Nothing tracks Newtonian time like a calendar.
Last fall I posted this picture of my year-ahead plan for Centered members. I received requests for a more detailed explanation of my process, so here it is!
We live in story; this is how we create meaning.
I want to consciously allow meaning to emerge as we move through the year. I don’t want to fight it, or pretend it’s not happening (that just leads to extra confusion and struggle).
Stories always present us with a challenge — a dilemma (though not always conflict — look up Kishōtenketsu). Looking at life as story makes me wonder, how can we fortify ourselves for the challenge that inevitably precedes transformation? How can we plan ahead for it, and give ourselves what we need as we live and grow through story?
One thing I know is that whether we’re talking about a story, a year, or a life — what we most often need to create and digest meaning is time. And nothing tracks Newtonian time like a calendar.
I go to natural cycles for my foundation — nature’s seasons, the human life cycle, lunar phases. These cycles are everywhere, and the story that is embedded in these cyclical patterns mirrors the beats in many kinds of story structure.
1. So I first looked at the year in quarters, considering the seasons.
I thought about stasis and rest, starting something new and blossoming, lush, deep growth and commitment, and harvesting and reviewing. These are also the phases of a writing practice, or a drafting process: the creative cycle maps onto the four seasons beautifully.
On the way to transformation and growth, stories take us through familiar phases. These integrate nicely into the seasonal model of creative growth. Each story beat — from a call to adventure to finding allies to going deep into the underworld — brings its own challenge, intensity and beauty.
2. So then I considered the beats I know from story structure to help me choose a focus for the three months in each quarter.
For instance: we’re going to focus on support in February. Heroes work alone, but heroines have a network! If we reach out to our friends and communities early in the year, we won’t have to head into the 2022 story alone.
3. Then I layered in craft tutorials and challenges for the year, to match each beat of story structure.
This month, the theme is spark. We’re looking at the magic of freewriting — starting something new and sparking seeds we may decide to plant later.
Note: I based my year on the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere, so in this plan, editing and revision is a natural fit for September. But spring and fall have an similar transitional energy. These are threshold seasons, activated with change. That energy is conducive to both writing first drafts (planting) and revising (harvesting). So if you’re in the southern hemisphere, you can roll with this plan too.
At this point in my planning process, I needed to stop thinking, leave language behind, and imagine the year in symbol and character instead. Image makes everything feel less conceptual, and more like a story, which of course is the whole point of this plan.
4. Tarot is rich in symbol, like dreams, so that’s where I went next for direction.
I selected cards that evoked the feeling of each month’s theme, using the major arcana as archetypes. Each brings their own personality, style, and approach for the month.
For example, The Magician, using all the tools of her craft, divining the riches from her imagination above and bringing the energy down to the fruitful earth below, is the perfect character for April (theme: practice).
Once the 12 cards were in place, I felt satisfied. The symbols connect the practical, craft-based work we’ll be doing in Centered each month to the bigger-picture experience of transformation that we live as artists and storytellers. The themes make sure we have time to digest, take risks, savour the pleasure, and all the other important stuff we get to do in a full, good year.
We begin this month with spark. Not yet making a commitment — this is a time for gentle stirring and curiosity. (The tarot card for this month is The Star.)
5. Finally, I began inviting our monthly Guest Mentors!
Some have created work that embodies the theme, like Elayne Fluker, creator of the Support is Sexy podcast and author of Get Over I Got This — she’s leading a workshop on support in February. Some because they know how to teach a particular writing technique so well, like poet Tenille Campbell, author of #IndianLovePoems, who is leading an erotica writing workshop for pleasure in August.
Our Guest Mentor this month is Stephen Nachmanovitch, author of Free Play and The Art of Is. We’ll be practicing freewriting, improvisation, and paying attention. You can join our live call with Stephen — and receive daily writing prompts in your inbox! — by becoming a Centered member.
For those of you in Six Weeks Six Senses — this is the perfect spark activity! (Note, the January 2022 session of Six Weeks Six Senses has now ended).
That’s it! My integrated year-ahead planning model for 2022.
Now that we have a plan, let’s have fun this year!