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If you aren’t a 12 Week Year follower, you might be surprised to learn that a key element of the 12 Week Year system is, in fact, a 13th week. The 13th week is dedicated to assessing the previous 12 so that you can look at what went well, what didn’t go so well, and identify lessons learned to help you shape your next 12 week plan.
If you’ve been listening to the podcast for any time, or read the book, you’ll know that I have a low opinion of New Year’s resolutions and annual planning. That said, the turning of the year is, without question, a fantastic, maybe even a necessary, time to take stock and to reflect on your writing life. Maybe we could think of it as a 13th month? Whatever you call it, today we’re going to talk about how to conduct an annual review and I’ll share some of my own reflections on 2021 that I’m going to carry with me into 2022.
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Trevor Thrall 0:01
Welcome to the Get your writing done Podcast. I’m Trevor Thrall, author of the 12 week year for writers. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please submit a review wherever you get your podcasts that really helps. And for weekly updates on the podcast and other writing resources, you can subscribe to my newsletter at get your writing done.com. If you aren’t a 12 week year follower, you might be surprised to learn that a key element of the 12 week year system is in fact, a 13th. Week, the 13th week is dedicated to assessing the previous 12 so that you can look at what went well, what didn’t go so well. And identify lessons learned to help you shape your next 12 week plan. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for any amount of time, or if you’ve read the book, you’ll know that I have a low opinion of New Year’s resolutions and annual planning. That said, the turning of the year is without question a fantastic, maybe even a necessary time to take stock and reflect on your writing life. Maybe we could think of it as a 13th month, whatever you call it. Today, we’re going to talk about how to conduct an annual review of your writing. And I’ll share some of my own reflections on 2021. But I’m going to carry with me into 2022.
Okay, it’s annual review time, no, not that kind of annual review. This is the kind of annual review you do for yourself. Not the kind where you have to sit on pins and needles hoping that other people like you, or think you did well or understand your value. No, this is just you, for you. And the 13th week, in the 12 week, year is a time at the end of each 12 week plan to reflect on, you know how you did. And you know, the logic here is pretty straightforward. It’s really hard to reflect on things while you’re in the middle of executing them. You’re just doing you’re not really thinking and sort of taking long view and, you know, sort of cogitating on how you might have been able to do it better, right? When you’re in the middle of things, right? You get a little bit of review at a weekly review, you get a deeper review at the 13th. Week, and you know what went right? What went not so well. You know, how did your embrace of the writers mindset go? Where are some challenges or obstacles that you need to think about how to get around, what sorts of things are going on, right that you want to do more of, you know, in general lessons learned for the next 12 week plan that you’re building. And so the annual review is, is you know, sort of joke, like a 13 month, if you will, a brief chunk of time here that we can take, maybe between Christmas and the New Year, when a lot of people are moving slow or staying at home not working, hopefully you’re on vacation doing something fun, or, or at least taking a bit of a break. And and this is a great time to sort of do a bigger, deeper version of the 13th week review. And the you know, the reason is, you know, it’s interesting, I talk a lot about the fact that, you know, forecasting the future is, is bad. And, and the further out into the future you’re trying to plan, the worse. But in your views are sort of the opposite of that. It turns out that history is kind of the opposite of the future. The further back, you go, sometimes, the better insights you can generate, because you’re able to take a longer view and get a broader perspective, which makes it easier to judge things objectively. It makes it easier sometimes to identify key influences or trends that affected you. And it helps you to sort out competing explanations, things that you might have believed at one point, when you look at them a year later, you realize no, that wasn’t it, it was something else that becomes more clear when the dust is settled, and you’re not in the middle of anymore. And so taking a 13th week approach at the end of the year, which is you know, after all, despite how bad in your plans are, the year is a natural sort of cycle for humans in our society. And, you know, I think the fact that we sort of all make a big deal out of fresh starts in the new year. Right? We’re not gonna make any plans. But it is a great time to reflect and think about where you’ve been and where you’re going. And so we’re going to do that a little differently than some people might have because we’re using the 12 week year. But, again, I think there is all sorts of things we can gain from applying our same 13th week approach to a broad sweeping sort of year in review. So what I want to do in this podcast is just sort of walk through the steps that, that you would take in a 13th week, but we’re going to scale them up to the annual level. And so I think, you know, really, there are
