Write, Edit, Write, Repeat…

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy!”

“What is it, Princess?”

“I want to watch a movie in the new minivan!”

What a strange concept. A new twist on drive-in movies?

Why did I ever agree to that feature? Sigh…

Princess Erika

With much chagrin and very little humor, I have entered the minivan world for the first time in my forty-seven years of life. Worse yet, I am selling my sports car, a beautiful 1987 BMW L6. I thought when you got near fifty, you did it the other way around? No wonder I am always so confused.

The truth is I have always loved vans almost as much as I love my sports car. In fact, I have owned two VW Camper vans over the last ten years, so technically you might call them a minivan. I called them campers, but my students called them creeper vans. Go figure!

My wife is nearing the end of this round of chemo, and we are hopeful life may return to normal in the not too distant future. I have released another Onyalum Wars blog and wrote two chapters in the two novels I am currently working on. Don’t ask why there are two, I am still trying to figure it out myself! I am also scheduled to compete in the first ever Rocky Mountain Book Signing Competition in September, so authorship moves forward. Okay, its me and two of my writing group buds, but hey, it is a competition!

All of this means it is time to get back on that writing horse and make some progress. For me, the writing is the best part of the experience. It is the ultimate freedom, if you write fiction, and it is still the best catharsis next to my new hobby, stargazing. However, we all know this is only part of the process, and like washing clothes is to fashion, there is dirty work that must be done.

Editing. Yes, the seven letter word that should be four. Wait, Edit is a four letter word? Anyway, we all shun it, despise it, avoid it, and worse, ignore it, but it is an author’s dirty little secret that cannot be avoided. I know, many of you are like, ‘Well, I write the novel and then go back to edit it, but it is so distasteful, I have a hard time completing it.’ Not surprising when you wait so long to perform your professional duty. I can hear your old English teacher rolling in her grave right now! Let’s hope she is not dead.

What did all those old English teachers tell us over and over again? Edit your work! Yeah, I am right there with you, but I have devised a way to make this process less burdensome and more productive so that when you finish writing, you’ll already have a nearly completed manuscript. After that, it’s on to proof-reading and you are done!

Oversimplifying? Maybe, but my process does work and breaks that monstrous editing beast into bite size chunks. Actually, I might blow chunks from that metaphor. Yuck! Better yet, it can also improve your writing process, as well. And if you call in the next five minutes, we’ll also send you the ‘get published in five minutes’ video for free!

Tongue-in-cheek aside, this process can make you far more productive while helping you improve your writing along the way. By the end, you barely need to edit anything as your writing quickly improves. Okay, enough of the upsell, here is the process.

When I write, I like to think in terms of chapters. After all, they are nice logical blocks of writing. Though many will take weeks to complete, they are a milestone I work towards. So, when I complete a chapter, I edit that chapter before starting the next one. I only do a single pass edit, very manageable for a chapter. At most, it usually takes about thirty minutes to edit a chapter, depending on the number of pages.

This is a small price for the benefit you will get out of it. First, a little time usually passes between when I complete a chapter and when I start a new one. Because of this, the storyline has lapsed slightly in my mind from the previous chapter. Editing that previous chapter right before I start the new one adds transitional consistency between the chapters, making the story more cohesive.

In addition to this consistency in your writing, by doing an editing pass before you start writing seems to make my newer writing a little better. The process of wordsmithing and sentence restructuring on the old work carries over into the new work, thus producing a slightly higher level of writing than I might have had otherwise. I realize this is a bit subjective, but I really do believe this effect does exist.

Okay, I continue this process for each chapter as I write the novel. But wait, there is more! Since I am part of a writing group, I post each chapter on our group blog site for the other members to read and comment on. Because of this, I always edit that chapter one more time before hitting the post button on the blog site. This go round, it takes even less time since I have already edited it one time before.

