Women’s Voices- Interview with Jeffe Kennedy

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You may have noticed that I have been on a Fantasy, with a capital F reading spree over the summer. I reviewed the first book in this series,  Lonen’s War in this post.   I confess to not usually being a fan of the slow burn type of romance, but Jeffe Kennedy has done the most amazing job of making it worth the wait. This book contains hands down one of the most scorching sex scenes I have ever read. If you have not started the series pick Lonen’s War and start from the beginning, although this book can stand alone, it will be infinitely better if you read the series in order.

If you are a fan of Jeffe Kennedy’s you may have wondered as I have at times: How the hell do you keep up with all of your projects? Blog posts, two series, short stories, interviews, teaching, etc.

Jeffe was kind enough to take the time to answer this, and other questions I had about her organization system and work process. If you can’t get enough of Jeffe after this post head over to https://sffseven.blogspot.com/ for more of her witty, engaging and informative posts.

  1. As a writer who is involved in many literary projects (book series, blog posts, short story anthologies, etc.) what is your system of organization? How do you go about managing multiple deadlines and stages of production?

JEFFE: You know the short answer to this, right? Spreadsheets! As the Spreadsheet Queen, I have an Excel workbook that’s called “Progress Count.” The name is a little deceptive because it contains so much more than that. That’s how it started, though – as a single sheet where I tracked my daily wordcounts – and that’s how I know where to find it.

In there I have a spreadsheet for every “live” project, from a fragments all the way through galley proof stage. I track daily, weekly, monthly and annual wordcounts, and I have worksheets for my priority list and commitments. The Commitments worksheet has Gantt Charts that help me visualize overlapping projects – like teaching online classes while also drafting a book, for example – and to monitor spacing of release dates. The Priority List worksheet shows which projects are in my court, which are in someone else’s court (e.g., with my editor, on submission, etc.), and which are still glimmers of ideas. I have a fairly complex system of interconnecting dates where I estimate how long a phase of a project will take, highlighting fixed deadlines, and that shows me what I need to focus on next.

Finally I have a separated workbook that houses my ongoing To Do List. My assistant tracks promo efforts – like when interviews like this are expected! – and I space them out so I do one per day. 

  1. You have generously shared your beat sheet spread sheets with word counts on the blog The SFF Seven How did those evolve?

JEFFE: When I was shopping my first novel – and was unsuccessful for a number of years – I cast about for techniques to tighten the plot structure. I hit upon the Three-Act Structure, using the percentages you reference in those beat sheets. It made sense to me as a way to understand the “bones” of my story – and to adjust the pacing – AND it fit nicely into my Progress Count spreadsheets! I use those percentages and beats to track the growth of a story as I write it, which also helps me to predict how much longer it will take me to finish. For example, once I’ve finished Act I (all the stakes are set and the Act I climax is complete), then I know I have 75% of the story still to write. It’s a very reliable predictor for me.

When I went to write a serial novel – and set up the worksheet for that – I played with the percentages to figure both the individual section pacing and where it intersected with the overall pacing. I did a blog post on that and a local RWA chapter asked me to come teach that, which led me to play with applying the formula to a trilogy also. 

  1. Do you envision a series when you start writing or start with one novel and see where it takes you?

JEFFE: I pretty much envision the series, but in a general way. The best analogy is that the whole series feels like planning a cross-country road trip. I know I’m starting in Seattle and that I want to end up in the Florida Keys. Or someplace like that. Then I start “driving” and see how far I get. Things change along the way – I might pick up hitchhikers or get stuck for a while in St. Louis. Sometimes I finish a “trilogy” and I realize I’d like to leave the Keys and take a ship to the Virgin Islands.

  1. You have referred to yourself as a gardener, building a trellis for your story to grow on versus a pantser or plotter. How did you arrive at your current system for writing organization? Do you consistently use the same system of organization?

