Write now, set writing goals

...any road wil get you there.[1]

“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.”[1]

Is it writer’s block? Procrastination? What’s keeping you from completing that collection of poetry or that novel you started years ago and you can’t quite get around to finishing it?

A few years ago I sat in a writing workshop and noticed that I was the only member of the group under the age of 50 years old. Further, most of the students at the workshop had been working on a memoir or a novel or something that began at a university. Now enjoying their retirement, the nostalgic desire to complete these literary works grip those writers who had been dribbling out small passages of poetry and prose for what seems to be my lifetime.

I determined at that time to set writing goals and not let time slowly bleed me of creative efforts. So, I adapted some of the productivity and time management skills I use at work to my writing life. Here’s some productivity, or time management, habits I practice at the office.

1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning.

At the office, I schedule two times a day were I read and reply to emails: once in the morning and then again in the afternoon. If I reply to every email that lands in my inbox at the moment it arrives, I would spend more than half the work day reading and replying to emails. I found that if I batch tasks, like emailing, I can maintain focus on accomplishing those tasks more efficiently.

2. Make a list.

First thing I do when I get to the office is make a list. This is a combination of project management and mind-sweeping. This activity allows me to organize and prioritize large and small tasks for the day and week.

3. Declutter the desktop.

This is something that is both on- and offline. And by “declutter” I don’t mean empty your desktop of everything. Declutter has to do with a collection system. How do you collect the papers or files? Years ago I began the practice of collecting items in folders based on the 43 folders system. Here’s how it is presented by Merlin Mann:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly[2]

Again, the goal of this practice is not to have a clean, empty desktop, but a productivity system in place to help get things done.

4. Plan. Revisit the plan. Stay on task.

Your co-workers and supervisors think every task is an emergency and everything is a priority. Planning and staying on task is one of the most annoying practices my co-workers and supervisors must endure. Yet, unless I identify the goals and chart a trajectory to hit those goals, I’ll never me able to meet deadlines on time or successfully accomplish projects. How does the old adage go? If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

Let’s do this!

Avoid waiting until you retire to complete that novel you’ve been working on, or that collection of poems you’ve been tinkering with for years. Find a writers group that can help you with accountability and encouragement. It is written that no one knows the number of his or her days. Our life is a shadow.[3] Whether it is writer’s block, procrastination, internal or external distraction, find that writing project you’ve been working on and commit to finishing it.

NOTES:
[1] Source: This Isn’t Happiness, accessed May 8, 2013 http://thisisnthappiness.com/post/48296644589/any-road
[2] Merlin Mann, “Getting started with ‘Getting Things Done’,” September 8, 2004 accessed May 4, 2013 http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done
[3] Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan, 2010), 271.

On summer or winter in books and writing

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and The Call of the Wild

“Do you prefer Summer or Winter in books and writing?” asks blogger Lea At Sea. What do you think? I had to think about that for a while.

I finished a few books recently by authors Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. Saturday, On Chesil Beach and The Bean Trees all have specific seasons and locations central to each novel. As I thought of how the seasons permeate a novel, two novels come to mind: ‪

by ‪Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬ by Jack London. [1] It never occurred to me to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ because it begins on a cold winter morning. The character and narrative interested me. The gulag in winter is a prominent element of the story, but that isn’t the reason I read the book. It was the story.

By nature I’m a fall/winter sort of person. Maybe that’s why I recalled those two books:One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬. But my reading choice is not directly influenced by that predisposition otherwise I would not have picked up a book set in spring/summer of the American southwest. However, I am curious to learn if your reading selections are influenced by that perimeter. Do you choose a book because it is seasonally based? Further, if you are a poet and/or writer, do you specifically write for a specific season?

NOTES: [1] Technically, ‪The Call of the Wild‬ and On Chesil Beach are novellas. Maybe I should refer to the works as books rather than their literary distinctions. Writing Forums offers distinctions between short story, novella and novel lengths. Basically, word count. Short Short Stories & Flash Fiction; usually under 1,000 words; Short Stories, 7,499 words to 15,000 words; Novelette, 7,500 to 17,499 words; Novella, 17,500 words to 39,999 words; Novel, minimum word count of 40,000 words. It is my understanding that a proper novel runs an average of 80,000 words. Since we’re on the topic of word count, Fiction Factor offers How Long Should Your Story Be? by Lee Masterson and Writer’s Relief presents Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction.

Tonight’s Malaprop’s reading featuring Sebastian Matthews, Sybil Baker and Chris Hale

Just received this email from Malaprop’s regarding tonight’s, June 1st, reading at 7 p.m.

Triple reading event, featuring new poems by Sebastian Matthews, and selected poems from his most recent collection: MIRACLE DAY: MID-LIFE SONGS; a reading by Sybil Baker from her novel INTO THIS WORLD; and a reading by novelist Chris Hale from her just-completed memoir, LINE OF SIGHT.

I’m very excited to learn of Sebastian Matthews’s new collection of poems.

Book cover design

Book cover design

Kidlingers like the latest book cover design… because the title has flaming letters & a firefighter.

The elegant lie

Sunday, I had the opportunity to sit in the WPVM studios during a broadcast of WordPlay. Katherine Min read from Secondhand World; a lyrical novel of sorts. Sebastian Matthews discussed the autobiographical elements of the novel. Katherine Min responded, “Fiction is the elegant lie that leads to the truth.” And I wrote it down in my notebook along with other jewels I gathered from observing the recording of WPVM’s WordPlay.