I realize that for some of you, this seems excessive, but trust me when I say you will be glad you did this editing while you go rather than waiting until the end. Nasty grammar and spelling is easily caught, and the story seems to flow more readily without those pesky consistency problems that can creep into even the best writer’s work. Again, think of it as your weekly laundry that must be done despite how distasteful it is. Yeah, some of you may have guessed, I am doing my laundry as I write:)

Now, assuming you bought into this process, there is more yet to do. You see, after I have written about half the book, I want to go back through all that work and get the big picture of the novel so far. This means I edit from the beginning to the halfway point one time before I continue. This will catch more of the those consistency errors and also give you an ‘enjoyment’ measurement. After all, if you don’t like what you are reading, why will your readers? Look for slow parts that don’t add to the story as part of this pass, timing is important!

Finally, when you have finished the last page, go back through the last chapter before going back through the entire manuscript. This is your final edit pass before you begin the proof-reading process that is also an important part of your writing. Since you have been editing as you go, this final edit will go quickly, thus saving you from that massive anxiety facing those who waited until the end before editing.

Let’s summarize the process assuming we are writing a ten chapter novel (big chapters):

  • Write chap 1 – Edit chap 1 – Edit chap 1 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 2 – Edit chap 2 – Edit chap 2 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 3 – Edit chap 3 – Edit chap 3 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 4 – Edit chap 4 – Edit chap 4 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 5 – Edit chap 5 – Edit chap 5 – Post to blog
  • Edit whole manuscript
  • Write chap 6 – Edit chap 6 – Edit chap 6 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 7 – Edit chap 7 – Edit chap 7 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 8 – Edit chap 8 – Edit chap 8 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 9 – Edit chap 9 – Edit chap 9 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 10 – Edit chap 10 – Edit chap 10 – Post to blog
  • Edit whole manuscript

I would characterize this as the minimum level of editing that you should shoot for while writing the novel. If your writing group provides feedback on errors, then you may choose to go back and fix those, doing another edit pass to boot. This is your choice, but either way you have taken that editing beast and cut it down to size while improving your writing.

It is a win-win, but requires discipline on your part. So, how do your integrate this into your writing process? Easy, you add it to your task list in Excel that you already created to manage your Appointment To Write! By placing it in this list, you will have a regular reminder that you should edit after you have checked off that ‘Write chapter 1’ item in your list.

Of course, I haven’t told you what to edit or what to do when you proof read the manuscript, but hey, those are food for future posts, so come back again for more sage advice. In the meantime, keep your Appointment To Write faithfully, and don’t forget to edit that laundry … I mean writing.

Now, where is that Cinderella movie again? Hey, wait a minute, is this a new alternative to the afternoon nap? Uhmm, probably not. Being a parent is too much work! Sigh …

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Curling your Task Data to hit your Writing Buttons

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Honey!”

Now what? I already loaded the dishwasher.

“Yes, dear?”

“The men’s curling is on!”

Sweet! The writing will have to wait…

We are smack dab in the middle of the Winter Olympics, and I have but one word: AWESOME! I have loved the Olympics since I can remember watching them and I love the Winter Olympics best. Since Nagano, I have watched Olympic Curling avidly, and this Olympics is no different! I have even looked into curling in my area, finding the local Broadmoor Curling Club. Hmmm, if I only had time…

Alas, between my writing, my family, and my day job, I think my Olympic aspirations may be nothing more than a dream. Oh well, life will go on, as will my writing! Curling for fun? Well, we’ll see if maybe I can fit that into my leisure time somewhere down the road. Golf in the summer, curl in the winter?

By now, you have successfully created your spreadsheet of writing tasks, and are likely using it to help plan and execute your weekly Appointment to Write. If you read last month’s blog, you even have a more long-term set of writing goals that you want to pursue over the next ten years. All of this is great and will help you achieve your writing dreams.

So this month, I want to detail some of the Microsoft Excel features that will allow you to view and organize your data based on various fields and values. These are nothing new to the avid Excel user, but useful to those who have never seen them before.

First, once your data is in with the Status and Target set for each task, then you want to sort your data each time you keep your Appointment to Write so that your highest priority items bubble to the top. This can be accomplished using the sort option in Excel.