JEFFE: I touched on this a bit above. As a writer I tend to operate intuitively. The stories feel like they flow from elsewhere and I like it that way. I’m fairly superstitious about messing with my process, too. So, yes, I consistently use this system, which has grown organically over the last twenty or so years of writing. If I find a way to tweak that system, I’ll try it out – there’s always room to grow and improve – but I’m a big believer in a writer learning her own process and owning that.

  1. If you had one thing you could say to the new/beginning/young writer what would that be?

JEFFE: It’s not popular advice, but I stand by it: Build a Consistent Writing Habit. For most people, that means writing every day, probably at the same time every day. I spent years fighting this because I simply could not fit it into my life. Finally I started getting up at 4am and writing for two hours before work in the morning. And I was *so* not a morning person! But it was the only time I could carve out to write consistently at the same time, every day. After years now, I have a consistent writing habit. I don’t necessarily have to start at the exact same time, I can take weekends off, etc. But that’s because writing is a habit for me now. I feel weird if I’m not getting the work done, instead of that awful endless cycles of procrastination and dread that consumes us before we build that habit.

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Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014 and the third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books will follow in this world, beginning with The Pages of the Mind May 2016. A fifth series, the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, started with Going Under, and was followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.


 

 

Focus: When All the Good Things Happen at Once

IMG_5466 It has been a while since I posted about staying on track with ADHD/ADD. I have been working on many projects and in the way that life goes many of their timelines overlap. I wrote here about keeping track of projects and it still is a great system but I did not anticipate the impact working with others can have on your project timelines.

Receiving a revise and resubmit, request for a professional report, and/or a proposal for an amazing project can derail the best time manager. For individuals with distraction issues time management is a constant struggle, add family responsibilities, the day job, and travel to the mix and you have a classic recipe for disaster, missed deadlines, wicked stress and sleepless nights.

Here are ten steps for dealing with positive overwhelm, staying on track and working towards your goals.

  1. Take at least fifteen minutes and breathe, get outside if you can. Your goal here is to reset and let your adrenal glands chill for a moment. If you really want to do it right take thirty minutes. And yes this part is necessary for step two.
  2. Make a list. Brain dump every little thing that is swirling around in your brain. I use poster size paper and sharpies for this, you do you and use whatever you like to get everything out of your head.
  3. Add deadlines to all the things. All of the scraps of paper and post it notes with dates on them, gather them up and get it all of it in one place.
  4. Now look at the list. Are there things you can let go? Or postpone? Let them go or reschedule. Be honest here with yourself. Your goal is to focus on those things that you must do to accomplish your long term goals.
  5. That planner/wall calendar/app you paid good money for and then abandoned? Get it out. Now add the new things, update the old things and add all the due dates.
  6. This is hard part. Choose what you have to give up to get all the things done. Even with the best time management system it is impossible to do all the things. That GoT addiction? Binge watching your favorite show may have to go. Do not give up your exercise program. Oh you already did? See the next step.
  7. Start taking at least fifteen minute every day to move. Dance, walk, jog, yoga, weeding the flower bed, whatever gets the blood flowing to your brain. If you want to go really crazy go for thirty minutes.
  8. Traveling in the midst of everything? Make a list of what you need to take with you to complete or work on your project. Talk with your family/traveling partners. Let them know what you need and come to some agreement about your work time. Be firm. Be realistic. While a family reunion might be great for story ideas, trying to complete a revise and resubmit between rounds of horseshoes/drinking beer/ and scarfing down Great Aunt Millie’s potato salad will most likely end in frustration.
  9. Step back and breathe again. Good things happening can be as overwhelming as bad things happening. You can do this.
  10. Reread this list and repeat these steps as often as you need to keep yourself on track.

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Rebalancing Act

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Rebalancing. The act of trying to stay on top of your commitments to yourself and others when your schedule changes. I have written before about why it is so hard for ADD/ADHD individuals to change their routines here. As a parent with ADD/ADHD it is hard enough keeping my own schedule together, let alone the little people in my house. We started using checklists for the kids so that they can help getting us out the door in the morning and into bed at a reasonable time at night. The checklists are working well for them, and after finding myself spinning like the Ferris wheel above trying to get myself out the door one morning I think I need a checklist for me. 

