Friday, February 4, 2011

The Joy of Checklists

Checklists are one of the most useful tools for writers. I often wonder how writers who don't make checklists keep track of of their projects and what needs to be done on each and in what order.

Here are five ways checklists can make a writer's life easier.

1. They help you set priorities and stick to them. Most people today have far more things to get done each day and each week than can be fitted into just 24 hours or 7 days. If you make a list of the tasks that need to get done and rank them by importance in the grand scheme of life, you can make sure that your writing and your family get taken care of first and that everything else—errands, chores, phone calls, your blog—are stuffed into the time left over, or put off, or even hired out.

2. They keep your sights high. I make a list of ambitious writing goals for every new year and post it on my wall. I write faster and more efficiently and get much more writing done when I have that list of projects to remind me of what I need to accomplish by the end of the year. I make similar lists at the start of each month.

3. They prevent last-minute panics. You can routinely get writing projects done on or before deadlines by (1) making a list of all the components and subcomponents of the project, (2) figuring out the order in which they need to be done and by when, and (3) assigning deadlines to each task. If you check off each item on the list after you do it, you can make sure you don't overlook anything important.

4. They can help you start a short story or novel. If you write stories that take place in the present in a familiar setting, you may be able to jump right into the writing. As a historical and spec fic writer, I usually have to create or research the setting, the clothes, the manners, and many other things. At least some of that work needs to be done before I can set fingers to keyboard. Many times I've sat down to begin a story, only to realize that I never ordered the research book I needed or that I have no idea what the staple foods were in that time period. Nowadays, when I have a story or novel idea, I make a list of the basics I need to know or possess before I can start writing. That list makes sure that when I sit down to start, I actually can start because I've got everything I need. While writing, I add new things to the list when, for example, the protagonist chooses an occupation I'm unfamiliar with or decides to travel to a climate I've never experienced.

5. They can be a cheap reward. Many years ago, I took recorder lessons from a teacher who put a frog sticker on any piece I played well at my lesson. I was embarrassed at the time at how much pride I took in those frog stickers when I was an adult and should be beyond stickers. Now, I'm beyond being embarrassed. I get a good feeling of accomplishment each time I check off an item on my daily to-do list or on my list of stories to send out or my list of topics to research. I buy sheets of stickers and reward myself with a sticker each time I meet certain goals. It's cheaper, faster, and less caloric than going out for ice cream.

What other ways have you found in which checklists can help your writing?

I'll be blogging at Novel Spaces again on Presidents' Day, February 21. I hope you stay warm and safe from the winter storms until them.

—Shauna Roberts


Phyllis Bourne said...

I'm a checklist-a-holic! I use them for scenes. I write down the things I need to accomplish in the scene and check 'em off.

Charles Gramlich said...

I always make my first item on my checklist be: Make a checklist. Then I can cross that top one off right away.

SY said...

When I actually make checklist i'm more productive

Jewel Amethyst said...

I need to start making checklists. It'll probably help me to be more productive.