The trouble with to-do lists.

Okay, so the way I see it, whenever you have a bunch of things to do, the number one bit of advice people tell you is, make a list. I am normally all for this. I love lists. I love checking things off and feeling that sense of accomplishment in my day. But I’ve noticed this problem with them. Namely, they don’t freaking work.

Sigh. Okay. I should be more specific. To do list work really well for people with business or jobs and who have kids to pick up and activities that they need to work around. You know exactly how much time you have free in your day and with a list you can optimize your life. Fan-freakin’-tastic. But for those of us who are unemployed writers, whose days are empty as my bank account, to do lists suck.

It’s like, sure, I could write a scene right now, or I could watch an entire season of a show on netflix. Or yeah I could get up and workout or just move from the dent I’ve made in the couch, but I could also take a nap. After all the dent is really comfortable. Seriously. To-do lists, for people with nothing to really “do” are crap.

 

As far as I can tell there are three kinds of to-do lists for those of us who write at home with no reason to leave the house or get dressed but to buy a new tub of ice cream.

To-do list Number 1: The checklist. You know the kind with the little squares that you write up quick on a whim when you have five seconds of motivation. This is the list that winds up with things like, take the trash out, and go to the bathroom right next to finish the book and write a series. The most mundane things and the totally unachievable in 24 hours things wind up here, because you need to cross something off, and at this point, making it ten feet from your computer is a challenge.

To-do list Number 2: The Military regimen. This is the list that looks more like a battle plan than a set of things to do. Sure there may be check boxes, but here we also have time goal. It usually reads something like

2pm-3pm solve world hunger

3pm-4pm write 10k

4pm-4:15pm find sustenance

4:15pm-5pm finish book

If just one thing doesn’t happen when you expect it to, or a single interruption occurs, you’re screwed, because now you’ll have to eat at 4:30 instead of 4:15 and since the list is screwed up, you have to make a new list. That could only take another 5 minutes and 3 hours of netflix later, you can get back to checking off those things you meant to do.

 

The 3rd and certainly most illusive type of to-do list: is the one that actually works. It’s the one where you gave yourself some middle of the road, not to vague, not to specific goals, and actually managed to accomplish them all. This kind of list seems to be as hard to catch as the legendary birds from Pokemon. If you did not experience the 90’s as you should have, this means it’s really fucking hard to catch.

So seriously, this whole writing thing, it’s pretty hard. But I’ve got some ideas to improve my productivity. I just need to make a list.

 

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Finishing books and finding new stories.

For the past several months I’ve been working hard at completing the first book in a series I’m currently writing and I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times that I wanted to just take a break and working on something else.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know where the stories was going, or that it wasn’t any good, I was simply drained from having done so much work on it for so long. I’d been working within the series and specifically on that book for seven straight months without a break and it’s been back and forth across my desk for a year and a half now.Though I didn’t work on it consistently throughout that time of course. I wrote 1 complete novel and got about half way through 5 others in that time. But with my college schedule and life at hand, it took nearly 2 years for that book to reach it’s completion. Just in time for me to submit it to the Break though novel of the year Award hosted by Amazon, actually. 

Now, everyone varies I suppose, on how long it takes them to get an idea, to the point where they are ready to submit it to agents, or contests or publishing houses, so I don’t feel bad about this novel’s shelf life, however, I’d like to address something that will probably bother each of us writers and some point in our careers. 

Knowing when your book is done. Not just written, but edited and revised and pieced together as well as you could manage. I say this because, while I submitted my book to the Amazon contest, and while I think it will stand up fairly well on it’s own, I can still think of things I’d like to improve. I could spent another seven months, taking things out, adding them back in again, and still wind up with the same story I have right now. 

It’s hard to let your stories stand on their own two feet when you’ve held them in your hand for months, even years at a time. But if you don’t let go, your first book might be your last. You might forgo all the great novel ideas you’ve ever had, just because this one, could be a little bit better. 

Well fuck that. 

That’s what I’m here to say today. Don’t let your book consume you. If you find yourself changing the verbs of the same sentence ten times in a week, let go of it. Get out something new and just write. Yes, you want your books to be successful and for others to enjoy reading them, but there comes a point when editing and revising just become counter productive. So let your work out into the world and start on something new. 

It took me exactly 20 months to get from start to finish with this novel but, to put that in perspective, I spent 3 months writing the first draft, 5 months ignoring it, 1 month rereading revising,3 months ignoring, 1 month revising, and then 7 months fixing flaws in the series as a whole (9 planned books) editing, rewriting the entire book once, and editing twice more over. Over all the book saw 12 months of work, and 7 revision of both parts or the document as a whole. The first draft was 124k, the final was 54k. (This was the first book I ever wrote.)

To put that in an even better perspective. The book I’m currently working on was one of those that I got about half way through in the past year and a half. It has seen two weeks of work. One writing (where I wrote 32k, 12 of which was in the first day), and one week of plotting out the second half of the novel. I’ve got about 50k left to go according to my outline and I think It will be completely written before the month is up and edited before March is over. (This is the fifth I’ve started.)

This should serve as proof to those of you who are your first book that no, not all books are created equal. And now that I’ve gone through the whole process with one book, I’ve got a much better idea of my voice, and my own abilities. Make it through your first book ladies and gents and your well on your way to getting the hang of it. 

 

Happy Scribbling to you all and a lovely 1am too.