Posted On January 1, 2010 by Print This Post

Calming the Chaos: Planning Your Writing and Personal Life

Writers often spend a great deal of time inside their own heads. Wonderful, if your head is full of comfy beach chairs, frothy drinks and plenty of coconut sunscreen. Unfortunately, my head tends to be full of dark manholes, snarled socks and upside down spreadsheets. In graduate school, one assignment required me to simulate a model of my thinking process. I used a Chutes and Ladders game board. Need I say more? Thought not.

So how do we take all that twisty-turny stuff cruising through our gray matter and make sense of it? We’re writers, so we write it down. Some of you may be groaning, but I’m a list lover. When I feel overwhelmed, a list is better than a handful of Xanax any day (okay, ALMOST any day).

This year, after spending almost four months on the other side of the world from my son and husband, I desperately needed to bring my life back into focus. So I sat down and listed out the main categories in my life: Writing, Writing Business, Volunteering, Professional Development, Personal, and Other Work. Then I created a new outline template in Word (no worries – you don’t have to be this insanely anal) that allowed me to break down projects and tasks under each of these categories. No need to create the same lists over and over again. Each month, I save over a new template copy and fill in the details. Then I leave a few open project and task spaces for those responsibilities that inevitably crop up. If a task needs further break down, the outline form makes it a snap.

My monthly planning outline is usually around three pages, and I clip those pages together and place them at the front of the three-ring binder I use as my daily desk planner. I then reference the outline two or three times a week to make sure I haven’t forgotten something significant.  My 2010 year outline is a little longer, and I’ve linked to a sample outline in case you’re interested in modeling your own after mine.

Here’s to calming the mental chaos in the New Year! (Toasting you with a frothy drink!)

Kelsey’s Bio:

Kelsey Browning is a Romance University founder and faculty member. She writes contemporary and paranormal romance with a hint of southern sizzle. In her former life, she worked at one of the ten largest universities in the U.S., raising money and teaching students how to land their dream jobs. These days she pursues her dream job of freelance and fiction writing, which provides excellent benefits such as unlimited coffee and an office dress code that permits flip flops. Originally from Texas, she now lives in the Middle East with her husband, son and seriously spoiled dog. She’s currently at work on the first book in a new series. For more information, please visit

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19 Responses to “Calming the Chaos: Planning Your Writing and Personal Life”

  1. Kelsey, thanks for the great post. Now I know why our RU meeting agendas are so detailed!

    I’m not this organized, but I do try. I have notebooks for each story I’m working on and one for RU, which contains all our operating procedures. Yes, folks, there are a lot of procedures and processes we must know and be consistent with in order to keep RU running smoothly. 🙂

    Kelsey even created a style guide for our posts, so that they’re all uniform. And Adrienne maintains direct contact (aka consistent) with our monthly columnists (CJ, Wayne and Theresa), so they aren’t shuffled around to the three of us.

    Have I mentioned lately how proud I am of my blogmates? Not only are they great business partners, they’re wonderful critique partners and the best friends a girl could have.

    I’m raising my cyber champagne glass to Adrienne, Kelsey, our guest bloggers and our wonderful readers – here’s to an even more enlightening and entertaining year at RU!! Hugs to everyone!


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 1, 2010, 8:35 am
    • Trace –

      I got a tad teary-eyed reading your comment. As you know, 2009 was a hard year for me personally, but I can’t tell you how thankful I am for you and Adrienne. You guys kept me sane when the rest of my world wasn’t.

      Thank you to both of you for being such amazing blogmates, business partners and CPs. Man, did I get lucky that day when I sat with Theresa in SF!

      2010 is going to be an amazing year for Romance University, our readers, our VPs and us!

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 1, 2010, 12:14 pm
  2. I love your outline idea. I’ve been working on something similar myself for 2010. Like you I have my writing, my writing business, my partnership with another writer, and my personal life. I may have to give your idea a try.

    Posted by Julie Shumway | January 1, 2010, 8:42 am
    • Julie –

      If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for new ideas to incorporate into your own. We’d love to hear more about your planning technique. I love the idea of your partnership as a “big rock” in your plan. I think Romance University probably needs a title section in my outline, too!

      Happy new year!

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 1, 2010, 11:07 am
  3. I love this! Kelsey, thanks for sharing your sample outline. This is exactly what I need to stay organized and focused especially when life gets busy. My old system using a software program called– Stickies (post it notes) isn’t working for me.

    Happy New Year! 🙂

    Posted by Kim Cresswell | January 1, 2010, 9:59 am
    • Kim –

      My organizational strategies are ever-evolving depending on the current status of my life. That being said, this outline is a little different from other techniques I’ve used in the past. A couple of other organization favs of mine are using a sticky note for those big to-do items that can’t be accomplished in one day. That way, I can move the sticky from day to day or week to week.

      Also – I love the plastic expandable file folders you can buy at Target/Wal-Mart. I use them to organize different areas of my work and life. For example, I keep all my personal paperwork in one with sections like: Bills, To Balance (statements, etc.), Travel, School (info for my son) and the always popular Misc!

      Have a happy (and chaos-free) new year!

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 1, 2010, 11:01 am
  4. holy cow…i had no idea i was so chaos oriented…lol…currently my organizational system consists of a piece of notepaper, a new one every day…i cross something off when i get it done. If I don’t get it done it goes to the top of the list the next day and so on….and then I shove them in my back pocket and forget they’re there…lol….maybe it’s time to add this to my resolutions list!


    Posted by carrie | January 1, 2010, 2:09 pm
    • Carrie –

      Nah – I say if the system ain’t broken, don’t “fix” it. Everyone has a different process, and some people would get WAY too bogged down trying to use mine. Sometimes the simplest system is absolutely the best!


