How Goes the Plan? By Georgie Tennant
I was looking forward to Friday. It had been a hectic week. On Monday, I had driven an hour away to meet an old friend for brunch; no violins required here – this one fell squarely into the ‘leisure’ category – but still, the too-rapidly-passing child-free school hours were consumed. On Tuesday, I attended the church prayer meeting, where I had been asked to share some thoughts on prayer; I enjoyed both preparing and delivering these. The rest of my waking hours were, this time, consumed by setting up and helping at a pancake party to raise funds for Christians Against Poverty, for whom I volunteer. With the children safely in bed at 8:30 p.m, when we finally got back home, it wasn’t much longer before I, too, slipped into a sugar-induced coma. Work filled Wednesday and Thursday in a flurry of lesson planning, covering, after-school revision and marking of Year 11 Mock Exams. And so Friday beckoned.
|I think I enjoyed the pancake race a little bit too much - photo used with permission|
Often, on a Friday, I try to meet up with a friend in need for coffee, or I am the friend in need, meeting up with someone else. On this glorious Friday, however, all I had on my calendar was one, one hour appointment, in the middle of the day. “Finally,” I told myself, “you can get some writing done – like you said you would, on your plan.” Relief kicked in, to alleviate some of the “you have failed to write,” guilt that has a tendency to slither up and wrap itself around me in a suffocating grip. This would be the day.
“How would you feel about making some cakes for the Ladies’ Day?” asked a friend, the night before. I decided it wasn’t too tricky an ask and replied in the affirmative. “I can do that first thing,” I told myself, “still go to my appointment, and write later. All still good.”
Friday dawned and I awoke with one of those revelations that can only be from God to save you serious stress and embarrassment later on – I was on the rota to deliver the teenagers section of the church children’s work on Sunday. How had I not remembered this before? I am not, in any way, a ‘Last Minute Lottie’. I am a ‘Week Before Wanda’ – in fact, a ‘Fortnight Before Florence,’ given the chance. I messaged my friend, with whom I was on the rota; she had forgotten too. We joked about the slightly-too-close possibility that we could have reached Sunday with no plans or resources and I assured her that I would get it sorted. The morning sped past, building a teenager-friendly session on ‘The Armour of God,’ complete with a bag of props and a dodgy song. Baking would have to wait until later. So would writing.
At this point, my brother-in-law messaged with great excitement to tell me he had a new, fancy coffee machine – did I want to pop in to sample it? You can work out for yourself what I should have said and what I actually did. At about 3 p.m, I was knee deep in buttery, floury dishes, willing the shortbread to cook before I had to collect the children from school and get them to a church children’s event at a local soft play (joy of joys on a Friday night), within the hour. Later that night, I lamented my lack of writing, vowing not to make the same mistakes on my next ‘free’ day.
|I think we can all empathise with this Mr Man!|
I’m sure you recognise the scenario; so many of us have children and day jobs and elderly parents, family responsibilities and huge church commitments. We have such great intentions for our writing but never quite seem to pull them off. What can we do about this? How can this change?
At the beginning of the new year, there were a flurry of helpful and inspiring posts about planning our writing (Lucy Rycroft) and sticking with it with resilience (Jane Clamp). Now here we are in March, already a quarter of a way through the year. Perhaps it’s time to check in with ourselves and ask – how am I doing? How is my plan going? God, what do you think about it all?
Taking up Lucy Rycroft’s helpful thoughts, back in January, about making a writing plan, I stole some time in a hospital waiting room, one day, and sketched out a calendar for the month ahead, blocking out and colour-coding events that would take up my time (much to the amusement of the old man opposite, who watched with fascination and called me ‘unusual’ and ‘unique’ for my handwritten methods). The aim, upon completion of such a calendar, was to then block out some writing time, to make sure it happened.
|Help, where is the writing time?!|
My excitement and drive quickly turned to dismay. Looking at all the things that would take up my days, alongside the multitude of other things that would take up my evenings, it was tempting to conclude that I should shelve my writing for at least a decade, by which time the children might just about both be living away, at University or in their first jobs. Anyone who shares my drive to write, however, will know this is not an option – I wouldn’t be able to shelve it for that long without internally combusting! So I set out to fill in some gaps (often amounting to no more than a couple of hours, in reality), with the tentatively scrawled word “writing?” The question mark made me feel better, as if there was a chance it might let me off the hook if it wasn’t looking like an option when the designated days rolled around.
I have found this very small amount of planning (if you can even call it that – “tentative possibility assessment” might be closer to the truth) to have revolutionised my thinking about my writing. Instead of feeling gloomy that weeks might pass, without any real opportunity to write, I’m seizing any small offering of time that looks like it might work. If I see “writing?” in my week ahead, it motivates me to turn off Twitter, hold the hoovering (because, let’s face it, it only looks hoovered for ten minutes anyway!) and turn the “writing-question mark” into “writing – full stop” (OK, I admit, it’s more like “writing-exclamation mark”, as I get a bit over-excited and self-congratulatory). If I succeed in turning the question mark into a full stop, I draw a big box around it and note down next to it what exactly it was that I wrote, as a way of setting up way-markers on the path for myself, so that I can look back and remind myself that I’m doing better than I think I am, whenever I am tempted to metaphorically beat myself up.
I’ve also found that it helps me to plan ahead better. If I have “writing?” on my calendar, I am more likely to think about what I want to write on that day. This is helping me with my wider resolutions for writing, which I sat and pondered and wrote down at the start of the year. Keeping these resolutions (big picture thinking) alongside my smaller-detail, practical thinking, is spurring me on in my writing like never before. I’m still nowhere near where I want to be, or anywhere near up there with those further on in their writing adventure – but I know, with certainty, that these small actions are laying the foundations for many other bricks to be added on top of them, much further down the line.
I end with a guilty confession – I love watching the TV series ‘The Flash,’ made all the more endearing by its bad acting and terrible plot-lines. Leonard Snart, one of the cold-hearted baddies from an early series had a motto that I’m inclined to agree with - "Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan.” In our busy lives, it might be next to impossible to stick with any sort of writing plan – but at least if we have one, in the first place, it will get us moving in the right direction, even if that direction changes later on. After all, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19 v 21. How are your 2019 writing plans going so far? Don’t give up on them. Dig them out and get back to them with renewed fervour. You just don’t know where they might lead.
Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive. She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 8, who keep her exceptionally busy.