Do your writing plans and projects tend to get jumbled in your brain?
Even when I have a clear list of projects and tasks, I can end up taking on a bit too much and getting overwhelmed. My brain fills up with tasks and ideas and projects and I feel like I have no idea where or how to start.
Luckily, I now recognize that feeling as part of the challenge of writing and I have a plan to help clear my head.
If you end up with the same sort of jumble, maybe my process will help.
Feel free to adjust anything that doesn’t work for you!
Note: If you are a naturally organized person, this approach may be painfully obvious to you. Perhaps you can just keep this list in your metaphorical back pocket in case you ever get overwhelmed.
Note: This process can be done digitally or on paper. If you choose to use paper, make sure you have at least 3-4 sheets. That way you can keep different parts of the process on separate pages.
1) Pour it all out
If you have been working on multiple projects, you probably have ideas, small research tasks, questions, revisions, partial projects all in one big swirling mass in your brain.
Since it is impossible to work on them all at once, it can feel like you can’t work on any of them. And, when they are swirling together, you won’t be able to see the shape of any one task. They will all feel bigger than they are and they will all feel annoying.
The first step in dealing with that swirl is to pour it out of your head and onto some paper (or a screen.)
Don’t worry about creating any sort of order as try to capture your thoughts. Just get them all out where you can see them.
2) Sort it
Now that you have everything out of your head, it’s time to sort it.
Here’s how I sort things but, obviously, you can sort your list in a way that makes sense for you.
Start by copying anything that is NOT related to writing onto a separate sheet. Come back to that another time.
- Divide a sheet of paper into two sections ‘Now’ and ‘Later.’
- Divide each of those sections into ‘Personal’ and ‘For Other People.’
- Start copying things from the initial list into the correct categories.
I usually keep the categories broad at this point so I don’t have to spend too much time deciding where things should go.
3) Subdivide and break things down
Once everything is sorted into the broad categories, I look a bit more closely at both parts of the ‘Now’ section.
If I have a task that includes multiple steps, I will break it into its components. (They are easier to check off a list!)
If I have multiple tasks from the same project, I will regroup them so they are together.
If I have multiple projects represented, I will note which projects the tasks belong to.
Then, I can prioritize based on deadlines or on my own interests.
After I have gone through the Now tasks, I will look at the Later category in the same way.
Note: If any of your tasks are vague or if you just have a note to ‘Work on Project X’, try to turn that item into a specific action. Instead of ‘check if dialogue works’ say ‘Read dialogue aloud and listen for rhythm.’ ‘Work on Project X’, can become ‘Create document for Project X and brainstorm for 5 mins.’ Specific, action-related items are easier to start and it will be obvious when they are done.
After all of the sorted and labelling from above, I have a clearer idea of WHAT I need to do. And I have a sense of the actual size of each task and which tasks should take priority.
(Bonus: I often find that tasks are actually smaller than they seemed when they were in the swirling mass.)
After the WHAT, I find it useful to consider the WHEN.
I look at the writing time that I have coming up in the next week or so and I figure out which tasks I can do during each session. And I plan a time to review my task list for the next set of writing sessions.
Scheduling like that helps me to feel more in charge of my projects.
Knowing what I plan to do in a given session helps me to get rid of the feeling that I *should* be working on everything at once.
And knowing that I will be revisiting my task list at a specific point keeps me from feeling like I am procrastinating on the tasks that are still waiting to be scheduled. I know I will have time to do them but I have deliberately chosen not to do them yet.
Clearing your Head
If you are already overwhelmed and feeling behind on your writing, it may seem counterintuitive to take MORE time to make multiple lists.
However, I think you will find that the time spent clearing your head of the swirling mass of tasks will be worth it.
Coming back to your work with a clear idea of how and when to proceed will definitely make your writing process easier.