Before you access this feature, open your spreadsheet and select the upper left-most cell in your table header. This will be titled Book if you are using the spreadsheet downloaded from my site. Now, scroll down to the lower right-most cell of your data and hold down the shift key before clicking on the cell. This will select your entire table for the sort. Now, from the menu, select Data | Sort to get the following dialog to appear.

If you followed my advice and used the Status fields I specified, then sorting them from A to Z will put the Done at the top, the Inprogress next, and the Not Started last. This may seem a bit strange, but you want the finished tasks to be first so that you scroll past them to the ones you need to work on. Since I change the color of my finished tasks, it is easy to scroll down to the “white” cells to know where to start.

Next, you want to add a new field to sort on and select the Target field. This will allow you to sort from Oldest to Newest, thus placing your closest deadlines at the top of the list. This way you work through your list in the order you originally specified. The great news is if you change your targets, you can easily re-sort the data by clicking on only one cell within your table and running the sort command again. It “remembers” the last sort you ran on this data. I know, really convenient!

Now that you can sort your data such that your highest priority items are the first items to work with, you can run the sort at the beginning of your Appointment to Write or after you have made changes to your task list. However, I often need to manage my list by Book or task Area rather than just Target and Status. Thankfully, the filtering feature within Excel offers this ease of use by forcing the view to show only the data for a specific book or task area.

As before, click on the Book cell within your table header to begin. Next, select Data | Filter to filter by any of the table headers you use. Note, the program automatically places pull-down arrows within each cell of the table header row, thus allowing you to select whatever value to filter on within that column. For example, in the following I have filtered the spreadsheet by task Area, selecting only those rows identified as Editing.

As you no doubt noticed, there is more to filtering than just a single value in that particular column. If you have text within that field, such as in Task and Comment, you can have it filter on rows that contain a specific text string or you can filter on numeric columns that are greater than or less than a specific value.

The power to view various aspects of your data is enormous, so play around with this feature to discover what it can do. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt the data, and if need be, you can remove filtering from your table to bring everything back to the way it was before. As your task list grows and becomes more complex, this feature will help you slice it up into ways that are useful to your management of it.

Now, I need to get back to those Olympics and root for team USA to win another round of curling. Being in last place at this stage of the round robin means every game counts from here on out. I hope they can pull it off!

Keep your Appointment to Write, manage your writing tasks, and most importantly, don’t stop writing! Talk with you next month.

Plan Your Future Writing Now

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy!”

Uh-oh, who stole what?

“Yes, sweetie?”

“We forgot my lesson!”

A writer probably should teach his child to read. Sigh…

Empress Erika

My daughter already loves books and she can’t even read. I love it but need to teach her how to read the stories she loves so much. Hooked On Phonics seems to work well with Erika, so we’ll have that reading down pat before she starts kindergarten. This is truly a plan for her future!

A new year is a great time to not just reflect on what has been accomplished but what needs to be done. I love the start of a new year because it holds the promise of new projects or the completion of old ones. Both are exciting prospects, and I use the beginning of the year to look at both.

My New Year’s Day is always spent working in the office on a variety of projects both personal and professional. For my writing, I have a set list of things that I like to accomplish. First, I use three spreadsheets for my writing: Publishing, Marketing, and Sales. Each holds very different tasks dedicated to the particular area I am tracking.

Amazingly, once you have some product out there, you must manage that product, promote it, and pay taxes on the sales of it. These require a varied set of tasks that I like separated into different spreadsheets. I’ll talk later in the year in more detail about those, but this month I wanted to suggest you develop a similar annual process of cleaning up after the old work and preparing for the new work.

The first thing I do is copy my spreadsheets into new filenames using the new year in the filename. This creates copies that can be reset to begin the new year fresh. Since you will have carry-over from the previous year, copying is the easiest thing to do. Once that is completed, I move the old spreadsheets into an archive folder to save them for posterity. Who knows, might be interesting for someone down the road. Nostalgia!

