My 400th Post: On Planning, Flexibility, and Commitment in Blogging and in Life

To my surprise, this is my 400th post, which seems worthy of mention. I last wrote about blogging in any detail on my 250th post, on July 28, 2014, about a year and a half ago. I write two posts every week—a schedule I have now maintained for almost four three years—so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I wrote 150 posts in about a year and a half, but I was. At this rate, I’ll hit Post 500 about the end of 2016.

In my 250th post, I commented that blogging has taught me how to write to a deadline and to write regularly, even if the quality is not always consistent. And in an earlier post, I discussed the need to plan one’s blog posts in advance.

I haven’t learned much new about blogging since writing those earlier posts. But today I want to reemphasize the importance of planning, flexibility, and commitment.

Of course, planning, flexibility, and commitment are important in all aspects of life. But blogging has reaffirmed the criticality of these three traits for me.

I do have a plan for my blog—topics I want to cover every month, from family to history to writing. I even have a schedule for when I’ll post about which topic. I don’t always follow the plan, but I have it to fall back on if I need it.

Still, I find it works best when I keep my plan loose—that’s where flexibility comes in. Sometimes I stick to the plan. Sometimes life and death and the world get in the way, and there is something more important to write about than what the plan says. I try to maintain the flexibility to write the posts that demand to be written.

calendar clipartThe most important aspect of my blog to me is my commitment to have some post go live every Monday and Wednesday morning.

When I travel, I try to write ahead, so there is a post waiting for each Monday and Wednesday that I’m away. Sometimes I schedule my posts three or four weeks in advance. But then, if I have a more timely idea, it’s harder to make myself adapt. Writing ahead maintains my commitment, but hurts my flexibility.

So my planning, flexibility, and commitment all work together to provide the posts you see each week. I find this is true in many other endeavors—both in my other writing, and in other aspects of life (even in preparing to file my tax returns and other detested tasks).

But there are still many posts I dash off the night before they must appear for readers. (You can’t tell which those are, can you? I hope not. At least, not always.) On those occasions, I’ve kept my commitment, but my plan failed, and often so did my flexibility.

Even planning, flexibility, and commitment don’t always assure high quality. Once again, this also is true about all aspects of life, from writing to cooking to managing a staff.

Believe it or not, this is not one of the posts I am writing the night before you read it. I’ve thought about this one. For about a week. I drafted it days ago. And I’ve edited it. It’s better now than the first draft, but far from the most compelling post I’ve written. Some days—and weeks—are like that.

Here are a few of the most read posts from this blog thus far:

Life Without Electricity

Haunting Book: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

Whitman Mission

My Mother’s 80th Birthday: The Meaning of Decades and of Days

Christmas Traditions in the Late 1840s

Fellow bloggers, how do planning, commitment, and flexibility play into your posts?

What Is Story (Redux)? . . . And a Sense of Urgency

My first post on this blog went live in January 2012, but I didn’t start a regular posting schedule until March of that year, so I consider March my blog’s anniversary. This blog is now three years old.

I deliberately set the blog’s theme “Story and History” to be broad enough to let me write about almost anything I wanted. My first post was titled “What is Story?” and began:

This blog is about story and history — my story, the stories in my historical and contemporary writing, and the stories of the world as it was and is.

How am I doing on my plan to write about my story, the stories in my writing, and the stories of the world around me?

My posts deal much more with my family than I anticipated, and less about my writing and about the world as I see it (though I’ve covered a lot of Oregon Trail and Gold Rush history in my posts).

Perhaps I focus on family because of what I’ve had to deal with over the last three years—my mother’s decline due to Alzheimer’s, her death last summer, and my father’s sudden death in January. Perhaps I’ve focused on family because to tell my story necessitates that I write about the people who made me the way I am—which began with family. My story requires writing my own history.

Perhaps I don’t write about my writing, because the last few years have been a struggle to feel productive as a writer. I’ve been on too many boards and committees, and I’ve had too many family issues to spend the creative time writing that I want.

Nevertheless, I have accomplished certain goals in the last three years. When I began this blog, I had not yet published a novel. I accomplished that life goal in late 2013 (under a pseudonym).

Now my goal is to publish at least two more novels—the two on the Oregon Trail and California Gold Rush that I have drafted. I am confident I will meet this goal, though my timeline has been much slower than I had hoped.

