I used to work in consulting as a project manager, so I should know this:

Life is easier with a plan.

Without a plan, all those tasks you should be remembering start churning in your head. Together they become a bigger cloud and soon enough, you’re stressing out about all the things you should be doing.

That’s exactly what was happening to me yesterday. I have been steadily working on producing my second book.

It will be a guide on how to write family history into compelling stories,

based on my experience writing Jumping Over Shadows, as well as my many years of teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago, and the many workshops I have held on the same topic.

The book will, by the way, feature illustrations to lighten the tone. Here’s a sneak peek:

Illustration by Wei Lu

Last week I sent my manuscript feedback to my copy editor. Since then I have been immersing myself in Mark Dawson’s excellent Self Publishing 101 course, as this book will come out under my own steam! To get a feel for Mark Dawson’s work, check out the Self Publishing Show if you’re interested. It’s become my ritual to listen to this podcast while preparing our Shabbat dinner every Friday afternoon as it conveniently comes out on Fridays.

Self Publishing 101 provides step-by-step instructions on how all this works, but there’s still a lot to remember. So last night, after I’d finished the modules on Amazon’s KDP, I felt overwhelmed with details.

All the various things that need to be tackled started swirling in my head:

  • talking to my accountant about a TIN
  • procuring an ISBN myself or not
  • writing a book description or farming it out
  • preparing a cover brief
  • researching comparative titles
  • compiling metadata and categories, etc.

This morning, thankfully, my old project manager self piped up: “Let’s make a plan!” SPF 101 does provide checklists, and I used those as a base, but

I need to make my own timetable to feel comfortable.

So I created a table in Word, printed out the project plan from my first book as well as the SPF checklist, spread out my wall calendar and got to work. Two hours later, I had a running list of tasks with time intervals and due dates.

A plan is beautiful thing!

It helped me see that this week I only had to tackle one more thing. Everything else can wait until after we are done seeing our youngest off to college next week. And, I am happy to report that this exercise even helped me come up with a realistic publication date for Book No. 2: early November 2019!

Furthermore, there’s a certain magic to writing things down: They loose their confusing power in your mind!

I have also noticed that if I think about my daily schedule in the morning and write it down in my little black notebook, I am far more likely to have a productive day.

However, I had to back myself into a corner and get stressed out before I realized I had to make a plan for this book production. I am amazed that I had gotten this far in a major project by winging it. That’s probably because until now I was only dealing with manuscript stuff, which I was familiar with from Book No. 1.

But now I’m venturing into new territory, and for that I need a plan to feel in control.

So, next time you stress out over something, ask yourself if you might need a plan. I will try to remember that myself. Otherwise, tasks that float around in my head can become dangerously daunting.

On a piece of paper tasks have their place, with their due date, and we can all calm down and tackle things one after another…