I open the new files and delete all the tasks that were listed as Done in the Status field. These are now archived so I don’t want them in my list. Next, I go through the list of left over tasks from the previous year and modify the dates based on the fact they were not completed last year. Then I align them with the new year and my new Appointments to Write. Yeah, you still have your appointments!

Once that is completed, I think about what new tasks need to be added to the list. It is a new year, so maybe some new work has bubbled up to the land on the “active” list. Some has for me, so I add in those items. But wait, what new work could that be? Ah-ha, I thought you would never ask! You need a plan for the future from which these tasks bubble up to the “active” list.

Now some say I am anal when it comes to these things, but I honestly believe putting your dreams down in writing is a great first step to making them reality and is a great way to track your progress along the way. I do this dream plan at the end of every year and carry it out ten years into the future!

One thing I learned in business is you must have a long range plan if you have any hope in achieving your goals. In high-tech, we usually didn’t look out more than a couple years, but for my passion, I feel ten is a great way to keep me going. Yes, I actually have more than ten years of work on the slate! I have kept this dream list since 2003 and enjoy looking back at everything I had planned and actually completed.

At the start of each new year, I look back at the long range plan and move forward anything that was not completed in the previous year. Then I adjust the subsequent years based on that slip. Sometimes, there is no slip, so no further adjustment is necessary. However, the order of the projects typically changes over time based on my whims and desires, so I make changes to the list based on these new ideas for what I want to work on.

Now, I can’t divulge my top secret projects I plan on working on, but I can tell you this year is exciting. As I achieved my goal of finishing my fourth novel in the Onyalum Series last month, I plan on completing the editing and proofreading before publishing mid-year. That is a very satisfying plan for this year as I like to describe that book by saying it was like giving birth to a watermelon! Preview of the book is available here for those who are interested.

The rest of this year shapes up with the completion of two screenplays and starting my next novel, a high-tech military thriller. So where does ten more years come into play? Great question, but one I can answer without divulging all my plans. I had a life goal of ten novels before I leave this plane of existence, and indeed I have seven of those planned just for my Onyalum Series, so three more are needed. I also have at least a half dozen screenplays I want to write, so it was pretty easy to fill up the years.

Hey, if you are just starting your writing career, then don’t sweat it if your plan consists of only one novel. Forget this month’s blog and write your novel using your spreadsheet created just for this year! However, if like me you are a dreamer with big plans, write them down and track your progress each year. Now, I calculate one novel every eighteen months, and a screenplay in about three months, so I plan out my projects using those basic timelines. After all, you are looking at years with large goals not individual tasks and deadlines.

So where do you put this list, you might ask? Inside your task spreadsheet under a new worksheet titled Long Range. Create a simple table with two columns: Year and Publications. Once you have it, create a row for every year starting in 2010 going through 2020. Now, think about your projects, about how long each will take, and then place them in the appropriate year.

Remember, these are high-level goals, not individual tasks, so keep them something like, Write Novel, Edit Novel, Publish Novel. You get the idea! I have included my list for the old tasks I have completed since 2003 to give you an idea of what I am talking about.



As you can see, I have been busy! Throw in a career change, two children, and another dog, and you can see why being organized is so important to accomplishing your dreams. You don’t have to just dream your list, put it down in writing and actively pursue it. Once I have adjusted my list for the year, I usually go to my task list and start the process of breaking down the high-level tasks into smaller ones.

This also serves as your sanity check to ensure you can actually complete your dream list for that year. Don’t worry if you can’t because the process helps you think through priorities for each item you wish to accomplish. The main thing is getting something down and translating that into your task list. You will achieve excitement, ignite your passion, and finally convince yourself to keep your Appointment to Write!

So, if you are already thinking about novel two, three or four, then a long range plan is for you. Add that extra worksheet into your spreadsheet and write down your dreams. It is just one more way to keep your head in the game and your ass in front of the computer. Forget your resolution to lose weight (yeah, me too), and start actively pursuing your dreams! You’ll never regret trying.

“All right, Erika, I am coming!”

Okay, where is that Hooked On Phonics box? What in the world does the letter X sound like?

