from a Plantser: 2016 was a big one!

When this year began, I had a couple of goals in mind. I knew I wanted to grow my readership, publish at least three books, and start some new habits that would help me toward my ultimate goals of being a full-time author with a healthy body and mind.

But as we know, even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry, and I’ve never been much of a planner anyway. So, even though I had a basic idea of what I wanted to do this year, I tried winging it… with mixed results.

Lessons from a Plantser

One of the biggest lessons I learned this year came relatively late, but I think it’s pretty important, so I’m throwing it up front. I got the notice that my domain name would be expiring in October, and had to decide what I wanted to do. Would I simply renew it, and stick with the plan I had through WordPress.com, or would I change to a new service?

The easier way would have been to stick with WP.com. I already had it set up. I had a following. I had posts and pages from two years of trying to make this website thing my online home. I even had a theme I liked relatively well.

So, naturally, I decided to change.

…And it was kind of a disaster. Posts, pages, and back-links were destroyed forever. Followers didn’t all change over with me. (But there’s still time. Check out the right side of the page, and sign up for my posts via email.) And the cool new features I changed hosts for were a lot more hinky and a lot less cool overall than I had hoped.

Lesson #1: Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

image of a wooden mallet ready to smash an egg

I’ve always had an affinity for animals. I had a dog growing up, and I always wanted one in my life. Of course, in the last five years or so, I hadn’t had a pet due to rapidly changing living situations and family strife that left me a little too drained to give away any more of my energy.

Then, early on this year, I finally realized we were settled as a family, and I wanted a dog. My wife has never believed in adopting full grown animals, so I somehow convinced her (cat person that she is) to let me get one of the puppies from the litter we passed by on an almost daily basis.

I named her Busy, after a character in my Deviant Behaviors book series, because she was just that… a busy little bee. She was everywhere. And, since she was part basset hound, she was loud, too.

Needless to say, my cat-lover wife wasn’t thrilled, and I overcompensated to such an extreme that, in the end, we decided we weren’t ready for a puppy, and probably never would be. Thankfully, I quickly found her a loving home, and I hope she’s happy.

Lesson #2: Babies are a whole lot of work.

images of a small golden puppy

And is there a better way to smooth over the loss of a puppy than to go adopt a full-grown cat? I don’t know of one.

A couple of months later, we adopted Teddy. He was skittish, silent, and fully grown. Perfect for a couple of women with a couple of little kids and a puppy-shaped hole in their hearts, right?

Actually, yeah. He was perfect. Except for the first few days when he kept us up crying at night, he was a joy to be around. He slept in the bed with us, used his litter box (no more late-night puppy potty breaks!), and didn’t even eat much. I thought we hit the nail on the head with him.

Until he started sleeping all the time and we took him to the vet. Turns out, when we adopted him “as is” from the shelter, we had adopted a cat who had been suffering from an internal infection for months. When we started his treatments, the vet said she was glad we got him – because we saved his life.

pic of my cat lying on my couch

Once he was well, we realized he was lonely. What better way to cure loneliness in a cat than…. another cat? So we adopted Louise. She’s a joy, although at first, she shredded everything we owned with her razor-sharp Wolverine claws.

Covering things with tape didn’t work. Giving her scratching pads didn’t work.

NOTHING WORKED.

So, since we’re awful people, we got her declawed in the front. Now the two of them are happy as can be, and so are we, because no one is peeing on anything or tearing it to shreds.

pic of two cats

Lesson #3: Nothing is perfect.

Back to my writing career, I realized that I actually did need a newsletter after about two years of not having one. So I started one, and a kind follower clued me in that it wasn’t working.

So I started anew with a different service. Different issue, but it didn’t work all the same.

Now I have the new list. It seems to be working well, but I haven’t built up the contacts I need to use it effectively to spread the message about my books. (You can sign up for that right here and grab a few books or stories for free.)

Lesson #4: Don’t jump ship until you know people will follow.

image of a pile of ketchup and a sad tomato

Last summer, I tried Camp NaNoWriMo again. Failed miserably.

This November, I did NaNoWriMo again, and won like a champ.

What was the difference?

For Camp, I was a pantser. For NaNo, I was a plantser.

Lesson #5: Building the skeleton of a thing is necessary even if you aren’t going to use all the pieces.

image of a blueprint

I have been trying to keep myself motivated with To Do lists that run over day after day for a long time, but somehow it never quite worked. This year, after seeing a cool Instagram post, I went on a quest to find the best daily planning format for me. Turns out, there’s something called a Bullet Journal that works better than anything I’ve ever tried before.

I’m going to do a more in-depth post on Bullet Journal and how it can be useful to writers, readers, and others next month, because it’s something I really want to share with you all.

I also finally signed up for a gym membership after trying at-home workouts, walking routines, etc. for the last three years with lackluster results. And – wow – can I say that I wish I had done this ten years ago? This is going to be the key that helps me finally get and keep myself healthy from 2017 on.

Lesson #6: The right tool makes all the difference.

image of a sticky note and Scrabble tiles that spell out "To Do"

Finally, last but not least, I did a lot of writing and publishing this year.

In no particular order, this year I put out:

I also wrote a science fiction adventure story called Banquet that I plan to edit, polish, and release in 2017, and have over half of a story called Sweat. It’s a follow-up of The Setup that continues the story through another character’s point-of-view.

Lesson #7: Prolific writing takes effort, but it’s worth it.

image of manuscripts piled together on a shelf

Overall, I would say 2016 was a productive year full of lessons I hope I have taken to heart. Who knows what’s on the agenda for next year?

Whatever it is, I’m ready and willing.


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