      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 2, 2010, 12:41 am
  5. Hi Kelsey,
    Great post! I’m always looking to organize more efficiently. Like you, I’m a fan of expandable files, and like Tracey, I keep notebooks for my writing. With a full time job, family, taking care of my self with exercise, professional development, and last, but certainly not least, writing and the associated “business” tasks related to writing, my life is hectic. My goal for 2010 is balance and hopefully, a little more sleep : )


    Posted by Victoria Gray | January 1, 2010, 2:44 pm
    • Victoria –

      I’m a big believer in getting enough sleep. I think sleep can absolutely mean the difference between a productive day and a bust. (I type this on about four hours of airplane sleep last night. :))

      Balance is such a slippery, elusive concept. Although we’ve had 2-3 VPs talk on the subject, I can see this topic being a favorite time and time again.

      Happy new year!

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 2, 2010, 1:59 am
  6. Happy New Year!

    I’m going to jump into the lovefest here and say how much Kelsey and Tracey have come to mean to me. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by smart, caring women that will drag me across the finish line when I’m feeling like I can’t get there myself.

    Kels, I love the outline. It’s so you. LOL. And, in case anyone was wondering, Kelsey usually does the agenda for our RU meetings. I’m going to give the outline a try. I keep my “To Do” items in seperate folders for my day job, RU, Writing and Misc. It’s the only thing that helps keep it all straight.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 1, 2010, 3:49 pm
    • Adrienne –

      The good news is that among the three of us, we’re able to keep RU on track. In fact, that might make a good future post – organizational strategies for running a group blog.

      I’m going to work on my outline and to-do lists today, which makes me so happy! Guess that makes me more than a little sick as well, huh?


      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 2, 2010, 2:33 am
  7. I’m a HUGE fan of lists, although I’m finding it harder to keep track of WHERE my lists are! LOL

    The past few months I’ve been keeping myself organized by using the calendar feature in Hotmail. I usually add those “don’t want to forget” items that usually skitter across my brain when I’m in the midst of something else. If I want to enter a contest, I can put that on the calendar too, since it has a whole year on the thing, just waiting to be filled up!

    I can have it send me a reminder email about it (cuz I’m ALWAYS checking my email to see which query is getting an answer!). I can also change the date easily if the task doesn’t get done, and it can be seen in a list format, like an agenda.

    So far, so good. And no little hastily written notes for me to lose!

    Happy New Decade to everyone!

    Posted by Donna Cummings | January 1, 2010, 5:34 pm
    • Donna –

      If I had a nickel for every time I’ve left my grocery list at home…well, let’s just say I’d never have to worry about Social Security paying out in my old age.

      I’m not familiar with Hotmail, but it sounds like you’re making great use of its functionality. I’ve long been a MS Outlook gal, but I keep discovering ways to make it work better for me. I use the calendaring function, but even more than that, I use the task function to keep to-do items at the forefront of my brain. One aspect I love about Outlook is that I can drag an email message straight over to tasks and it creates a task I can change the dates on and set alerts (reminders) on. Now – if I just would stop ignoring when the darn tasks turn red (which means they’re over due!).

      Hope your 2010 is all you wish and more!

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 2, 2010, 2:38 am
  8. Great advice, Donna! I’m using the iCal feature on my Mac and it’s helping me keep track of where I’m at in the process with our guest bloggers. I didn’t think about using it for contests.

    Will have to add that to the LIST!

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 1, 2010, 6:25 pm
  9. You three could win an award for creating and running one of the best group blogs for writers. Professional. Pertinent. Perky. 😉

    Kelsey — Love your blog — and your Monthly Planning Outline. I would like to add it (and your blog) to a Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors lecture. Of course, I would credit you. Please let me know if I have your permission.

    Kelsey, Adrienne, and Tracey — Perfect timing. I added a section to DSDB — IF YOU BLOG, DON’T SLOG.

    I covered the blog management aspects of reading and responding to blogs, running solo blogs, and guest blogging. Would you three consider writing a piece on organizing and maintaining a group blog?

    Kelsey called it, Organizational Strategies for Running a Group Blog. I like her title.

    I teach Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors from Jan. 4th – 29th. Let me know if you want to play, :-)), and if you have time to get it to me by Jan. 22nd.

    Thank you.

    Wishing you all the BEST of the BEST of NEW YEARS!

    HAPPY 2010!

    Posted by Margie | January 2, 2010, 10:35 am
    • Margie –

      For you, anything! 🙂 I’ll follow-up with you today (Sunday) by email to see how we can help on a piece for your class.


      PS – Have been using an egg timer like you mention in your SDB class and I can’t tell you how sucessful that’s been for me. I’m not consistent in my use yet, but I’ve seen enough reward that I’m definitely going to incorporate it into my 2010 strategies!

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 2, 2010, 11:17 pm
  10. Ok Kelsey, when I first read your post, I thought, “WAY to anal for me.” But when I looked at your outline I saw how simple it really was. I’m going to use it in 2010. Hopefully this will help me with my goal of completing a manuscript. Thanks for the ideas and outlines.


    Posted by Amy Kimball | January 3, 2010, 10:18 pm
    • Amy –

      I have been accused of harboring a little “anal-ness” – LOL. That being said, I’ve also discovered we have to use the techniques that work best for each of us. My outline gives me a visual way to separate the different parts of my life and that brings me lots of peace.

      So feel free to use what works for you and toss the rest!

      Wishing you a chaos-free 2010!

      Posted by KelseyBrowning | January 3, 2010, 11:37 pm

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