Excel … lerate Your Writing

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Honey!”

Uh-oh, bet this won’t be sweet.

“Yes, dear?”

“It’s minus one and Kahlua won’t come in!”

Doesn’t she have a fur coat? Sigh…

Killer Kahlua

Minus one Fahrenheit, forty mile per hour winds, now I know why they call it God’s country, He’s the only one who could survive this! Oh well, I still love Colorado even through the blizzards, and an occasional snow day off from work definitely supports my writing. Now, having to get the dog in? Well, the jury is out on that one.

We are hot in the middle of the Holiday season, and the New Year is just around the corner. Why not make a resolution that you will thank yourself for until you die. I mean an actual resolution, not the usual weight loss, quit smoking, eat better type, but a resolution to get your writing off the ground and complete a project within 2010.

I realize it may sound like wishful thinking, but if you have created your task list using Excel from last time and placed all your Appointments to Write within it, then you have a real shot at finally completing that project you have thought about for years. Make it a resolution you plan to keep, and I’ll help you achieve your dreams.

No, I don’t mean your dream of winning American Idol, but your dream of being a novelist. After all, why should an honest housewife be the only one to get a movie contract about Vampires? Your ideas are just as good, but they won’t help you living inside your head. Let’s get them out and allow them to breath and be experienced by others. Are you with me? Good, let’s proceed.

Okay, you have your Excel spreadsheet open, and you are waiting to complete your first Appointment to Write. Congratulations, you have come a long way to completing your project. The spreadsheet is designed to both motivate, track history, and instruct your writing progress. The fields within the spreadsheet are designed to assist you.

Let’s go through each field individually and discuss how they change, if they change, during your progress. I have listed all the fields below for a quick reference, then we will address each one in detail after that:

  • Book
  • Area
  • Task
  • Status
  • Target
  • Comments

I realize the Book field is really wishful thinking if you are just starting your writing career, but it serves more than a way to differentiate your writing projects. For newbies, this field is your ultimate goal, the Holy Grail, the whole enchilada. Every time you sit down to write, look at the book field and think about it being completed and in your hands. If people can lose two hundred pounds on a reality show, you can write a three hundred page novel.

Area is your way to differentiate your writing tasks. Although you would think it is only about writing, you would be wrong. There is more to publishing a novel, but getting it written is the logical first step. Here are my suggestions for values to use in this field:

  • Writing – duh.
  • Editing – really duh.
  • Publishing – a lot here, too.
  • Research – yeah, I got to do some of that, too.
  • Administrative – you’d be surprised how much.

Later on, I’ll explain more about marketing and sales, so don’t think this is all you’ll have to do. However, this is a good start for the beginning.

Not much to say about Task, you simply describe a goal that must be accomplished and is difficult to break down into smaller components. Eventually, you’ll come up with standardized phrases that describe tasks you do over and over again, but for now, don’t sweat it, just put something in there and get ‘er done!

Status is one of those that will change as you progress. At first, most of your tasks will be done sequentially, so this field doesn’t carry its weight during that time. Later on, it is important as you begin multi-tasking your writing. Hey, get a blog and you’ll know what I am talking about. I have two blogs and they keep me busy while I still write the novels. Yeah, I am a little crazy, but the writing keeps me sane.

All right, back to Status. There are a few values you should use in this field as follows:

  • Not Started – sadly, they all start out that way.
  • Inprogress – early on, there is usually only one of these.
  • Done – oh, what a feeling!

Start with these three and later you can add more. However, make sure they are in an alphabetic order so sorting on that field provides a useful view. More on that in the next blog, but notice that listing my tasks by this field in alphabetic order has the Done tasks at the top, to be scrolled out of view, followed by the Inprogress tasks, and lastly, the Not Started tasks.

This means that as I complete tasks, they scroll up, and what remains is viewable from top to bottom. This is useful as it gives you a way to check your remaining list without wading through the completed tasks. Now, as you start a task, please change the Status to Inprogress. Once you complete it, change the Status to Done. All tasks are obviously entered with a Status of Not Started at the outset.