 Balance is really about rebalancing, letting go of what does not work and holding on to what does work. If I don’t take time to examine my schedule and change what is not working, I end up frustrated, and crazed, and not getting anything accomplished. I started out this Fall thinking that I would be able to drop the kids off and head to the pool for a swim workout. I neglected to factor in that there are two aquatic exercise classes for older people scheduled when I planned on swimming, that it resulted in a very crowded locker room, and fewer lanes for lap swimming.

I got so frustrated that I skipped my swimming exercise. After two weeks of blowing off swimming I realized that I just needed to adjust my time. Every exercise recommendation you ever see says to do your exercise first thing in the morning so that you don’t skip it, but for me, the morning is my most creative time, and the pool is too crowded. Instead of just giving up, I tried going after lunch and before I pick up the kids.  It worked, I get my swim time in, I have the locker room to myself, and I am in a better state of mind to deal with after-school-crazy time with my kids.

The willingness to try different ways to accomplish different tasks is key to success for people with ADD/ADHD. Let go of recommendations that do not work for you, and hold on to what works. Exercise really helps me with my focus, but I need to do it when it fits my schedule, not when everyone says you should do it.

This applies to every other task that people have opinions about when and how you should do it. For example almost every book of writing advice ever written advises that you write everyday.  Would that work for me? Nope, after a long shift at my day job I am too burnt out and tired. Write before my shift to get my writing in? Nope, not getting up at four in the morning to put words on paper, although I have stayed up to four in the morning writing when in a groove. What do I do instead of beating myself up about not writing everyday?  I make it count when I do write.  I set goals for word counts. I stick with what works for me.

Two years ago I participated in the madness that is NANOWRIMO (see my post here if you don’t know what NANOWRIMO is) I only had weekdays to write, and only for two hours and forty-five minutes. So I sat down and figured out how many words I had to write each day in that two hours and forty-five minutes to finish.  Did I write everyday? Nope, but I still managed to get fifty thousand words written in twenty days. Find what works and hold on to it, and let go of any advice that does not work for you. Listen to yourself, research, experiment, read and re-balance to find your center.

Be kind to yourself, don’t quit, find what works for you and do it.

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Preflight Checklists_ Not Just for Pilots

BLM_1688Checklists are very simple time management, and organizational tools. Pilots have used preflight checklists for years, as a means to ensure that everything that needs to be done before take off is complete. Most medical facilities have incorporated checklists for safety in operating rooms, prior to procedures. As a mom with ADHD, getting my kids and myself out the door for school and work in the morning can feel overwhelming. I wrote about this last year in this POST. In that post I talked about creating morning checklists for yourself to help organize your mornings. Checklists are an easy way for adults and children to overcome the difficulties with organization and distraction that individuals with ADD/ADHD battle every day.This year the kids want to manage their own checklists. As they are just starting to read, I added visual clues to the checklists to help them and laminated them so that they can use dry erase makers and reuse them. Our mornings are not effortlessly organized, but they are a heck of a lot better than they are without the checklists. Checklists can help both adults and children feel more in control, and relieve the anxiety that can accompany ADD/ADHD that occurs from the chronic worry that we are forgetting something important. “But what if I lose the checklist?” I hear you saying, and prior to finding an application for my phone, my checklists were on scrap paper, and I would loose or misplace them and create more stress for myself as I ransacked my house or desk trying to find them. Trello (HTTPS://TRELLO.COM) is an application makes it easy to create note cards and checklists.  The best part is that it is free, and no, they do not pay me to recommend this app. Unless you are using it for your business the free version is powerful enough to use for most people.  Checking a list electronically lacks the joy that comes from scratching through a paper checklist but the benefit of not loosing my checklists has me hooked.Analog or virtual, checklists can be powerful weapons against forgotten items and tasks, try them and see if they make a difference in your life.

