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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Things I hate about Nanowrimo…

I actually would like to preface this post by saying that I actually love Nanowrimo. This post is not meant to be a list of reasons why not to participate in Nanowrimo, because I think that most writers (would be writers) can benefit from Nano. That being said, I have been a participant for nearly 3 years now and I have taken that initial challenge of writing a book in a month, to writing nearly every day and writing books with or without it being November.

Now for those of you who know about and write during Nano, you probably are aware that this year marks the third year of CampNanowrimo.

While the months are a little different each year, this year the first month of camp is April and the second month if July. The silliness of having a camp in April aside, this means that writers everywhere are preparing to start another adventure in writing fast and furiously.

I myself have also been preparing (which is code for I’ve been in the nanoforums every day, since I write every day anyway). So this post really comes to you because of some of the really stupid/obnoxious/infuriating advice that I see on the forums each year before Nanowrimo and now before Camp. Bear in mind that I think there are far more reasons to do Nano, than to not do it, but still. This advice is just ridiculous all the time.

Also this post is a rant with detail and swearing. Just so you know.

Prompts

OK. Writing prompts can be really useful for both starting and un-mucking a plot midway through.

However, using a prompt that has nothing to do with your overall story just for the sake of words is stupid. So stupid in fact that it makes me want to smack people. Seriously.

A newbie to nano asked for advice in the forums and some moron told them to go to the prompts section of the forums and take prompts midway through their novel when they get stuck such as “Your characters have to run to the store in the middle of a rainstorm…” Or “Your characters find an abandoned kitten and have to decide whether or not to keep it.”  This poster also had the added advice of “if you do it right, you can drag those out to like 1000 words each.”

Are you kidding me?

This is why so many writers don’t take Nanowrimo seriously.

If your characters don’t need anything and just mysteriously decide that they need milk more than they are worried about being hit by lightening, then you have just wasted your own time. Time  that you could have spent writing something that would move your story forward and you have wasted your readers time if you ever get the damn thing published. Same goes for the kitten. Going to the store or finding a kitten will get you words, but unless your character really does get hit by lightening or the kitten turns out to be an alien or something, you aren’t moving your story forward.

… And now I want to write about a mutant kitten. Damnit.

So this issue with writing things just for the sake of writing something leads into this other huge problem that I have with Nanowrimo which is,

Quantity over Quality

This has, since nano’s inception, been an issue with nonbelievers of the process. Because the idiots who decided to send their characters out into the storm, only to return 2 pages later with the milk, aren’t writing. They are bullshitting. In real life and on the page. You are there to tell a story and your problems will still be there when your character returns from the store with a gallon of milk they didn’t need. So really you just put off the story telling for 2 pages. You did not solve any problems with your plot or characters.

Yes, you want to write 50k during Nanowrimo, and yes this is the magic (not realistic) number that signifies a book being completed. But the truth of the matter is, if you write 50k of strung together pointless word prompts or games, you won’t have a story at the end of Nano. You’ll have drivel. Plain and simple.

If you want to write a story in 30 days, then you have to be working toward some foreseeable end. Your characters have to have a goal, and your story has to have conflict and by conflict, I do not mean whether or not it’s a good idea to keep the fucking kitten.

It is totally possible to write a first draft of a story in one month (50-100k) and while it won’t be immediately publishable, you will at least have a story that you can work on in the months to come that can be polished and worked on. But you won’t have a story if you aren’t exploring something or reaching toward some goal. So leave the kittens and milk at home where they belong please.

Now one of my next biggest pet peeves of Nanowrimo participants is something that unfortunately happens every year and that I see all the time.

People who work on the same project year after year without fail

OK. Maybe your book would be better in the first person. Maybe it would benefit from being set in space instead of Alabama. But it you work on the same project year after year after year and you never finish it, you’re  selling yourself short. And you’re pretty much failing at life. Every project will have flaws no matter how long you’ve been writing, and no matter how many months you spend working on it. You will never be completely satisfied with your books. Fact.

