Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Task Management

Once again I'm indepted to LW for today's blog subject, task management, because I empathize with her plight. When you've got kids and another job, how do you get it all done? In the writing biz, I think it's especially difficult before you're published. Unlike say, sewing or knitting or decorating, when you've finished an unsold manuscript, you've basically just got a pile of paper. How do you explain the use of that time to people who only see the pile of paper, who don't see creative effort and optimism? It ain't easy.

I also think there's more pressure than ever before on authors to promote their work. So now it's not enough to write your book and get it published (no small potatoes!). No, you've got to be thinking of a web presence and public appearances and -- oh, how I hate this one -- "branding." (I have yet to comprehend the difference between "branding" and "stereotyping.")

So what's an author to do? I got one really good piece of advice from a business book, by Kate White, called WHY GOOD GIRLS DON'T GET AHEAD... BUT GUTSY GIRLS DO. She wrote this years before she became a mystery writer as well as the editor of Cosmo.

It's a little technique called "slice the salami." Instead of thinking of a job, like creating a website, as this huge mountain to climb, break it down to smaller tasks. I'd also add, spread over time.

For example, instead of thinking about the website as one major task, break it down into a series of small tasks, spread over time, with manageable deadlines. For instance, "This week, I'll register a domain name." That's it for this week. "Next week, I'll ask my friends or other writers I know if anybody can recommend a good web designer." All you have to do that week is compile a list of names. Next week, you contact one or two and ask for prices. That's it for that week. And so on.

In that way, you're working on the problem, and getting things done, just more slowly.

In my case, I realized over the weekend that my characters are apparently inhabiting the equivalent of a ghost town. As they move through what should be areas with a lot of people, I never mention anybody else. Ooopsy. So my task in one chapter, in addition to the general tightening to keep the focus on the main couple, is also to add people where there should be people. Simple, easy to remember, relatively easy to do. I'm not thinking about the overall plot - just what I need to do at that one place.

That's my slice of salami for that chapter.


Jen Lazaris said...

It's reassuring to know that successful authors such as yourself still go through the same processes (though to a much, much lesser degree, I'm sure) as newbie's like me.
I identified with the "ghost town" scenario.
I'm working on my first manuscript and it's like I have tunnel vision in some chapters. I'm trying not to be too hard on myself and just tell the basic story, figuring I can rework stuff during the second draft.

Margaret Moore said...

I certainly do that, Jen! I tend to leave out most of the description in the first draft. And I always have to layer in more of the emotions later on, too.

Good luck with the first manuscript!
It's exciting, isn't it? Kinda scary, too, but exciting. Like getting on a roller coaster. :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, your words ring so true. The small slices of a day are really when the ideas are formed and molded, long before the time I have set aside to write comes. Then I have a few productive hours of writing time usually, and then I'm off to take small slices of the rest of my duties.

The best thing, for me, has been that I can make the notes of needed edits/re-writes and ponder them throughout the day or in the small pauses, and come up with options to try when I sit down to write.

I talk out dialogue in the van on the way to practices (Mum, are you talking to yourself or talking out a book?), and never leave home without the laptop or a notebook for that perfect line or new idea that may be snatched away by one of life's chunks.

I'm even letting those times go, too, as I realized that my imagination is creative enough to keep churning out ideas for decades, and that bits and pieces or even whole chunks lost here and there are not worth the worry of trying to remember them. Something else will soon be on the horizon.

As always, thanks!