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Devil Thy Name is Procrastination: Seven Tips for Getting Stuff Done

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Did you procrastinate paying bills and get hit with late fees and bank charges?  Did you put off getting the oil changed and now the repair bill is thousands of dollars because the engine is blown? Did you wait until the last minute the report was due to write it and miss the deadline and now the opportunity for career advancement  is blown and you might lose your job? The root of all these terrible events is not bad luck it is procrastination.

Procrastination is a way of life for many individuals with ADD/ADHD. Overwhelmed by details and the noise in our heads, distracted by every little thing, and haunted by memories of impulsive decisions, we often put off doing what we need to do, and wind up forced into last minute decision making, bad choices, and the negative fall out.

Let me be clear, there is a difference between procrastination and forgetting to do things because you lose track of deadlines and details. I talk here , and here about using planners and timers for time management. I am talking about knowing that you have to do something that must be done and putting it off. Missing deadlines, appointments, not doing what you said or promised to do, damages your career, relationships with family and friends and can have catastrophic financial effects. Trust is built on keeping promises and commitments, repetitively missing commitments, and failing to complete tasks destroys trust.

Some people think that they work better under the pressure of a deadline. Research does not support this,  and others judge procrastinators, labeling them as lazy. Most often people who chronically procrastinate are most often overwhelmed, are fearful of making a bad decision, and are paralyzed with fear. There are also chronic procrastinators that are perfectionists who rework a project to death and never finish it, leaving others to think that they are incompetent and lazy. If any of the above situations resonate with you, try these seven tips for over coming procrastination.

  1. Time yourself doing tasks. Many individuals with ADD/ADHD have a distorted sense of time, making them afraid to start a task because they believe it will take too long. Knowing how long a task actually takes to complete enables you to make good use of your time.
  1. Make yourself accountable. Make a schedule and set up reminders on your phone. Enlist friends/family to make yourself accountable. Accountability partners should not nag, but check in regularly.
  1. Shut down your social networks. Have specific times and limit the amount of time you check into your social networks. It is estimated that most people spend two hours per day on social media. Two hours could translate into more than enough time to accomplish tasks you have been putting off because of lack of time.
  1. Make a list of every single thing you need to do and with deadlines. Don’t judge the items just list them. Take your time doing it and really do a brain dump. Getting things out of your head will help you to not feel so overwhelmed. Next to each thing write down the time you think it will take to do it, be realistic (see step one). Now decide which things really do need to be done, and which can be dropped from the list. Using the deadlines, schedule one task each day to complete. Do the task. Do not over schedule yourself! If you get the task accomplished and want to add another task, add it, but do not try and catch up in a day.
  1. Stop taking on/starting new projects/volunteer work/ extra activates until you compete all your other projects. It always feels good to start a project but finishing feels so much better. Practice saying “I would love to help, but I have too many unfinished projects right now.” Your mileage may vary with this one at your place of employment.
  1. Schedule one hour a day for completing tasks that you hate doing, and just do them. Set a timer and really work for the one hour. Reward yourself when you are done.
  1. Begin. Even if you don’t feel like, even if you are unsure, even if you are afraid of making a mistake, just begin.

Procrastination has such negative effects, do not let it continue to derail your life.  For more about how to get things done in your life and creating a time management plan that is personalized, I recommend this book: Time Management from the Inside Out by Julia Morgenstern

(http://www.juliemorgenstern.com/books/time-management-from-the-inside-out) .

I hope these tips help and as always do the best you can and be kind to yourself.

