Editorial Assistance

The Power of To-Do Lists

*This is a post that I originally wrote for The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog before it went down and came back. I'm reposting the article here since it is no longer on the site.

 Every morning, without fail, I create a to-do list that usually keeps me busy throughout the day. The satisfaction I get from writing a check mark is only rivalled by the satisfaction I get from biting into a chocolate bar.

First off, consistently creating and following a to-do list is important. Part of me wants to tag on a shy 'Maybe...depending upon the person,' but the differences I've seen in satisfaction and progression between those who list and those who just rely on their mind are too distinct. If there's a lot of stuff you need/want to get done, lots of stuff that will depress you if you forget, create a list. Most serious writers have a lot on their plate, definitely when it comes to networking and promotion, so I'm especially talking to you if you inhabit that broad category.

You may think you're too busy to sit down for two minutes and sloppily jot down what you want to accomplish (you can eat breakfast and write simultaneously, y'know); you may be a very unorganized person by nature who likes every day to be a spontaneous surprise; you may be too scatterbrained to get into the habit of doing a list every day; heck, you may even be dead set on the idea that no written list can beat your all-powerful mental list.

You know what? I still say write a list because I once was all of those types (except unorganized) and none of that stopped me. Here are some pointers:

  • Make the list extremely long so you won't feel bad if you can't check everything off. Because my lists are often scary, off-the-wall ridiculous, I can easily say, "It's okay I didn't complete everything. I mean, it would've been impossible, and I'm just human after all." Is that cheating in a sense? Perhaps.

  • Find the number you are okay stopping at. As long as I check off the 3-5 most important things on the list, I'm satisfied. 

Lists are a great way for you to see how much closer you are to your main goals. I'm all about drawing the big picture (listing major goals), breaking it into a number of puzzle pieces (listing minor goals), and then drawing the big picture again.

More importantly, though, lists and check marks are an obvious indication that you're not wasting your life away. At the end of the day, note how much you've completed (not how much you haven't; that's counterproductive) and notice how good you feel about yourself before sleeping.

I announce what I've completed on Facebook - not to seek validation from others, but to seek validation from myself. Social networking sites can make stating your daily accomplishments, things you want to complete and actually did thanks to a list, seem so much more final, like you're proud enough to share your progress with everyone who can read your statuses.

And you should be. So get in the habit of writing those lists.

The First Draft Race

*This is a post that I originally wrote for The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog before it went down and came back. I'm reposting the article here since it is no longer on the site.

Writing the first draft of a novel is like a race, except it matters less who is first and more who can pass the finish line.

Let's say there are fifty runners. Even before the race starts, one can predict the outcome. Fifteen people won't make it past the preliminaries. Thirty people will struggle through and stop at the first round. The remaining five people, though, will win.

It's usually those fifteen writers, and a couple of writers who stopped at the first round, that never rejoin the race. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Maybe they've realized writing isn't for them, and they can redirect their energy to something they can better excel at. However, there are a few dedicated troopers that just keep coming back. Sometimes they get closer; sometimes they don't advance at all, but they take a deep breath and try again. It's not that they don't genuinely want a completed first draft. They don't know how to get there.

This article is for those troopers.

I spent about two or three years constantly starting new novels. Ten-thousand words, if even that, was as far as I could get before my passion dissipated. Still, I wanted to be a 'real writer' with all my heart, and I was certain, even at the age of thirteen, that 'real writers' actually, y'know, finished stuff.

Things changed for the better when I stumbled upon five methods that both challenged me and kept my passion going. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.) Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo, is a contest where your goal is to write fifty-thousand words or more from November 1st-30th. Nanowrimo is great for encouraging you to just write and write with no inhibitions. The forums are friendly and infomative; you have a deadline to hopefully stop you from procrastinating as much; it's easy to gather a support group that will follow you way after November. I didn't win Nanowrimo the year I participated, but I did reach twenty-thousand words. Hey, that's ten-thousand more than my usual word count at the time!

2.) Inspiration: Watch movies that make you think, "Wow, I want to make my readers feel this attached and awed." Listen to songs that fit your scenes. Read a book that totally moves you or frustrates you enough to want to do better. It's important to refrain from getting too lost in fantasies. This can easily lead to more dreaming and less doing, but it is important to surround yourself with inspirations. You develop a need to finish, to fulfill your dreams. Needing feels a lot more significant.

3.) Prompts/Experimentation: After Nanowrimo, I realized my real problem. I wasn't writing in the right genre. So, to figure out where I really belonged, I started the Practice Package. My goal was to write a short story/scene in every genre and see what story held on the tightest. After that, I took a long writing break to experiment with life.  And it worked. I'm suggesting that you write stories from prompts or write outside of your comfort zone or live differently for a while. Maybe you'll learn what is holding your muse back
4.) Edit Less: Are you a perfectionist who finds it necessary to stop every chapter, every scene, every paragraph, every sentence...to edit? I understand your anxiety. I was once that perfectionist, and I know too many aspiring writers who are that perfectionist. You know what I tell them? STOP EDITING! Or, at the very least, edit very minor things that won't take too much thinking. If you know you have to edit something that will take lots of time and energy, write a note and save it until you're finished with the entire novel. You finish the first draft. Editing happens in every draft afterward.

5.) Discuss/Theorize Less: Writers love their stories. We're excited to think and talk about our quirky characters, interesting settings, and amazing plot points. It's okay to spend hours upon hours developing your stories or ignoring everyone's groans when you absolutely must tell them the awesome thing Sally told Matthew, but make sure you're actually writing. Otherwise, you can fall into the trap of telling the story so much that, by the time you've sat down to write chapter one, you're no longer excited to see where the story takes you. That, my friend, is tragic.