19 October

The Importance of Writer To-Do Lists...



I know.

Today's topic is not sexy or romantic or adventurous in any way. It may have only come in above watching paint try. But it's an exercise that few new writers complete, and before you can complete your writing goals, you need to know what they are, on a daily basis.

A writing To-Do list is the key.

It's a psychological contract with yourself — yes, there's that shrink-think again... — forcing you to a) decide what can be achieved each day on your book, and b) list those To-Do's in their most crucial order, so no deadline, manufactured or real, will be missed.

Hold on! Don't X me out yet! Get back here! 

This isn't rocket science. You seriously think I'd be doing it, if it were? But it truly is important IF you want that book of yours done.

This exercise does NOT entail a great big ugly effort on your part. In fact, the easier you can formulate it, the better. NO sticky notes. NO knitting string. NO Excel sheets. NO graphs. NO charts. NO nothing complex. PULEEZZZ, we writers have enough headaches! 

I just downloaded the free and easy to use Color Note app on my cell phone. The simpler the note, the better. In this exercise, FEWER bells and whistles is best.

Start with the date:

  • then add each To-Do on its own line
  • only use a few words to describe each To-Do
  • line up from most crucial to least or,
  • quicker ones at the start, longer ones at the end
  • and only have, at most, three writing To-Do's set up for each day
  • or the amount of To-Dos you know you can reasonably complete in your writing session
  • Don't over pile the To-Dos
  • Don't assume it takes less time to complete each task; it'll take more. Double the time needed.
  • At the end of each writing day, delete/line out the tasks you've completed
  • Re-evaluate the time it took to complete those tasks
  • Move the uncompleted task(s) to the next available writing session
  • If your writing work week begins on a Monday, use Sunday to plot out a week-long To-Do list
  • Attempt to spread the bigger projects out, paired with smaller To-Do's
  • Segment those big projects into doable daily sections
This exercise should only take you a few minutes, at most, but it will save you so much time and wasted energy and the stress that comes from Decision Fatigue. Yes, DF is a real thing. If you have to make too many decisions in a day, on top of the word choice decisions every writer has to make to even formulate one sentence, that fatigue will set in, and that pathetic choo-choo train will stop at Writer's Block Corners, if you get my drift.

So, eliminate the Big Picture decisions with your To-Do List!
I can wake up and look like a zombie (hey, no joke), glance down at my list, and know exactly what I'll be doing once the caffeine kicks in. I don't have to hum and haw about what needs doing. I simply start completing those To-Do's.

Back to that psychological contract...
  1. If you put your tasks down in writing, it has your mind re-think their importance. If you leave those tasks up in your head, they never become a real thing; hence, you never take them seriously, and they never get done.
  2. By putting your tasks down on paper, virtual or real, it frees you up from the cyclical worrying that will keep you awake at night when your mind and body needs to rest. You assume that the moment you write those tasks down, you're free to stop thinking about them for the night. You know you'll see that list again come the morning. It's a way of not taking your work home with you, so to speak.

HOMEWORK: Tonight, formulate your list. Don't overload that list. Assume it'll take you twice as long to complete each task. Over time, you'll better gauge the time it will take. And at week's end, set up the daily tasks as you see them ironing out for the next week.

If you do this one simple thing, and keep doing it, your book will get done, quicker than you ever thought possible, and without that choo-choo train stopping at Writer's Block Corners. 

Don't stop there. The station food is horrible, and the station master is a meanie. ;-)

12 October

Word Count Quality vs Quantity - Into The Unknown...


Some things cannot be accurately measured in art.

That's what makes it art.

Often, the professional artist has to gauge for themselves the level of quality over quantity, and in today's world that always wants "MOAR," this is a singularly tough row to hoe.

I struggle with this myself, on a daily basis. I need to be more prolific as a professional writer, but I also know the perils a writer can face if they've written gobs and gobs of draft drivel in their quest for speed over thoughtfulness.

I belong to a group of highly prolific writers, some churning out as much as 2,000+ words per hour, writing anywhere between 5 and 15,000 words per day. Their production levels make me dizzy.

Grant it, they are all genre writers, sticking to a tried and true plot line and predictable character tropes. My assumption is that once you get the genre-specific "recipe" down, it's pretty much swapping out locales and character traits/motivations, and the next new and shiny book is done.

** But here's my quandary: How much time is wasted on editing that speedy draft that could have been saved IF the writer was a tiny bit more careful in getting down their initial draft?

Therein lies The Unknown, the place each artist has to venture, and when they look around and survey the estate, decide what they'd like to see in that Unknown. **

My way isn't ideal, by any means. Having come from a corporate editorial background, I know the corners writers can get themselves painted into if they hack away without much thought.

BUT if that same speedy writer has character bibles, has scene cards at the ready, is it wiser to go faster, and worry about the prosaic damage later?

A writer, in my above-mentioned group, will spend the next day editing what they wrote the previous; whereas turtle-slow me carries on from where I left off the previous day, having no need to edit before I continue.

Of course, it goes to personality, right? I'm about as anal as they get. I won't start cleaning the next room until the previous room is thoroughly cleaned, and I can apply this habit to just about everything I do.

But there comes a time when speed has to be better adopted IF you want to be a prolific writer. It's fine and dandy if it took you 5 years to finish that last epic tale, but how many 5-year stints can you afford in grinding out a mere book? Unless your book is published by the likes of one of the Big Five traditional publishers, where a single book may financially set you up for life, the rest of us grunts down here in Unwashed Masses Land have to produce more to receive more income. It's just a harsh fact of life.

I know this seems like a strange post for a site that is trying to get writers TO write, never mind write too much, but as you progress in your m├ętier, this question will inevitably face you, too.

My Take (so far): Lengthen your writing sessions each day by a few more minutes, until you reach a level of daily output that sits well with you, with a quality of draft that you can stomach as you move further into the book.

One Fact: A great friend of mine, who is an avid genre reader, reminded me of this the other day (paraphrased): It doesn't matter how many books an author pumps out. If they're a lousy read, I'll never buy another.

And there, my fellow furry wordsmiths, is the crux of this tale.

If your writing is fast like the roadrunner, but it stinks like the weapons the coyote buys from ACME, then you are writing far too fast.

If you have a quality output limit, stick to that limit. Your readers will wait for quality over quantity every time.

So, as I try to up my daily word count closer to the 5 grand goal, I will keep my reader's expectations forefront in my mind. And maybe that's what I see when I enter The Unknown, is their face, their expectation of quality from me. If your spidey sense (and yes, this will develop over time) whispers to you that you're typing tripe, slow down. At the very least, you'll save yourself hours of editorial hell by doing so.

HOMEWORK: Lengthen your daily writing sessions by a few minutes each day (5 to 15) to achieve your ideal balance of quality over quantity.

And THAT is the only exact answer I can give to your artistic endeavor, and to mine.