maybe three big, three big parts that that you can sort of separate these things into. And the first piece is just the prep. Right, so we start by gathering all the information, you’re going to need to sort of stew on, right, so because a year, unlike a 12, week, year, a whole year is a lot of things that you know, water under the bridge, things you did, places you went people, you talk to stuff you wrote it, I don’t remember all this until I look back at the calendar remind myself Oh, my Lord, because and that’s really important to do. Because you need to appreciate what you’ve done over the year in context. And I don’t think if you just kind of sweep the top of your mind, you will not have the full context of your year. So I think it is important to look through your calendar, remind yourself of everything you’ve done, maybe sort of take some time and, and meal on a piece of paper, just note to yourself, you know, major events, major trips, major milestones that you that you hit during the year, major challenges encountered major illnesses, setbacks, whatever, whatever those might have been. You know, so get your calendar. And then of course, if you’re a 12, weaker, of course, you want to pull together all your 12 week plans, and your scorecards, and all the materials you have, surrounding your writing, planning, your writing goals, and all that sort of stuff. And if you’re not a 12, weaker, no big deal, just do the same, whatever plans and, you know, tracking materials, you have to sort of pull those together. Again, you know, I challenge you to remember off the top of your head, how many words you wrote last year, for example, or how many chapters or, you know, frankly, how many anything’s just about a year is a long time to remember. So you’re probably going to want to do a little bit of sorting and assembling. You know, get those numbers down. And whichever numbers seem interesting and useful to you in your review process, whether it’s total blog posts, or newsletters, or words written or whatever it might be, get all that stuff down, get your raw materials around you. And you know, and, again, this could be any number of things you can email from work, I mean, whatever, whatever you’re encompassing. In this review, I’m focused mostly on my writing. But, you know, obviously, the annual review process could could cover every aspect of your life. So for whichever aspect you’re doing, assemble, okay, so the prep is out of the way, step one, step two is the big, sort of the big assessment piece. So I call that assessing your writing your step two. And, and this is, you know, it can be as simple or as sort of detailed as you want it to be at the highest level, right? You want to start with what went well, or what went right. What did you do that you’re happy about? What didn’t go right, what didn’t go very well? What did you do? You weren’t very happy with ask yourself, you know, make a sort of bullet list of each of those things and then interrogate? Like, why, what, what went well, when it went, Well, why did things go? Well? What role did you have in making things go? Well? And the same? And or what other factors where other people help things go? Well, and same thing for things that didn’t go? Well? Why didn’t they go? Well? What was your role? What was the role of other things and other people? And you know, our ultimate goal, of course, is to roll those up into lessons learned. But before we quite get to that, so I think first, you know, so make your lists what went right, what didn’t go so well? Start asking yourself why. And then for writers, I think a really important thing to do once in a while, the end of the year seems like as good a time as any, is to reflect on your writing practices and your writing routine. Hopefully, you have a weekly writing routine, or that you identify as such, and then you think of as something to hone and polish and improve over time. And so here are just a few questions. This is obviously something you could sort of take any number of cuts at but just a few thoughts to maybe get you started. You know, one simple question that I’ve had an interesting time, sort of with this year is when did you do your happiest and your easiest writing this past year? Right? What were the conditions? What were you working on? With whom are you working? You know, what time of day, were you working? On this were relocated, you know, it was so. So where and when did you do your happiest or easiest writing? Where it was that flow? easiest to find? And then ask yourself on the flip side, when was your writing the hardest? What was it the least fun when it was the most aggravating, the most frustrating, the least satisfying, right, when where, etc. Right?
