managing writing projects

  • 26 fiction book ideas
  • 33 fiction story ideas (shorts / novellas)
  • 19 fiction stories in progress
  • 6 non-fiction essays in progress
  • 6 fiction short stories finished
  • 8 fiction short stories to be edited / revised
  • 1 themed short story collection started
  • Afraid to say how many #100DayProject entries (i.e. not many)

And the big one:

  • 10 life projects

When I tell my therapists I have projects in the works,  I am referring to life projects. Things like “find a job,” “update/manage lisa.rabey.net” (librarian site), and so on are all individual life projects. Each “project” requires its own energy and resources. “Finding a job” meant spending 30+ hours a week on job searching, writing applications, finding references, and anything else associated with that task. I also spent five+ hours a week researching and updating my librarian (main career goal) site to keep myself fresh and relevant in the field.

Those two projects are related (but separate) and seem like they should take up a good chunk of my time. They are and they did but I didn’t have just those two life projects to keep me busy: I have 10.

Let’s give another example:

Code Louisville (life project #1) uses Team Treehouse (life project #2) as the foundational courses for Code Louisville’s cohorts. I reasoned I needed to also have a website to showcase my work which led to the creation of a consulting business (life project #3) for site design / content curation (of which I had enough knowledge to be dangerous but I was taking zero classes for, so I needed to take more classes to supplement (life project #4)). These life projects could be streamlined and consolidated into a single connected project (take only foundational courses needed for Code Louisville and use the website only as CL cohort increased, stop consulting services and taking additional classes).

But I didn’t think that way. I thought if I could do all the things, my chances of getting employed / noticed / famous would increase. We know how this story ends: Spread too thin and I was not a master of any and mediocre at best for most. How do I do I approach this to make sense in my head and to get the work done?


James Altchuer has the 5/25 rule. You make a list of 25 things you want to do and keep only five, the other 20 are distractions. I am using this advice to manage my projects better. Out of the 10, five were put on hold indefinitely. Two were consolidated (Code Louisville / Team Treehouse) which leaves me another three projects I can handle: update EPbaB (and the newsletter) once a week, work on my woo-woo makey feel good stuff, and writing for a total of four projects. Code Louisville / Team Treehouse are time specific and not immediate so that’s on the backburner for the moment; updating the personal blog and newsletter takes 10 hours a week (closer to five to seven but I want to be generous with time), and the woo-woo makey feel good stuff is my daily meditation, working on DBT, seeing a therapist which is also another 10 or so hours a week. In theory, since writing can be done at anytime and anywhere, I have about 30 – 50 hours a week I can devote to writing.

On paper, this sounds great, but there is more coming down the pipeline. I’ve applied for several online tutoring jobs which while it nets me some much needed cash, it also means I’m going to be working about 20 or so hours a week which will eat into my writing time. Plus there is general life stuff: errands, going out, dog things, etc which has an unknown amount of weekly allocated time. Finally, FINALLY, there is the writing itself. I have books to read, notes to make, ideas to simmer, when do I actually sit down and just bloody write?


Writing is on the forefront of my brain for the last few months and I want to change my framing of approaching it. If I do X (which I’ve done a million times), then X would surely, finally (not really) happen. Good intentions, bad follow through and it’s fucking with my goals. Look at the writing numbers above: 26 book ideas stretching back to at least 2001. 80% of the ideas will never see the light of day. The remaining five, maybe 2 will come to fruition if I actually get cracking on them. The other numbers will roughly have the same percentage. The only increase, and probably better completion of, are the non-fiction essays since I can knock those out fairly quickly.

Therein lies the rub: writing isn’t just about writing, it’s about everything you do before (and after) you put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard). There are queries to write, research to be done, edits to be made, notes to take, possible classes to sit in, books to be read, and if you’re self-publishing, there is far more work to be done for promotion and hustling oneself out into the world.

I get overwhelmed with it all, fuck off the world and play Animal Crossing. Surprise, surprise – nothing is finished.


900 words later, we get to the point: How do I handle writing projects? Walter  Mosely’s slim treatise, This Year You Write Your Novel can be summed up as such: Allocate X hours in the morning for just writing and spend the afternoon doing administrative tasks (email, errands, research) and within a year, viola! A novel. Jonathan Franzen (jackass) has widely noted he has his wireless card removed (to prevent internet distractions) and once, “…writing in the dark, wearing earplugs and a blindfold.” to finish another novel. (Pompous twit.) But it worked for him. Other writers have even more wildly different approaches. I know of one writer who, with deadlines looming, writes whatever is due before the final hour. NaNoWriMo‘s approach tells you if you write 1600 words a day, NO EDITING, in the month of November, you too can have a complete (unedited), albeit, short novel.


Here I am, with more ideas to shake a stick at, finally time I can reasonably carve out to write, and I’m writing a blog post about managing writing projects instead of, you know, actually writing.


All is not lost! I use a 9″x12″ sketch pad to plot out my life and now I have a visual idea of what I can reasonably handle even if the other ideas are 10000% awesome. I’m, for the first time, learning from my reading in addition to enjoying it for pleasure. I’m reading technical books to refresh my English comp classes, I’ve started plotting (new!) some stories to get an idea of how I want the stories to land. I’m keeping in mind the advice I gave a few weeks ago and using the spreadsheet of doom to track everything. I am starting a task for the day and completing it rather than have many tasks unfinished. Progress on reframing my approach, tiny but visible, is being made.