Target is just as important as the Status field, maybe even more so. This is the due date, and we also sort on this field so that the most recent dates are at the top. As dates go past without completion, you must readjust the remaining tasks to take into account this slip in your schedule. I know it sounds hard and time consuming, but the reality is, you won’t get the dates quite right untill you have done this a few times.

Be patient, complete this administrative task diligently, and you will quickly get the feel for good dates based on your past experience. In the future, I will instruct you how to use formulas to update all the later dates based on a slip in an earlier date. But for now, simply change them by hand.

All right, this brings us to Comments. This field is useful for storing all sorts of information about your task. Web sites, email addresses, phone numbers, references, and excuses can all be listed within this field. I use it a lot for web resources for particular tasks. When you get into marketing your work, this will be critical. For the writing, not much is needed there unless you want to use it for outlining each chapter’s general storyline. Just a thought, I don’t actually do that.

So your task spreadsheet should be a dynamic document that you look at every time you sit down to write, update every time there are changes, and use to help track and motivate your progress. I start new ones at the beginning of every year, and it is so satisfying to scroll through the completed tasks to see what I have accomplished in that previous year.

But nothing is more exciting than completing the entire project. I am just about finished writing my fourth novel in my Onyalum Series and can’t wait to get it published next year. Still much to do, but the end is in sight and that really motivates me!

So, I’ll leave you this year with a heartfelt Happy Holidays, but with a request that you finally make that resolution to write your novel. Use the spreadsheet and your Appointment to Write to help you achieve this dream you have had for so long. Anyone can dream it, but only you can make it happen!

“Okay, dear, I’ll see if I can find her!”

All right, I need a parka, gloves, and a hat. Be very, very quiet. I’m hunting dog! Sigh …

Excel … lent Way To Manage Time

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Dah-dah!”

Another word for disaster?

“Yes, sweet pea?”

“Ehwika take crowns, I poopy, an Kahwua take banky …”

Don’t these things have an off switch? Sigh…

dscf12811

Tori the Terrible

With Halloween in the rear-view mirror and two more holidays facing us down, my waistline is increasing faster than my novel! I have always loved Halloweeen, and there is something wonderful about roast turkey at Thanksgiving, but why does it all have to be washed down with sweets? Don’t the Holiday Spirits know I have a sweet tooth?

Now that the white stuff is flying outside, I can finally teach you how to use Microsoft Excel to manage your writing. The spreadsheet, once only the domain of accountants and bookkeepers, is now a regular part of the American vernacular. We are, after all, a country driven by lists. Get the groceries, get the kids, record Fringe, feed the dog, etc, etc, etc.

So how do we manage it all? Well, I have chosen the spreadsheet to manage my time and tasks, and Microsoft Excel is one of the best on the market. It also comes with Microsoft Office, so most people already have it on their computer. If you are not familiar with it, then by all means, fire that puppy up and give it a test drive!

Now, once you are done kicking the tires and looking under the hood, you are ready to begin using this powerful product for your writing. First, download the template spreadsheet from my web site and save it to your Author folder, naming it something catchy like, MyDreams.xls or MyWriting.xls. If you’re boring, simply call it WritingTasks.xls.

If you are using Microsoft Office 2007, then it will want to create a file with the extension .xlsx. Feel free to permit the conversion, although I honestly haven’t seen any difference in the product from the previous version. Having worked at Microsoft for several years, I can assure you they release a new version of the tools every three years whether they have changed anything or not. Usually the changes are relatively superficial, like the new interface in 2007.

Start Microsoft Excel and load the template spreadsheet. Usually, you can simply double-click the file name in Windows Explorer and the program will automatically start and load the document. When done, you should see something like the following, depending on what version of Excel you are running.