Other fact. If you make it as good as it can be, then you can move on and start  a new fucking book. Stop being a pussy and just finish the damn book. Being afraid that it’s not good enough or that you could have done better isn’t going to get you anything but a stomach ulcer, so just accept that it’s not your finest work, and move on. You’ll do better on the next project. And the one after that.   You need to practice in order to advance at any skill, and for a writer, that means starting a new book.  Cut your losses and move on.

Which pretty much brings us back to my all time pet peeve of writers everywhere and I’m sure that there will be plenty of people who don’t agree  or whatever but I don’t really care.

People who write one month year and call themselves writers.

I’m sorry. If you take ballet classes one month a year does that make you a ballerina? NOPE.

If you read physics books one month a year does that make you a scientist? No.

If you dress up like Fantine for one month a year to put on Les Miserables  at school or where ever does that make you a whore in the streets of France? No, it fucking doesn’t.

Nanowrimo is a great incentive for people who think they might want to write a book to try out writing on a set schedule and writing for fun and writing for profit. You do it for a month and you can walk away from it and discover that writing isn’t for you. Or you can say, “Guess what I love writing, writing is amazing. I have all these cute little plot bunnies running around and I’m gonna be a writer.”

Grand.

But if you don’t write again until November when you have hundreds of thousands of people cheering you on, then you hopeful idiot, are not a writer. You’re playing a game.

Being a writer means that you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is What are my characters going to get themselves into today? Or How am I going to get my villian to give up the one thing my FMC needs more than anything? You go to work and you day dream about getting back to your laptop or your notebook and squirreling away ten minutes after dinner to work on your book. Being a writer means that you write on good days and on bad days. On holidays and on snow days and on days when you work a double shift. It means that even if you have a lull in your productivity, even when you can’t force the words to appear on the page, you are still thinking about writing. And if you were a writer, and had those impulses, you wouldn’t wait 11 months to fulfill them again. Asshole.

Sigh.

So there’s my laundry list of things that piss me off come Nano season. Enjoy.

Please feel free to flame me if you are one of these people, by the way. Go right ahead, I could use the extra  humor. Otherwise, please let me know in the comments why it is that you love Nanowrimo. Or why you hate it.

Happy Scribbling folks.

All I want for Christmas … A writer’s wish list

Now this probably goes without saying but Christmas is the time when I, like many of you I would imagine, stock up on writerly things for the year. Be it office supplies or books, I’m always more than a little anxious to restock and replace my most used possessions. Out with the old and in with the new they say.

So with that in mind I thought I’d make a little list, of what I’m hoping for but what might work well for yourself or other writers in your life.

1. New notebooks!
I don’t know about you but I am constantly writing. Go figure. I have a food and weight loss journal, a daily checklist/diary journal, and of course at least one notebook per project that I’m currently working on. And depending on the size of the notebook and the frequency with which I make entries, I can go through 4-8 a year. And o course my stock pile is dwindling so I’m in the market for some more cool notebooks. I’m thinking a replica of river songs diary from dr who! Available at thinkgeek.com.

2. Pens!!!!
What good is a notebook without a writing instrument. I have this particular quirk where I hate black, blue, or red pens. So what do I use you might ask. Well, I write with purple. Only purple. All the time. And I’m almost out so those are a must find. And on that note.

3. Quills and ink
Yep you read that right. I actually am really fond of nibbed pens, so I like to pick a few of this up every year. They make quite a mess if you spill the bottles though so beware if you’re clumsy like me. 😉

4. Lap desk
I frequently find myself writing in bed so this is a wonderful tool to have, very comfortable and convenient with a pen slot and cup holder. Unfortunately I use mine so much that they fall apart on me every 6 months or so.

5. Hard cover books!!!!
Or just books in general. I have about 200 books on my to read list but this year I’m requesting hard copies of some books I have digital copies of and some that I’ve just recently read from the library.

This years list…

Hunger games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
The name of the wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The wise man’s fear by Patrick Rothfuss

2-5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
1-3 of the heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

So I wish you happy gift hunting and Yuletide celebrating.

Also 6. Chocolate

7. High quality tea or coffee