Those are important inputs into sort of optimizing, improving things for for the future. And then I think another really important thing to ask ourselves on a fairly regular basis, and again, end of year is really perfect, is how is your work, life writing balance? Refer to previous podcast on this, but I, you know, I don’t think any of us can sustain a happy and productive writing life, if we are out of balance, for any real extended period of time is in any real sort of way, a little bit of imbalance or a temporary imbalance to finish an important project fine. But sort of perpetual unhappiness with the amount of time we are able to spend on the important things to us, I think is a recipe for all sorts of not so good things. And certainly, it’s not good for your writing in the long run. So how is your work, life writing balance these days? And if you’re not happy with it, start making a list of things that you might want to change to improve the balance. Another question that I think is a really important one to ask yourself? Because I think, you know, let me just stop and say that the annual review process is, in some senses an interrogation of yourself, right? You’re trying to learn truths, you’re trying to ask yourself, what are sometimes hard questions? Why didn’t things go the way I wanted to them to? Why didn’t I write as many things as I wanted? Those are important questions. They’re scary questions, maybe a little bit unpleasant to have that conversation with yourself sometimes. But please remember, this is not a one sided conversation. The goal is not just to rag on yourself, and find problems or shortcomings. Nope, we are doing a sort of a full assessment. Things also went well, you need to give yourself credit for those things, too. And one of the questions I think you should ask yourself, is, where did you grow as a writer this year? My feeling is that if you ask yourself that question, and you sort of look through the things you’ve produced over the year, and how you’ve produced them, that you’re likely to be able to answer that you could do in a number of ways as a writer, improve your craft, improve your ability to focus improves your consistency, how many times you showed up for your writing sessions, how much you got done at some of all these things may have grown. And, again, you know, give yourself credit for these things. And think about how you manage to make that growth happen. And think about that, the elements that you want to sort of hold on to and nurture moving forward. Another important piece that’s connected to the growth sort of literally, is, how was your embrace of the writer’s mindset over the past year, if you think about the five different components of the writer’s mindset, accountability, commitment, greatness in the moment, or grit, resilience and growth mindset, you know, if you had to sort of, you know, give yourself an annual score, from zero to 10, you know, or zero is like, wow, I really was terrible at that versus 10. Man, I killed it over the last year, you know, where would you where do you kind of put yourself, and again, this isn’t a judgment of your personhood, or your character, or your quality as a person or value or anything like that, right? This is just information for you, about you, to help you think about where your opportunities for growth are, where the strengths that you have are, that you can really leverage to get moving towards your goals. So I think the mindset question is a really important one, because at the end of the day, as I’ve talked about in a lot of different places, these sort of mental attitudes, mindsets, disciplines are what are going to determine, you know, how effective you are at executing your plans and getting towards what you really want in life. Those are the sort of fundamental building blocks of your, of your writing. And so asking yourself those questions at the end of the year, I think makes a lot of sense. And I guess, you know, whether it’s the last question you ask, or maybe it’s the first question you ask, and then you unpack would just sort of be to say, how do you feel overall, if you had to take your temperature? How do you If someone asked you how you’re ready Last year, like what would you say? Do you get a warm fuzzy feeling? Do you get a sad feeling? Do you get a, you know, what’s the feeling? And then unpack right and asking yourself some of those questions.
If you ask yourself those questions, it may lead you to a more accurate temperature reading. But maybe that’s a good thing. And your God already knows the answer. And you putting that on the paper first would help you you stare at that number, you know, the social scientist me can’t stop. But that would thermometer scales usually zero 100 scale, zeros, you feel very coldly toward something 100 Is you feel very warmly. 50s you’re kind of like me. And you know, if you said how is your writing on a, you know, how do you feel about your writing? how warmly do you feel about your writing on the zero to 100 scale last year? And maybe write that number down? First thing you think of? Don’t? Don’t overthink it? And then stare at it for a bit and say, Why? Why that number? What are the components of that number? And the questions, I just walked through our problem, but some of the things that you could start to use to understand that number. So, you know, what are the things that are going to drive that overall feeling? I think, the big picture stuff, right? Did your writing go? Where you wanted it to go? Did you finish the projects? You were hoping to finish? Did things come out? Were they received the way you wanted them to be? And so on? I think there’s, you know, some pretty obvious reasons for those things, but but there could be others. And