Do you feel surrounded by unfinished work?
Here is how to rearrange and manage a messy workload.
It happened to me plenty of times over the years as an apprentice writer. I start a lot of different projects and because they are all equally important to my heart, I want to do them all. Because of that, I end up doing nothing.
I’d have a short story in my hand, only to put it down again to open my recent novel on my computer because I feel it’s a more pressing project, to then pick up the printed short story again, because it’s smaller, and thus easier to chip off the to-do list.
This mindset easily becomes a problem, where you have a whole bunch of articles, short stories, novel drafts, and unfinished manuscripts all waiting for a turn to be looked at.
How does it happen?
It’s nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it a sign of disorganization. It is a symptom of your passion for what you do, and not knowing how to resolve it does not mean you’re unmotivated. In fact, it’s your motivation to get something done that gets you running in circles.
Prioritizing is the most difficult part of the problem. On one side you might think that it’s best to focus on your shorter work like stories or articles, and you always want to do the project with the closest deadlines first, which leaves your long term projects in the dust.
Here are some steps to get out of the “work pile”.
1. Give everything a deadline.
A big reason ideas pile up is because they’re long-term projects, and because of that they’re left for another day. Let’s say you’re working on a novel that you want to be between 70.000 and 100.000 words. Give yourself a monthly, or maybe even weekly deadline on how many words to complete each time.
Even if you don’t make your word count for that period, it still provides the project with a place of priority in your schedule. The goal of this is not to finish it quicker, but to stop it from being forgotten altogether.
2. Knock out short projects early in the system.
For weekly projects like my articles for my blog, I reserve 1 day a week to “knock them out”. On Friday’s I sit down and go through the “smaller” writing tasks that I want to have done for the week after that. I still take a moment a few times in the week to follow to edit it and make sure I didn’t miss anything, but the grunt of it is done before my weekly schedule even starts.
This opens your scheduled writing time for more time-consuming projects like scripts and novels. This way, smaller projects that really only take one session to get through don’t fill what writing time you’ve planned, so you can instead spend some time on projects that need far more than one session.
3. If you’re uninspired, don’t do nothing, review finished work instead.
This is a lifesaving tip for me. It happens to all of us, when we’re walking down the street or when we are unable to write, we are filled with inspiration. Our heads fill with scenarios, dialogue, and everything is coming to you in vivid detail. But once you’re at your computer ready to knock out a chapter, your mind goes blank.
Usually, this is because you’re tired, but if you’re not tired enough to go to bed, then you could instead do some editing.
I save a lot of my editing work for these moments, those few hours at the end of the day when I’m out of creative juice but awake enough that I might end up watching TV for a few hours. I put Netflix on in the background on a very low volume and go through a few pages of finished work to edit it. This again enables me to spend my planned writing time on essential long-term projects.
Note: While I say this, keep in mind that downtime is very important. An exhausted writer is a bad writer, and you must take a moment to kick your feet up and relax before you prepare for the next day.
4. Prioritize writing time.
This is obviously in the scenario where you are not a fulltime writer yet.
When I talk about “planned writing time”, I mean that I take a few blocks of time a week that is solely dedicated to sitting down and writing. The phone goes on silent, and nothing else is planned. It can be hard to treat writing like your job because it never starts as your main source of income. You might feel it should be lower on your priority list. Understandable, and this tip can help you beat that problem.
It works the other way around as well, it separates the rest of your daily work and tasks from your writing, meaning your writing will never get in the way of your “real” work, and your writing will get the attention it needs.
5. Make sure you’re not tired!
If you’re going to schedule “special writing time”, do it early in the day. I usually plan it in from 9 am to 1/2 pm, and write between breakfast and lunch. If you do it later in the day, most of your energy is already burned up and it will be harder to feel inspired.
Other tips to have enough energy to write.
- Eat some carbs before you start writing. The exercise of the brain can be just as intense as physical exercise, and just like physical exercise, you need the fuel for it.
- Sometimes, spending 15 minutes walking outside with some music on gets the creative juices flowing. Everything can prompt, anything you might pick up could trigger the next paragraph. I like to spend a few minutes listening to music that I’ve associated with the project. It usually gives me enough adrenaline to keep going.
6. Prioritize your projects.
We might think we have a solid list of what comes first in our head, but that list is very emotion-driven. Which means it could change according to our mood or what we feel like doing. It is the biggest reason you could end up feeling surrounded by unfinished work.
How do you effectively prioritize?
- You make two lists.
one with what I call “single-session” projects,
and one with long-term projects, projects that need regular attention over a longer period.
- In your “single-session” list: If you have weekly projects like a blog or a magazine with deadlines, apply tip number 2 and write them during your “knock out” moment. That way, you take them out of your regular writing schedule, and they go in their own system.
You prioritize other short term projects by their deadline; make sure whatever needs to be done first, is done first.
- During your scheduled writing time (which should be at least 4 hours per session), you spend 1 or 2 hours on those short term projects.
- In your “long-term” list: You give your long term projects deadlines according to tip 1, and schedule to work on your long term goal during the second half of your scheduled writing time. Usually, a writer will only have 1 larger project going at the same time. In this method, you spend one part of your scheduled session on -non-recurring short-term projects-, and the other part on the long term project.
A few buts:
If you’re in a flow, don’t interrupt it just because your schedule says you should. If you’ve got a rhythm going but it’s time to switch to a different project, unless there is a pressing deadline, just keep going. How often do you get a flow strong enough that you’re still going after a few hours? Rarely, utilize it! Your next session can be adjusted accordingly to make up for the neglected project.
But a number one piece of advice from someone who’s been writing for years?
Don’t take up too many projects at once, especially if you have other things going on in your life as well!
I hope this will make you find your way through your jungle of work.