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Money for the Distracted Book Review: Saving Money with The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese Art of decluttering and organizing

Clutter, stuff, things, what ever you like to call all of the items that magically multiply to fill every inch of your house, attic, garage, basement, shed, and storage units. Clutter eats your money like a hungry dog on a meat wagon. For people with ADD/ADHD clutter is a problem for several reasons. We struggle with decision making, we can always think of ways that said item could be useful, we have so many interests, hobbies, and things we are fascinated by, that we collect things at an alarming rate.
When we become distracted by the next thing, the items are still there from the first thing, or we buy everything we need for a project and then become distracted by another project and never get back to the first project.
Our powers of hyper-focus allow us to work in chaos that would shut most people down, but can lead to the kind of room that is ridiculously over stuffed. It can also be a constant source of friction for others that share our space.
Clutter costs money beyond the initial purchase as we spend money on storage containers for what we bought, re-purchase items that we can not find when we need them, and spend money for storage space for the excess in our lives. Kitchen clutter costs money when you throw out expired canned and packaged goods, and fresh food forgotten in the refrigerator. Clutter is a huge drain on your finances and causes stress. Many people, those with and without attention and impulse issues struggle with clutter.  De-cluttering is like dieting, we all know what we are supposed to do, but damn, it is hard to stick with it, and quick fixes do not work. So, what is the solution?

Enter Mari Kondo, her amazing book The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese Art of decluttering and organizing, and the “Konmari” method of tidying.  Her philosophy and word choice will feel odd to some, as this work is translated from Japanese, but her ideas about getting rid of everything that does not “spark joy” when you pick it up is bang on. She does not believe that following another person’s idea of what you should, or should not discard will ever stick, nor does she believe that rules such as “one in, one out, or one in two out” will work and that in the end you will go back to your cluttered ways.

As someone who has struggled with clutter and collections forever, this book was clear, easy to follow, and gave the best advice: No one but you can decide what is enough of any type of thing, but if it does not “spark joy” it does not belong in you space. As she rightly says, “only you can decide what is enough” and if you want to keep one hundred pairs of shoes it is okay as long as you genuinely love each pair. Unlike some methods of decluttering that have left me feeling like I was forced to discard things dear to me, this method made me feel like I was in control, and that in the end it was my choice and I was very happy and felt like a weight had been lifted when I donated clothes that no longer “sparked joy” to Goodwill.

Ms. Kondo has a set routine for discarding items, moving you from less difficult choices to more difficult ones, starting with clothes, moving to books, and finally everything else in the order she has listed in her book. Unlike other books that recommend that you have someone else touch and hold the item you are considering, she has the person touch and hold their item while asking themselves “Does this spark joy?”.
Her method may seem quirky, but by doing this, I was able to discard half of my wardrobe. Others I have talked to that are following the “Konmari” method have discarded even more. This may sound wasteful but most people only wear about twenty percent of the the clothes they own so this a way to have every outfit you pick up be one that you want to wear, not one that gets pulled out, looked at, and stuffed back in the drawer or closet.

She also has you discard by item, a grand way to see everything of that type you own. This was a little overwhelming but she argues that we have things stored all over and that we really do not know what we own until we get it all in one place.  This will be challenging, as you will need a space to work in that allows you to do this, but in the end it made the process much easier.

Ms. Kondo states that it takes about six months to complete the process of discarding but to the date of publication of her book, she has had no one that needed to repeat the course or who has slipped back into their old ways.

So are you ready to give it a go and start saving money? I started the process over the Memorial Day holiday, and will keep you posted as I progress.

 

New Beginnings

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Each  year I look back at the written list of goals taped to my desk. Some goals are always on the list. That doesn’t mean I didn’t accomplish them, some goals have no end point, such as being a supportive partner and a healthy person. Checking off a big goal always feels great. Looking back over the year and seeing check marks and lines drawn through a goal always makes me smile. I limit myself to ten big goals per year divided between Self, Family, Financial, Health and Community.

I don’t make resolutions, I make plans. Each goal gets broken down in to tiny little baby steps. I don’t get overwhelmed if I make tiny changes. I also know that small changes add up. Each day, I make sure that I have done at least one thing to move me towards my goals. It prevents me from becoming discouraged when life gets complicated. So many people say they want to write but don’t write down their writing goals, fail to make a plan, and then wonder why they don’t accomplish their goal.