so it’s worth sort of having that conversation with yourself, I think. And so, then when you’ve asked yourself these questions about what went right, what didn’t go so well? What are some of the elements of those? What are the causes of things going well, and not so well, in your writing over the past year, you’ve reflected on your writing practices, your routines, and sort of giving yourself an overall sort of vibe of like, when we went, you know, whatever. That’s when I think it’s time to then try to distill your notes into a few lessons. What are some lessons from this past year? Now? Do you have the perspective of the whole year, right, because something that happens in 112 week year, could be something to learn a big lesson from it might not, might never happen again, might have been a weird one off because of the situation. If, however, you look back at, say, three or four different totally plans, and he starts to see a pentimento, you start to see a repetition of some kind of pattern, then you might say, hmm, I see a lesson that can learn from that. I tended to stop showing up at the end of my 12 week plans, for example, might be one or I got stronger, and more consistent in my writing, when I started having writing dates with my group, right? These are things that might not be obvious in the moment, because you’re scrambling, you’re just doing what we all do getting by day to day. But when you take a big picture view, and you sort of just look at the data, these things can sometimes become more clear. So distill your notes into maybe just three, you know, the magic, three, three things, what are the most important sort of things that you can take from this past year that you might then use as you’re writing your next 12 week plan to make sure that goes as well as it can. Okay, so that’s step one, and two, we prepped, we assessed our writing year. And so then we come to the third. And I think most important step of the annual review, and that is what I call vision, affirmation and goal setting. So I think, again, the 13th week, has the vision check, as a as a key piece of the 12 week sort of review. But I do think that the deeper broader perspective that you get, taking a year of experience into account is probably a better test of your vision, if you will, I think you’re going to get a a deeper check of your vision when you when you do it, sort of on less often than 13 weeks. I mean, 13 weeks is great. I think as course correction, right? If you if you get a little off you go, you know, okay, that didn’t feel as good. So let’s tweak 5% 2% I think the course correction, Vision check that you get every at the end of every 12 week plan is important, and very useful. But I think absolutely from time to time, and sometimes these are, you know, the vision conversation can happen at random times triggered by, you know, big events. So, this isn’t the only time of the year you’re gonna do it. But I think most of us have kind of this existential conversation with ourselves at the end of a lot of years anyway because It just seems built into our social psyche to do that. So I
think you can get a really deep vision conversation going with yourself at the end of the year. And I think that’s a very good thing. And I think you want to review, starting at the most fundamental level, your aspirational vision? How are you feeling about? Go read it? And and how does it resonate? Does it still thrill you? Do you still think that is my best me my best life, that’s where I’m headed, I am absolutely confident that that’s where I need to be in 10 or 15 years, whatever the number is, right? And then, and then work that back? You know, given that you’re still excited about that, where do you need to be in the near term? Right? What are the things that need to happen for you to get to where you eventually want to go? And then what does that mean for your writing? Are you you know, and so we’re just, we’re just honing that writing vision to make sure that it’s going to get you where you really, really want to go in the most strategic effective way that you can imagine getting there. And then, you know, of course, that should produce a pretty good compass for what to write. And what’s the next thing to right. So the trick at the end of the year, I find, and I don’t know about you, but you know, I’ve been at many, a New Year’s party, where people will maybe in their cups just a little bit. But you’ll just hear these vision conversations pop off. At the end of the year, people are in I think, reflective moods at this time of year, time of year. And and I think you hear what you commonly hear is a lot of thinking about that vision. And thinking, you know, I’m not sure I’m pointing in the right direction. And I don’t know if I would say it’s more that people realize that they haven’t fully allowed themselves to embrace the vision they really want. I think, you know, unfortunately, people often close off doors for they think they shouldn’t they think they can’t they think people won’t approve moral reasons, whatever it might be they they close off aspirational visions that would really excite them. And I think you sometimes hear that at New Year’s parties. I really want to do what I wish I could do you hear that a lot. The other thing that I hear a lot at these sorts of things is people who know what they want, who think that they should get there someday, but haven’t figured out how to align their daily actions with getting there, like they don’t actually have a strategy. And so, you know, whichever those you might find out having this conversation is true for you. If one of those two things is true that one is, you know, you’re looking at your aspirational vision, you realize, oh, that doesn’t feel right