by Kris Maze
Quick. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is "totally under control" and 5 is "terrified to say," how are you managing your Writing To-do List?
If you have a structured, highly functioning system for marketing your author brand and still have time to write, then happily move along. But the chances are that technology changes and a variety of unfinished projects, leave many authors with an answer closer to 5 (terrified to say) than not. Myself included as I recall being overwhelmed by a “failed to launch” error on a social media post I spent too much time creating.
Authors juggle multifaceted platforms, often as solitary entrepreneurs. This effort is important, but is it worth the cost of writing your novel?
If you can relate, you may find relief in my intention to stress less and to declutter my writing to-do list in a systematic way. Perhaps some of the exercises here will help you prioritize your writing goals and create a focused writing plan.
In order to have a lasting career and a growing audience, author marketing simply can’t be ignored. Interacting through various media, as many experts suggest, is key to getting more readers. Not sure where to start? This recent WITS post, by Penny Sansevieiri, covers where readers and agents should easily find your author platform online.
My Refocusing Strategy
In today’s post, I’ll share my refocusing strategy, the steps I used to declutter my tasks and how-to prioritize writing projects. In part 2, I'll dabble with personalizing time management and share steps to create a schedule that fits your productivity goals and lifestyle.
To try this plan on your own, set aside a few minutes to dream up your best writing workflow. Your results may surprise you, like mine did, and investing time in your writing dreams is never a loss.
Step 1 Goal Setting for Authors: How to get your writing unstuck
In previous WITS posts, we examined how your physical surroundings and writing mindset can change your writing state of flow. Writing also depends on building a strong author platform with robust relationships with other authors and readers who follow what you write. Many authors risk losing the productive joy of writing unless they take charge of their writing time and identify what they really want to accomplish. Let’s start with identifying what you want the most from your writing career.
What’s in your Preposterous BAG?
What’s in your Preposterous BAG? Stolen from management philosophy, authors need a BAG, or Big Audacious Goal, to have a clear vision of what success means to them. We recognize that very few writers own a private helicopter and frequent prime-time interviews, but success depends on how we define it. The trick is to break it into smaller steps that begin right where we are. Hang with me as we break down the nitty gritty of achieving your writing goals.
CENTRAL QUESTION: What is your preposterous goal?
If you consider something moving you towards your dream, something that you can accomplish over the next 2 to 6 months, what would it be?
ACTION ITEM: Brainstorm for a few minutes and form a list of wish items and have-to writer tasks. Commit them to paper or pixel–we have time! (I recommend 5 to 10 minutes time to get your ideas flowing)
Some goal ideas: (Do any of these appear on your list?)
- Enter a short story into a contest.
- Monetize a freelance article.
- Write a query letter and have it reviewed.
- Research where to query a project and find a few agents interested in your genre/niche.
- Start an author website.
- Complete and edit 3 chapters of a novel for beta readers.
- Find and join a writing critique group
Step 2 Cleaning up: Create categories.
As I took a big picture inventory of my writing and created broad categories.
When I examined my goals from step 1, I had 6 projects in various stages of completion. Many projects gathered dust in the corners of my laptop and were not productive in my author business.
While I mentally and digitally sorted my files, I reduced my load by deleting multiple drafts, renaming confusing files, and parted ways with outdated materials.
I considered my shorter fiction that cluttered my mind. Writing short stories was a way to study new genres and try new techniques. These stories represented a lot of time I could have devoted to my manuscript. As I re-read the stories, I thought about how these smaller pieces could be re-imaged in my new business plan. My goal became to connect these works to my readers and give them a marketable home.
This is a great insight, but my writing process became even more fractured. The last thing I needed was to add more tasks to my list! Perhaps my system was failing?
CENTRAL QUESTION: Do my goals overlap into logical groups?
My categories for this round of writing tasks fell into 3 types:
- Short episodic fiction
- Marketing & website
- Educational materials
ACTION ITEM: Create categories on the work you want to finish, based on the goals you just wrote.
Step 3 Next Steps: Prioritize
ACTION ITEM: Take your Preposterous Goals and organize them on your favorite spreadsheet.
What? You don’t have a favorite one? That’s okay. I organized mine like this:
The first step in my analysis was to put all my data into a chart. If this sounds a little geeky, just try it.
- Planners – I KNOW you’ll love it.
