The more I write, the more I appreciate the value of being well organized. In this post I will try to give you a summary of my own organization process and explain why I believe it is extremely helpful.
If you are like Danielle Steel and can sit and write for 20 hours without stopping, this article is probably not for you. But if you are like me: easily distracted, quick to procrastinate, yet eager to do a million things at the same time, you will probably benefit from this method of organizing your writing.
I have developed this after a few years of trial and error and it has worked for me. I feel like I am able to accomplish a lot more in a shorter time than when I used to leave everything happen haphazard.
Tasks, tasks, tasks
If I ask you right now what do you do for your writing in general, you will probably answer with a list that includes one or more of the following items:
- Write new short fiction
- Edit short fiction
- Submit short fiction
- Write new long fiction
- Edit long fiction
- Brainstorm for new ideas
- Promote works
This is just a sample list, there are a lot of other tasks that you probably do on a weekly basis. That’s a lot of stuff to do, and the problem is you have to do them all. Every now and then you will have a certain focus, such as working exclusively on a novel, but probably most of the time you will do a little bit of each, as shown above.
Take a paper or open a new document right now and write down every single independent task that you do for your writing. You might even include things such as: read a new story by a favorite writer, read a specific chapter in a book on writing, or attend a webinar about writing. Just be honest and make sure you make a complete list.
It’s long isn’t it? Now that you are looking at it, I want to ask you: do you feel like you accomplish all of those things? If the answer is no, then keep reading.
Now you must think about the average time you spend for each task, enough so that you feel you have been effective at it and didn’t get burnt out.
For instance, for me, I can write for an hour continuously, and then I have to take a break. Most of the time I don’t even have the luxury to write for more than one hour. So, step number one is to establish blocks of time allocated to each of the tasks above.
Before you move on, let me just briefly mention the Pomodoro method that has worked for me. It postulates that working in short bursts, separated by shorter breaks, promotes productivity. So, based on this method working continuously for 25 minutes, taking a 5 minute break, then work for another 25 minutes, taking another 5 minute break, you will be more productive than working for 60 minutes without stopping. You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique here. This might not work for you, but it has worked for me. There are several apps for various platforms that help you work with this method.
Okay, now with that out of the way, let’s look at an example:
|Write new short fiction||1 hour|
|Edit short fiction||2 hours|
|Submit short fiction||1 hour|
|Write new long fiction||1.5 hour|
|Edit long fiction||2 hours|
|Brainstorm for new ideas||0.5 hour|
|Promote Works||1 hour|
Now that you have this setup, convert your weekly word counts back into hours. (if you want to read more about quotas and how to make them, read my article on how to complete your NaNoWriMo novel in 30 days). For example, let’s say you write 1000 words in one hour and your weekly quota is 7000 words. This means that you need about 7 hours of writing during the week to get there. That’s either one hour a day, or two hours in a few days, or any combination of that.
Use Excel and create yourself a seven day plan that includes all of the above, sprinkled throughout the days. Here’s an example:
|Write new short fiction||1.00||1.00||1.00||2.00||5.00|
|Edit short fiction||1.00||1.00||1.00||3.00|
|Submit short fiction||1.00||1.00|
|Write new long fiction||1.00||1.00||2.00||4.00|
|Edit long fiction||1.00||1.00||1.00||3.00|
|Brainstorm for new ideas||1.00||1.00|
In this example, you spend 2-3 hours per day and a little bit more on the weekend. In total you spend almost 20 hours a week between all these tasks. It sounds like a lot, but as you can see, not only the hours are spread through the week, they are also spread throughout the day. By doing things in small quantities, you get to accomplish a lot, without getting burnt-out.
The Sunday Plan
On Sunday evening you should plan your week according to the schedule above. This is extremely important, especially if you have multiple novels and short stories in the works. When Monday comes and you look in your schedule and see that you must do one hour of writing or one hour of editing, the question then becomes: what will you write and/or what will you edit?
You do not want to leave that decision to the moment when you must start doing it for two reasons: first of all, deciding what to do takes time. Why waste 10 precious minutes going through your notes to decide what to write? Second of all, deciding what to do is like looking at a white paper. You are leaving it to the way you feel in that moment and that’s not good. Decide ahead of time and take the guess-work out of it.
