I’m going to say it – prioritization is a must for writers. It can seem out of place – writers are supposed to be carefree artistic types that sit at a typewriter overlooking a lake, creating stories for their family members to talk about around the campfire. They are not supposed to be well organised or disciplined. However, if you want to be a productive writer it’s really important to know where you’re spending your time and what you’re spending your time on. In short, you need to prioritise your writing.
If you don’t, you energy will be expended on things that aren’t important, or (even worse) downright damaging to your overall aims. I know it can be really difficult to know how to prioritize your writing, but it’s a skill you can teach yourself!
In this post I’m going to talk you through the process, looking at everything you’re working on to make sure you’re concentrating on the right thing. When I did this, my I realized that I wasn’t concentrating in the right places. Although I was turning out some good work, I wasn’t being targeted enough in what I was doing, and it was leading to a mish-mash of different ideas.
I realised I needed to prioritize and streamline. If you follow the steps below you will have confidence that you’re making the best possible use of your time.
Get that notebook out
It’s time to get your favorite notebook out (whether it’s digital, real or something in between) and divide that page up into three. It’s time to make some lists. If you’re a new writer, and are yet to create anything (how I envy the blank canvas you have in front of you) then think about the books, TV shows and films you enjoy reading and consuming. Use the tips below, but for the art that you enjoy, rather than create.
1. What are you working on right now?
For the first list, I want you to look in your computer folders and notebooks. Then make a list of everything you have unfinished at this moment. Try and ignore the brief outlines and ideas (for example, a one page treatment doesn’t count as a work in progress for the purpose of this task, nor does a mood board or brainstorm). Try and look at work that you’ve invested a significant amount of time in but have stalled on, or got distracted by something else and not finished.
Why am I asking you to do this? Powered by unrealistic hopes and dreams, many writers have far too many projects on the go at any one time. This means that when they start to write, they bounce back and forth between the ideas. This means they accomplish very little when they site down to write. It’s difficult to get into the writing flow on one project when you’re constantly worried about another one.
It’s time to take a strategic look at your writing by taking a step back and looking at everything in your portfolio, rather than concentrating on one particular story at a time. This is an important first step – it will allow you to concentrate your time more effectively by making sure you concentrate on something that you enjoy, even if it’s at a subconscious level.
How big is that list? How many things are you working on at this very moment? And how many different projects do you have underway? It might be a scary list to you – if it’s anything like mine was it will likely represent a huge amount of hours of work and stress. But you shouldn’t be too discouraged by this. This is the first step on your journey – to be more productive you need to work out exactly what you want to be productive about.
2. What type of projects are you working on?
For the second list, I want you to look at the results of the previous task. Is there a particular format (novel, script, poem) that you seem to be drawn to? Some writers concentrate on one form, but others (like me) jump back and forth across the formats almost as quickly as they change their ideas. Others of you will probably have decided a long time ago that you’re a novel writer first and foremost, and that’s all you’re ever going to write. Others will prefer poetry, or screenplays.
By looking at your writing history, you’ll be able to decide what type of work you naturally gravitate towards. This will give you an idea of what you enjoy writing, because over the years you’ll have done more of it. It come as a surprise the type of work you have done over a longer period of time.
As well as this, look at the content of your writing. Is it mainly non-fiction? Or a particular genre (sci-fi, romance, crime) that you have started dozen of stories about? Is there an imagined universe or character that you keep revisiting? You may not know it, but you may already be leaning towards a particular genre. Make a note of the top three things that you have done – are there more sci-fi stories, romance or non-fiction?
3. What types of projects have you finished?
So you know what type of creative writing that you are drawn to. Now it’s time to dive into that. Of your preferred format, how many pieces of work have you actually finished? Now, I know that many writers never consider their work finished (although remember, perfection is the enemy of the good) but you must have one or two pieces that you have got to a position where you’re sharing with friends and family, or sending to competitions.
When you started a particular piece of work, you must have had an end goal in mind for it. Was it to enter it in a competition, or submit it to a blog or magazine for publication? Maybe you wanted to send it to an agent. These goals are easily lost when the going gets tough, or when another project lands in your lap. If you’ve reached that goal, add it to the list.
Again, don’t feel bad if you don’t have anything finished at this stage. You have worked hard on everything in front of you, and you should be proud. If you have nothing but unfinished work, look for the ones you remember spending the largest amount of time on, or the ones that you have been chatting to friends about. One or two of your stories will jump out at you as the most ‘complete’ ideas.
Look for patterns
The idea is that the lists will have got smaller and smaller. If you’re lucky, the three lists may look very similar. But the chances are that the lists are still really long. What you need to do now is look for any patterns that appear in the lists. Have you got a lot of unfinished sci-fi novels, but finished more romance? Maybe in this case you need to start working on some more romance books – or actually finish a sci-fi book! Using these lists will allow you to see your work in one go. This will help you make more informed decisions about what you should be working on.
As ever, the images on this page are from Pexels.com