anymore. Or, you know what, here’s my aspirational vision. That’s it. But you know what, I haven’t really, I haven’t really figured out a strategy to get me there yet. Like, I’m writing things, okay. But like, I’m going in circles, I’m not really getting toward the goal I’m shooting for. And that can be true for so many reasons, right? And this is the time of year to think about why they are Why are those real? Why are you not doing what? Why are you not moving the direction you want to be moving? Right. And again, no judgment. We all, we all find ourselves in that position more than once in our lives many times in our lives. And that’s why it’s so important to sit down, have this conversation with yourself. And I think end of the year is a fantastic time to do it. So ask yourself, right? Am I pointing in the right direction? Do I spend time every day or every week? Doing the things with my writing that are going to move me where I’m trying to get? And if not? Why not? Why don’t we need to do about that? And what should I be doing in the next 12 weeks to get on track? So first, you have that vision conversation with yourself. You either affirm your vision or you revise that vision. And now’s the time to do that. And to the extent your vision changes, of course, you know, that’s going to work its way through your near term vision and goals and your writing goals and your maybe your next writing project will change. And if that’s all true, then you’re going to need to take time to figure out how to translate those new visions and goals into a new set of 12 week goals for your very next 12 week plan. So, you know, I think for a lot of people, it can be a very good idea to rejigger your 12 week schedule,
so that you can launch a new 12 week year at the start of the new year, whatever sort of day in early January would make most sense for you to take advantage of the sort of the pivot around the channel. calendar, I think it can give us it’s like National Novel Writing Month. But for everyone, right, everyone gets to turn the page to January, it’s a brand new year, it’s a great mental time to start a new 12 week plan. So, you know, if you want to curtail your 12, we plan, do a 13th week here in the last week of the year, and come out with your next 12 week plan in early January, just really on fire, because you’ve reaffirmed your vision, you’ve reconnected your actions to your vision, you’ve set out some just really exciting 12 week goals for this next 12 weeks, this would be a great time to do that, you have my permission to to read your your restart your plans, at the beginning of January in order to take advantage of, of sort of the general excitement we all feel about the new year. So that’s, you know, in a nutshell, that’s how I do my own annual review process. And it’s nothing rocket science II, but I think it’s, you know, super, super useful. And so, you know, I thought I’d just share a few reflections of my own about the year that has just been 2021. And some of the lessons I’m carrying into my next 12 week plan, which will start mid January. You know, I had a pretty a pretty big year as it goes because in it was this year early in the spring. And may I finished the the book, the 12 week year for writers sent it off to the publisher, and then spent, you know, a couple of weeks here and there over the summer, doing copy edits, and approving, you know, the last final proofs and stuff like that. The book was then published in September, and the website that I made for the book went live in sort of, I think, late August, which is when I also started this podcast. And I held several Quickstart workshops in the fall, started our weekly writing groups. Basically, it was a pretty busy camper. And you know, this, this isn’t just another book on my list of things I’ve written this is it really represents a new, a new start in a lot of ways for me, because it is sort of the the pillar of my of my side hustle. If you will, they get your writing done, calm side hustle. And so I put a lot into it. And I’m super excited that the book is finally out in the wild, and that it’s being well received and that people are giving me feedback that they’re finding it useful is pretty, pretty awesome. So you know, in that sense, I have to say, my overall vibe, very positive for 2021. Not does not mean that everything went perfectly well. I didn’t get a lot of other things written beyond things for 12 year for writers. And associated stuff. I didn’t get very much academic work done that. That was a that was a known trade off. I knew that was going to happen. But but that was sort of something that didn’t go Yeah, I wouldn’t say it went well, it went sort of roughly as planned. But but I didn’t get maybe quite as much done as I thought I might on the margins. And then I also didn’t get a self paced online course version of the book done as I had hoped by the end of the year. And that will tie into one of my lessons learned. But I was in fact very busy over the fall. Because the book launch right at the beginning of fall semester. And fall semester. If you’ve heard me complain about beginning of semesters, that is a terrible time. timewise time crunch wise for professors. So I was super busy. And perhaps more predictably than I realized, I did not have enough time to execute my fairly stripped down 12 week plan for the fall. So, So lessons learned, I think I will share three things that I have that I have learned about writing and things from this past year. The first and the first is that even veterans of the 12 week year like myself, can can make poor plans. If they don’t assess their time commitments, realistically, accurately, honestly, and create a model week that that is a