If you want to accomplish a goal, make a plan. Break your plan down into small steps. Don’t discount the power of small steps. How small? When the kids were babies and I stayed home with them, if I managed to get 250 words written per day I was very happy. Even 250 words adds up, and keeps you moving forward. It can seem that life is conspiring with evil beings to thwart your best efforts to keep going. A parent becomes ill, a partner has surgery, your kids get sick, you get sick, the dog gets sick, and so it goes.

The key in all of this is to keep moving, as best you can. You might have to stop and take care of your family and yourself, but don’t stop forever. Pick up your notebook and get going again, don’t feel like you have to stop forever because you stopped for a while.

As part of my planning process every three years, my partner and I sit down with a bottle of wine and markers and draw a joint three year plan on poster sized paper. We dream, get silly, drink, and have fun. I post the picture behind the door in my office, right over my big calendar that I talked about in this post about how to keep track of multiple projects

It is not pretty to look at, but when we look back at the old one when it is time to do a new one, it is pretty amazing how much we have accomplished. Why? Because we verbalized what we wanted to do for ourselves and for our family, which means we work together to support each other in our adventures.
It also reminds us what our priorities are, which means we funnel our time, energy, and financial resources into our plans and dreams. Making plans is the difference between accomplishing anything and accomplishing nothing.

People get hung up making plans because they try and force themselves to conform and write a numbered straight list, editing themselves as they go, afraid of writing down what they really want to accomplish.

This year, loosen up, get out your big paper, markers, beverages of your choice, and have fun.
Dream big.

 Have a safe and happy New Year.

Keeping Track: Tips for Managing Multiple Writing Projects

It is not uncommon for me to have at four or five writing projects in progress. The gift of ADHD means that I always have projects. Some are large, long term projects such as developing my editorial calendar, manuscript drafts and edits, others are short such as website content and blog posts, and some fall in between, think short stories and journal articles. Although I love the reminder feature on my Google calendar, as a visual person I have difficulty conceptualizing time when it is represented by little boxes on a computer screen limited to a one month view.

 

Click here for my post on Creative Acts and Self Care

I need to see it all. My solution is a twelve month wall calendar. I like a Write on/ Wipe off type, ever so helpful if deadlines, or project details change.
I know some people are able to just work on one thing, and then move on to their next project, but my mind does not work that way. I need to be able to move to a different project when I get bored with what I am working on, and want to start something new (because new always feels good), going back to another project gives me the same feeling of doing something different, and yet it propels me forward in that task so in the end it all gets done.

Click here for my post on using flat files to keep my big projects organized

I also make notes in each file, listing the next steps to complete the project. For example, word count goals, scenes left to write or rewrite, necessary research, lists of of photographs/ images needed, correspond with a co-author, conduct an interview, follow up on an email, etc. I make these notes at the end of the manuscript and/or on the outline.  What, no outline? Read my post about outlines here. Outlines really are helpful.
I started keeping my Next Steps List when I was working on my master’s thesis. It kept me on track so I could finish my thesis on time, using every second of time I had to work effectively.
A Next Steps List helps in three ways:
1. You know what you need to do next to move toward completing your project and can get right back to work after a break in writing, invaluable with limited writing time.
2. A Next Steps List clears your brain so you can move on and work on other projects without the distraction and worry that you are forgetting something.
3. Crossing out tasks as you finish them is a visual reminder that you are making progress. A visual reminder of your progress helps maintain motivation on long projects.

In addition to my other writing projects, I write this blog and am starting another in February. (Stay tuned for details).  If you are a blogger, or want to be one, the best thing you can do for yourself is to create an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar is simply a calendar that you use to plan posts that you want to write, give them publishing dates and plan your posts. Keep it loose, give yourself permission to change what your post is about if you don’t want to write about that topic that week. Your editorial calendar allows you to plan in advance, gives you a place to park all your ideas for posts, and keeps you focused on your goals for the blog.

Most writers deal with deadlines, family obligations, work, holidays, and travel. Having a long term plan will help you stick to your writing schedule, turn projects in on time, and increase your productivity.  Make a plan. Hatch your dreams. Keep writing.