MC900149882As I wrote on January 28 of this year, I am editing my first Oregon Trail novel again, hoping to whip it into publishable shape. I am proud to report that as of last week, I had edited about 60% of it for my critique group, and I’ve got it below 130,000 words. (I’d like to end up around 120,000 words, but I think it’s going to be 125,000 or so.)

My critique group has been through a little more than a third of the book. As soon as I finish my edit for them, I’ll go back to incorporate their comments into the novel. I still hope to have all that done by Labor Day.

The good news is that as I edit I still like the book. The bad news is I still have a lot of work to do.

I have a greater sense of urgency now than I did three years ago. As I said, my father died suddenly in January. My husband had a good friend who was in his early sixties who died later that month. Last week one of my critique group partners died after open-heart surgery.

We know not the hour.

And yet, we plan as if we have time. Life is a balance between striving for more and being ready.

In March 2012, I wrote about achieving our dreams by telling our stories. I haven’t achieved my dreams yet, but I will continue to tell my stories.

I wrote in another post in March 2012:

My challenge to you today is to ask yourself:

— What is your future story?

— What do you want your life to be in five or ten years?

I leave you with these same questions again today.

Change in Plans—In This Blog as in Life

I had a humorous post lined up for today, but I learned Monday night that my father had passed away suddenly. You may remember that my mother died on July 4. He had missed her terribly for the last six months. He told me after Christmas that it was the first Christmas in sixty-six years they had not spent together—the first Christmas since they were fifteen.

Now they are together again.

So humor isn’t at the top of my list today, and I’ve had to come up with something else to say. But it is too early. Too soon. It will take me awhile to come to terms with his death. We had grown very close in the past several years.

In the meantime, as I process his passing, I am traveling to be with my brother and sister, making lists and more lists of things to do and people to contact. Death has once again caused me to be in central planning mode. Together we will get through our loss, and perhaps find strength and compassion from it.

Here are a few of my favorite posts about my father:

Thomas Claudson, rest in peace.

Tom Claudson picture

My father, Thomas Claudson

Sticking to Goals as a Writer (and Not)

MP900302968I had a boss once who always knew what percent of the year had already passed – it was roughly 2% per week, a little more than 8% each month. He would cite the percentage down to a fraction.

I’ve come to adopt that attitude, as I watch time and life slip through my hourglass. What have I accomplished? I ask myself each week. Have I moved 2% along the path I set for myself back in January?

Even in retirement, I set myself goals each year, just as I used to set goals for my staff and myself when I worked a corporate job. I set goals for writing, for mediating, for my volunteer work, for time spent with family. Some of my goals are unlikely high-bars – like publishing two books this year – and some are more easily achieved – like attending my writing group meetings regularly.

This year it has been difficult to stick to my writing goals. When one is one’s own boss, it is too easy to let events intervene, to rationalize putting things off. There was my daughter’s injury, the time it took to get myself off one volunteer board (although that was one of my goals, and it did get accomplished), ongoing projects on a couple of other boards, preparing and filing my federal, state and local tax returns (which each year consumes most of March and half of April).

Before I knew it, it was the end of April. One-third of the year gone.

Daily OrganizerWhat have I done on my writing goals in those four months? I’ve written 45-50 blog posts (averaging about 600 words/post), most of them for this blog, but also for two other blogs I work on. I’ve written a couple of short pieces, edited 200 pages of a novel (which still needs more work before I can publish it), and planned and executed one group book-selling event.

Carolyn See Literary Life coverAs I posted last year, in Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, Carolyn See says to write 1000 words five days a week. I certainly have not met that goal this year.

One year, when I was doing the first draft of a novel, I kept a spreadsheet of words written each day. I probably stuck to my writing plan the best that year.

But when most of my writing work is editing, it is harder to count words. Carolyn See has an answer for that – edit for two hours/day. On days I edit, I probably work for an average of two hours.

But the problem is that I don’t write or edit every day. My days are broken up with too many meetings – just like when I was working. It is too easy to justify not working, if I only have an hour free till my next obligation. And that is my downfall!

I used to laugh at myself and say I wanted to be a recluse when I retired. Perhaps that is the answer. Chuck all the organizations in which I participate. And yet, each time I think about the organizations with which I’m involved, I talk myself out of dropping them. I agonize about them for months before deciding that one must go.

I tell myself it is all about self-discipline. And it is.

I could write every day, if I just quit reading so much. But I won’t. Or if I gave up trying to exercise regularly. But my husband, a fitness fiend, won’t let me do that.