accurate reflection of the world as you’re going to experience it over your 12 week plan. Like i said i I only had one one project in my 12 week plan this fall so you know a plus Focus. But on the other hand, I get about an F for execution because I got about 7% of the project done this fall, despite my best efforts to do find time to, you know, make it happen. There just wasn’t. And, you know, I mean, I don’t beat myself up too much for it from the fact that I was always doing something more important than it, I wasn’t procrastinating, I wasn’t wasting time on silly stuff or doing things that were less important. There were more things, busy business related things to do WRITE RECORD than I had imagined. And so, you know, like I said, I don’t, sort of, I’m not sad about any of the work I did do. But what I should have done better. And, you know, looking forward, I will try to do better is to take any guesstimate I have of how much work, a new project, especially a new initiative is going to be, and I will just triple it as my best guess of how much time it’s gonna take me because that would have been a lot more accurate. And I would have been much more modest in my 12 week goals. Had I done that. So so my first lesson learned is an oldie but a goodie, which is you don’t have as much time as you think you do. Second Second lesson comes from asking myself the question, when was my happiest and easiest writing over the past year. And that’s an easy one. My easiest and happiest writing has been writing the book, and doing the podcasts and, and it really crystallized something for me that I have known for some time, that as I’ve gotten older, I have my the thrill of the, of the hunt, for me, with academic writing has kind of cooled, I’m still fascinated by learning things. But I kind of think writing is kind of a peculiar beast, it’s a bit of a straight jacket, from a stylistic standpoint. But more importantly to me, you know, and, and I’ve done it a bunch. So it’s just not as exciting as it used to be for me. But more importantly, I find that as a professor, my, the things that give me the greatest satisfaction, are is working with students, and especially helping them get to where they want to go, a lot of which involves helping them with conceiving, and executing their big writing projects. And so, for me, these days, the happiest and easiest writing, talking, thinking, communicating I do is about helping people, right. So, for me, the way that lesson is going to translate moving forward is pretty simple, is that I’m going to keep keep leaning into things like that, that I’m enjoying. And I will probably keep backburner during, you know, extra academic writing that I don’t really feel the need to do anymore. So I won’t do none, but, but I will probably, you know, lean into the helping side of my profession more as I as I move along. So that’s lesson two. And then lesson three, it has been a really fun one. And that is I look back and ask myself, you know, where have I grown as a writer over the last year. And you know, for one thing, you know, I, I’ve done a lot of non academic writing over the past 20 years, mostly in my entrepreneur sort of role in various companies. But I never wrote a whole book of non academic writing. And so I learned a ton about how to do that, how to do it halfway decently. Some things not to do, and I learned a bunch about that. So I felt I grew in my sort of my craft, which was awesome. But sort of even more importantly, to me, as a writing coach, as a teacher of writers,
I have learned a ton about how to write, how to write productively from engaging a very broad group of writers this year, broader than I’ve ever engaged before. You know, I’ve dealt with many, many writers, but in general at the university, I’m dealing with people in an academic setting, who are writing one of a few sort of forms of writing, you know, the essay, the term paper, the thesis, the dissertation. And, you know, one thing I have learned is that most of the problems that writers have, they have on every kind of project, they’re the same, they’re not really all brand new problems anywhere you look. But so that’s one thing I actually learned. But another thing thing, you know, but but but now that I’m sort of talking to writers about all kinds of writing, some people writing business books, some people writing fiction, all sorts of things. I have got an and in addition, I’m talking to people on a regular basis about their own strategies for dealing with things and their own challenges to, you know, implementing those strategies and teaching the 12 week year, I am learning about how people learn the 12 weeks. So I am I am one of the things I have learned from the past year is how much learning I still have to do, about how people write and how people become a more productive writer. I know a lot about those things. But I do not know nearly all that I want to know. Because this past year has taught me that there’s a lot I don’t know yet. So that’s been an exciting lesson. And, you know, the easy translation for me about that is I, you know, baked into every sort of 12 week plan for me. And really just the weekly running of this business is to continue engaging writers of all kinds, and asking them about how they do their thing, and trying to learn from that and learning how, how they can, how best to help people become the writers they want to be. So overall 21 Give two thumbs up. I’m very excited about what’s coming in 2020 to look forward to sharing another great year with everyone. And specifically, I’m looking forward to next 12 weeks because that’s where it’s going to happen. So I hope your in your review goes. Well. I hope it’s constructive and productive. And until we meet again next week, in the New Year. Happy writing.