- Plantsers – You will try it because, it may work and organizing is hard.
- Pantsers – You may hate doing it, but it is actually quite calming to put all those jumbling pieces into a neat chart. (If you are feeling frustrated before the exercise, it can’t hurt to try?)
Breakdown of steps:
1. Write all your tasks in the far-right column and assign them one of your categories.
2. Next think about how much time you need to spend on each item (think chapter or pages edited)
3. Then write in how often you would like this to happen ideally. If any of these are new to you and not something you are sure of–leave it blank. You can find out in the next stage when you check on how you did.
Here is my example:
Analysis: 2 prioritizing exercises to get to the heart of your goals
CENTRAL QUESTION: How do you feel about each of the Preposterous Goals that you wrote?
ACTION ITEM: It’s now time for the Gut Check analysis. Put a number between 1 (very easy to finish) to 5 (extremely hard to finish) as your impression on how much effort each task would take you. Keep this information close by as you will compare it to how you answer in the next exercise:
CENTRAL QUESTION: What have I already accomplished within each goal?
ACTION ITEM: Now, try the checkbox exercise. How many check boxes are true about each item on your list? Read though and jot down your totals for each of your goals.
Preposterous Goal #1- Check off all that apply for each project.
- I have an idea
- I have a first draft
- I have a revised draft
- I have feedback from beta readers and other writers on my draft
- I have an edited product ready for formatting
- I can format and create the final product for this project myself.
- I can format and create the final product for this project myself and ENJOY it!
- I have the resources or can pay for someone to complete my product.
- My product is already formatted and ready to query, put on the market, or post in public venue
- I have a marketing idea or plan.
- I have resources, programs, and time to create marketing materials.
- I have social media visuals, links, and ideas ready to create and I could schedule these easily.
Repeat the Checklist for each of your goals. The Spreadsheet from the beginning of the post has columns for both the Gut Check and The Check boxes.
- Planners–Have fun filling in all the boxes. What do you notice?
- Plantsers–You may find it useful if you do this reflection again during your next author planning session. You’ll appreciate your numbers from this session to make a comparison.
- Pantsers–If you figured out what your core goals and priorities are, you don’t need to fill in the spaces. The spreadsheet is a tool to serve your needs, not to become another to-do list item!
REFLECTION: Look at results for each item on your list and consider these questions:
- Do your gut responses match the Check boxes you identified?
- Are there projects that you could finish with little effort and only have a few steps remaining?
- Could you finish some of these items and make mental space for completing other creative work?
My Take-Away and A-Ha Moments
On my list, my top 3 goals were not ones I would have prioritized, but I discovered how to finish two list items and reap the benefits in a timely manner: connecting to my audience and providing them with fresh material. Those two became my focus in the next 2 weeks. My story series that will launch in a short deadline, so it also moved to top priority.
Before this exercise I didn’t consider these tasks as important or worthy to spend energy on them. Now, I saw how little I needed to do to accomplish my goal and to free up more writing time!
Three other goals, I was working on daily now ‘live’ on my secondary list. Once I complete a task, I bump another up to my primary focus list. Since I wrote this post, I have completed most of both lists.
Writers, if this process helps you focus and re-prioritize, I am genuinely happy for you. Go on and plan your writing with the comfort of knowing the writing will happen in the time you allotted each goal.
For me the time management didn’t turn out exactly as I planned it, as the tasks took less time when I did them in batches. I iterated after a couple weeks, looking over my 2-column scheduling method.
If you have a scheduling method that works for you, you are on your way to a more constructive writing life. For more information on how to follow through on your priorities, my next post here at WITS is about scheduling writing work into your lifestyle for less stress.
What were your results from the writing task exercises? What suggestions do you have for our readers? Please share with us in the comments below.
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Kris Maze is an author, freelance writer, and teacher. She enjoys writing twisty, speculative fiction with character-driven plots. After years of reading classic literature, mysteries, and thrillers, she wrote and publish her own books. She also writes for various publications including a regular post at the award-winning Writers in the Storm Blog.
When she isn’t spending time with her favorite people and pets, Kris Maze is taking pictures, hiking, or pondering the wisdom of Bob Ross. You can follow her author journey at her website at KrisMazeAuthor.com.
Look for her episodic YA dystopian fiction scheduled to release on Kindle Vella this summer!