That’s where the Sunday plan comes into play (btw, I call it Sunday but it can be any day of the week, as long as you plan for the entire week). Fill-in the blanks with actual things to do:
|Write new short fiction||start “My cool story”||start “My other cool story”||Finish “My Cool Story”||Finish “My other cool story”|
|Edit short fiction||Edit “some old story”||Edit “My Cool Story”||Edit “some other old story”|
|Submit short fiction||Submit 4 finished stories|
|Write new long fiction||Write “Chapter 3”, Novel 1||Write “Chapter 4”, Novel 1||Write “Chapter 5”, Novel 1|
|Edit long fiction||Edit “Chapter 7” Novel 2||Edit “Chapter 8” Novel 2||Edit “Chapter 9”, Novel 2|
|Brainstorm for new ideas||Come up with 5 new short story ideas|
See how your week is now becoming organized and how things are much more clear?
How to track it?
In this day and age, nobody wants to keep things on paper or even in an Excel anymore. You need tools to help you organize your time. Lately, my favorite tool for this is Remember The Milk, but you can use any calendar type of tool. I like Remember the Milk for personal reasons, but any system that lets you calendar things and have them recur will work.
What you do is first enter your main schedule and make each task recur weekly. So, for example, setup your “Write new short fiction” task for the following Monday and then make it recur every Monday. Once you enter everything in your main schedule, you are half way there. Your basic organizer skeleton is now in place.
During your Sunday Planing you will make the tasks in that week more specific. So “write new short fiction” becomes “write My New Cool Story.”
At this point what you’ve accomplished is this: you’ve taken all the things that you know you must do in a week to advance your writing and you put them on a recurring schedule. By making the schedule recurring you are essentially setting it on auto-pilot. The only thing you must do is once a week make that week’s schedule more specific by tagging the actual things you are going to be working on.
The overall goal here is to limit the time in which you think what to do and when to do it. Your time should be spend doing it rather than thinking about doing it.
Note that in my example above I don’t talk about scheduling during the day. That’s because my days are usually hectic and I don’t know ahead of time when I will have time. All I do is make sure that by the end of the day I complete the tasks that are due on that day. In your case, if you know you always have 2 hours in the morning, and one in the evening, you can set your tasks with hours as well. That will make it even more specific. If you have trouble finding the hours in your day to accomplish your writing tasks, read my other post about finding time to write, or my other post about writing when busy.
Most systems have flaws, and this one’s is the fact that you can postpone your tasks indefinitely. I advise you to do that only in real exceptions. For instance, you have a terrible migraine today and there is no way you can write anything. Is there ANY other task from your list that you can accomplish? If there is, complete that one early and postpone the other. If there isn’t then postpone your tasks, but make sure you catch up on your backlog later on.
When I postpone my tasks I sometimes let them double up just to remind me that I have to work hard and recover the time lost. So, if I have a “write new short story” task Monday and Tuesday and I fail to accomplish it on Monday, i’ll postpone it for Tuesday and now I have two of them. That just tells me that I should “write a new short story” but work a little longer than I would normally do, just because the day before I wasn’t able to.
Also, remember that you are the owner of these tasks and you should be free to change them in the spur of the moment. If you wake up Saturday morning with an awesome idea and spend 5 hours writing 6000 words – good for you. Let that be a replacement for your tasks. We are not worried here about the good moments, the moments when your muse is sitting on your shoulder and words just flow out of your fingers. When you have that, just run with it. This method takes care of the other times, when nothing seems to come through your head. In those moments, having an organized schedule will help you advance.
It’s like waking up at 7AM to go to work. You do it because you have to, otherwise you get fired and don’t make any money. Think about your scheduler as your boss. You must do what’s in there or bad things will happen. Punish yourself when you fail, and give yourself a little prize when you succeed. If you train your mind, it will overcome your body and your writing will become faster.
Will this cure the writer’s block? No it won’t. It will still crawl in every now and then, and you have to learn how to deal with it.
I wish you good luck, and I’d love to hear the ways in which you handle your organization? Leave a comment below.
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All the best,