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The Planning Day; In Praise of Cold Calls

Oh goody. Just one degree short of today's high.

Oh goody. Just one degree short of today’s high.

The high today in D.C. will be about 19 degrees. It will be a good day to do most of my work from indoors; writing time, definitely, because I haven’t gotten any writing done since Thursday.

I had hoped to get down to the Archives today; but this week is a short week for work and kids at school — and wouldn’t you know it, the kids get ANOTHER four-day school week next week.

These short weeks mean I have to plot and plan strategically; get the most out of whatever writing and research time I have in front of me.

And so, today, I plan.

Do you make a planning day for yourself? I set aside a day to plan what to work on with Emmett’s book and/or the research notes/findings every two weeks. I include my teaching schedule and other appointments in there too, and then, enter it on my daily planner. I don’t go crazy; rather, I try to keep each day to a reasonable list with things to scratch off.

A planning day can be a little tedious and boring, but oh, does it ever make the upcoming work weeks run smoothly.

Also, it is psychologically soothing and energizing when I tick off things on the list every day. Doing so frees up the space in my head to think about Emmett’s story, and to let the words start to shape themselves into sentences, which flow down onto the virtual page.

One thing I make sure to include is designated writing time; usually no more than two hours each day. That’s usually enough for me.

I find that when I schedule the writing time, I safeguard it. I put away the cell phone, tell people around me that I’m not available until a specified time later in the day.

I have to protect my writing time because, for me, is such an intense psychological and emotional creative process. When I’m in a good flow, I stay with it until I feel it start to ebb. When the flow becomes a trickle, then stops, I let it stop. I put my work away; I don’t edit it. I save that for another day.

If I complete the items on my list before 2 pm (which doesn’t always happen), I do not go on to the next day. That had taken a lot of discipline, to learn not to live more than one day at a time.

I gripe less. I’m more of a pleasure to be around thanks to the planning day.

So, this weekend, I didn’t write.

I spent the time studying the copies of photos and documents I’ve collected from the Charlottesville trip for several days; doing some background digging on the new information from the visit.

Katie Wilson Meade was only four years older than Emmett. She described their childhood home, their mother, their family, their way of life quite eloquently. Emmett was only a baby during most of the period she describes, but the descriptions were of his childhood, too. There’s a lot of information in Katie’s story that I can use to tell Emmett’s story.

But the visit to Charlottesville wasn’t just profitable for me in terms of research; what has been really great is that Elizabeth is going back through her grandmother’s scrapbook, and adding items I’ve sent her, making the information more accurate. We’ve got a great dialog going, and it makes me feel good that I’ve been able to give back to someone who has given me so much in the Emmett Wilson information quest.

Funny thing: It all started with a cold email.

It can be hard to write that first letter and send it. I remember when I first found Elizabeth’s email — and I was initially scared to death to reach out to her. In fact, I sat on it for about a week! Why?

Well, not everyone wants to talk to a stranger hundreds of miles away about obscure relatives and history. You have to approach people carefully; and, it helps to have built up common connections. I’ve been lucky — in almost every one of my cold calls/cold emails, the response has been positive. You never know unless you try; and you can’t look at a ‘no’ as the final word.

Think of ‘no’ as an acronym for ‘next opportunity.’


Categories: Book The Writing Life

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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