It’s hard. Writing is hard. We do not come forth and spill out Harry Potter or Ulyssys on the first tries. We know of the rejections and the waiting and the struggles. We forget these things when we see authors we love become more famous or in some, become obscure. We cannot be everything at once and in all life projects, yet we try to be. We have a voice we want to be heard but we keep strangling it on the behalf of others advice with the thought of shame we are not doing things “right.”

And that’s our greatest struggle of all.

“what the hell do i write about?”

“what the hell do i write about?”

this is a question i’ve mulled over for ages and i can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer. i tried chick lit many years ago but while i loved to read it (shut it), several of my pieces started out strong and eventually  fizzled. i suppose if i found an editor who could help make a difference it would have been different, but in the end my heart wasn’t into that genre anymore.

next came fantasy/sci fi/paranormal/magical realism. i love the works of terry pratchett, jasper fforde, and others, and i’m keenly interested in mythology and fairy tale, and while that’s all well and good, and i have notes up the wazoo on various pieces, i just cannot get going on building my worlds.

then i started dabbling in mysteries with cabinet particulier (working title), “…a book project about a near-failed Edwardian actress who finds she is extraordinarily talented with a still camera. A little too extraordinary. It’s 1907. Throw in a bit of magical realism, fairies, Arthur Conan Doyle, motorbikes, and a murder and you have the makings of a fantastic world” (i apparently write fabulous summaries), but that’s stalled not because i’ve lost interest but everything else going on in my life has pushed the book far into the background.


i’ve been contemplating recently on two very important points:

  1. i should keep writing no matter what i do
  2. and this quote by theodora goss: “i tell myself that I’m allowed to be jealous of another writer if i’m willing to be jealous of everything, the good and the bad.”

the last one is particular poignant because i follow two women writers who’ve started from nothing and ended up blowing up huge. i’m jealous of their success, their recognition, and their fans who love them. but i remember both struggling, finding an audience, wanting to be read more than anything in the world, their  failure after failure and lastly, never ever giving up.


one thing i’ve learned about myself this past year, and one trait i’m thrilled to finally have down pat, is starting something and continuing on. i’ve meditated for 413 consecutive days; i’ve recently started weight watchers and i’ve been diligent on keeping on track (and so far losing 12 solid pounds since starting and 19 pounds from my highest weight recorded earlier this year); doing yoga on a continual basis, and the most important one: being smoke free since january. these are but small things but knowing i can start and continue a single thing has helped pushed me into doing more things  i can actually follow through with.


this new ability is v. important. i have adhd and coupled with my other brain gifts, starting projects, following through, and finishing those projects has only succeeded 1% of the time. so why the (positive) change? i attribute it to drugs, mainly, but the feeling of doing something and finishing something has made a huge impact on my life. i remember the feeling when i finished my book; this feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction i created something and i gave it to the world, which gave me a natural high.

and that high is addicting.


i’ve spent a good portion of my morning reading through what i have written in scrivener and upon closer inspection, things aren’t as half bad as i feared. the writing spanned from chick lit to magical realism; some better than others (despite my earlier assessment) and i found myself wanting to complete some of that work. there is a lot to work with, with some pieces closer to completion than others, which is only right. i have some fairly good ideas i cooked up and i can see where the mania pushed some work further down the road in terms of tone and plot while others are dark and short relative to the depression i was going through at the time. there is quite a few non-fiction pieces in addition to the fiction, with smattering of erotica and poetry (which is terrible. i am certainly no poet.

my voice in some pieces is fresh, while others are still in need of a lot of work. i caught myself, after reading a few pieces, finding stuff similar to other voices. the question gets turned not from, “what the hell do i write about?” to “how can i make this mine?”


“what the hell do i write about?”

the question remains valid. i am worried, and to be frank still am, i would be regulated to writing about the things i feel strongly about (myself, mental health, libraries, comics) rather than widen my horizons into other areas (short stories, novels, erotica).


i’ve always struggled with anxiety about my writing: it’s trite; it’s not strong enough; the story has been retold too many times. i feel overwhelmed i cannot compete on the big stage. my writing is never good enough.

i’m going to add more pieces of advice i received about writing:

  • read your work out loud
  • remove as many “thats” as you can
  • use a thesaurus liberally
  • watching your “-ings”
  • watch your verbs
  • just because you’re sick of your writing doesn’t mean someone else is

the last piece stays with me more often than not and is underscored by people who tell me they love my writing. so why don’t i have belief in myself?


“what the hell do i write about?”

in the past i felt writing about this topic would get done to death, but today i think it’s okay to keep hammering the point when necessary because it’s a good reminder it’s okay to be scared, overwhelmed, and insecure. not everything is going to be perfect from the belly and it’s okay to have some bad work as well as exceptional work.

the last piece of advice i’d give a new writer: it’s okay to be scared.

 

p.s. i’m going to do a variation of the #100dayproject where i write one page a day for 100 days. i’m not going to post that shit on instagram, as dictated on the project page, but i think in the end i might post here to my blog or do something for accountability. anyone want to do a project along with me (doesn’t have to be writing) for moral support?