There should be time for it all. But there isn’t. (Well, there would be, if I had the self-discipline. If I used those hours here and there between meetings.)

No matter what you do, you can never catch up, and you can never get ahead. Those were the lessons I learned from Carolyn See. Every week, 2% of the year slips away, never to return.

And that’s why self-discipline is so important. So I’ll work harder at it. I promise.

Do you set yourself goals? How are you doing this year?

Central Planning . . . or Planning Central

I’ve written before about my planning abilities. They are being severely taxed this week, as we gather the family for my father-in-law’s funeral.

Throughout the week, we are coordinating the arrival at the Kansas City airport of my two adult children, and my husband’s sister and her husband, cousin, niece and her husband (with two toddlers), and two nephews.  They are arriving from Boston, Missoula, Richmond, Seattle, Spokane, State College, and Washington (D.C.).

That list is in alphabetical order by city of origin. I have another list by estimated time of arrival, cross-referenced with which vehicle and driver will pick up which passenger(s) to convey them to the small town in central Missouri where the funeral will take place, and whether they need an intermediate layover at our house.

(And, of course, the list also describes how we will reverse the process after the funeral.)

I have become obsessed with these lists. Something to focus on in a difficult time. My husband is traveling and can’t get home until Friday, and I want him to feel good about the arrangements the rest of us are making for his father. So I am compensating by becoming Secretary of Transportation.

But I don’t mind. I’ll handle travel.

And let someone else deal with the sleeping arrangements. Managing the logistics of age, gender, and marital status is worse than taking on air traffic control responsibility.

The Pitfalls of Planning

I am a really good planner and organizer. I don’t say this boastfully, but as a matter of fact.

I keep a detailed to-do list, complete with due dates and timeframes. I schedule work time on my calendar, with specific things to finish in each block of time. I relish checking off accomplished tasks, and I’ve been known to add new tasks simply for the pleasure of marking them complete. I keep track of family obligations, and what others around me need to get done, so that I can “remind” them of their responsibilities.

Now comes the whining: I hate it. I hate being the one who always has to plan. I hate being the one who schedules, then nags to make sure the schedule is kept.

But I have to do it, because no one else steps forward to do it. Or rarely does. Or doesn’t do it soon enough to suit my tastes.

When our kids were at home, my husband used to sit at the breakfast table reading the newspaper on Saturday morning until I asked, “What are we doing this weekend?”

“You tell me,” was his response, always offered with a small grin, as if he had been waiting for my question and knew I couldn’t help asking. Which was true.

And when he said “You tell me,” I did.  I outlined all the kid activities and work time we needed to fit into the two days and asked him to choose which of the many chores he wanted to do. I corrected him when he made illogical choices (like being two places 30 minutes apart that took an hour to drive between), and then presented him with the POW (Plan of the Weekend, in Hupp family terminology).

What irritated me the most was that he was perfectly capable of planning. He could do it for the Naval Reserve units he led. For them, he developed a detailed and precisely formatted POD (Plan of the Day in Navy terminology), including uniform of the day, Navy history esoterica, and other information pertinent to the efficiency of a well-conducted drill weekend.

But he didn’t seem to like planning. So on weekends when he was home, he sat back and waited for me to raise the issue of the POW. Which I would do every Saturday morning by 9:00am. Usually by 8:00.

I think my inability to avoid planning comes from my Myers-Briggs profile – I am a strong T and an off-the-charts J.  The T characteristic means I’m logical and rational, as opposed to emotional and sensitive.

The J characteristic means everything must be decided. And for an off-the-charts J, it must be decided NOW.

I simply can’t wait for other people to make the decisions, so I do it.

I recognize that means I’m not always the nicest person around. So be it. If my J tendency is satisfied, I’m happier.

But sometimes it gets tiresome. Because when I am responsible for making the decisions, that means I’m responsible for making GOOD decisions.

And for making everyone else happy. Strong TJs on the Myers-Briggs scale don’t really care about making people happy. But they do care about accountability. So I become accountable for happiness.

I spent a week-long vacation with my sister once. I thoroughly enjoyed it, in part because she planned half the days’ activities. And she was pretty fast about it.

We weren’t close as children; there were both too many and not enough years between us. But now I wish I could spend more time with her, because she could take over some of the planning. I think we could keep each other happy.

And now this blog post is written. One more thing I can check off my to-do list.