Spreadsheet Template

Don’t be overwhelmed, but this spreadsheet contains more than just our task management. In fact, it is much more than that and a glass of milk! This spreadsheet encapsulates all the different processes I have discussed since starting this blog. On the bottom of the worksheet, yes, each page is called a worksheet, you will notice four (4) tabs titled:

  • Weekly Appointment
  • One Goal
  • Task Decomposition
  • Document

These are the basis for beginning your path to authordom. We will walk through each tab to prepare you for your journey to fulfilling your writing dreams.

Click on the tab titled Weekly Appointment and enter your appointment to write. Remember, if it is important enough to pursue, then it is important enough to have a weekly appointment, or two. I personally work three (3-4) days a week now, a couple hours each time. For me, Saturday and Sunday morning coupled with Tuesday and Thursday afternoon/evening seems to be the right fit. If I miss one or more of these appointments due to family obligations, I still have two more to target for that week. You pick based on your work habits and schedule. It should look like this when done.

Appointment to Write

Perhaps you noticed that when you entered the number of hours for each appointment, the total number of hours changed. This is because that cell has been filled with a formula that adds up all the hours entered above it. Go ahead, play around and see how it changes each time. However, be careful not to delete that cell’s content or this feature will be gone;(

Great, you have recorded your Weekly Appointment to Write which you will keep religiously like church or a doctor’s appointment. Now, let’s move on to the real meat of this exercise, the work you will perform during this appointment. If you haven’t done so already, click on the One Goal tab to record your overarching goal for your writing. This should be something tangible, like Write Novel X or Write Poem Y. When the goal is completed, you should be able to hold something in your hands that is the product of completing that goal.

One Goal

As you may note in my version of the spreadsheet above, I have put the title of my fourth book in my Onyalum Series, Galactic Checkmate. The title of the book or poem is a powerful reminder of what will be produced once you have completed this goal. In the Description field, simply write the following: Write and publish my first book. Simple, yes, but very powerful!

I remember my first book as though it were yesterday. I created my spreadsheet and entered these powerful yet simple words. At the time, it seemed an impossible dream to write and publish a book. But it was my dream and nothing would stop me from it. I started keeping my appointments and eighteen months later my goal was complete. Now, I am currently two-thirds done with my fifth book in total. Don’t give up!

Okay, you have your One Goal, now we must decompose that into chunks that you can spend your Weekly Appointment working on. This is called Task Decomposition, so click on that tab at the bottom to begin. Take each writing goal and begin to chop it into smaller pieces, assigning the number of your Appointments to Write as you believe it will be necessary to complete the task. Don’t get too granular, break down into things that can be accomplished with one or more appointments. After all, it makes more sense to Write chapter 1 as opposed to Write first sentence!

Task Decomposition

I have entered good samples of the kinds of tasks you can expect to perform to write and publish a novel. Obviously, there are more tasks to it than that, but this is a good working draft you can modify to fit your needs. Next, we have to actually enter the tasks that we will perform during our Weekly Appointment in the order that we will perform them (schedule). Click on the tab titled Document to begin.

This worksheet is the true meat of the process and will be used throughout your pursuit of your One Goal. Within this worksheet, you will record your accomplishments while maintaining a road map of where you are going and when. The column headers within this worksheet have been used by me for many years and provides a basic time management system that is powerful yet simple.

Let’s look at each of these column headers in detail to gain a better understanding of their purpose and use:

  • Book – Your goal.
  • Area – What aspect of your writing is the task?
  • Task – Duh.
  • Status – Not Started, Inprogress, Done.
  • Target – When will it be completed? Base on appointments.
  • Comments – Hey, add links if necessary (research, etc.).

Some people like to use a start and end date, but I find having only the end date (Target) is more than adequate when the tasks are ordered properly. Also, managing less fields is far easier, especially when you have to adjust it based on time slips or gains. Yes, you may actually get ahead of schedule!

Enter all your tasks from the Task Decomposition table, filling in the appropriate field value for each one. When done, you will have a nice list of what you will do during your Weekly Appointment to Write. Not only does it outline what must be done, but it informs you in what order it must be done in. Be sure to adjust the Target based on the end of the previous task and the duration you specified for that task. These should be tied to your Weekly Appointment, so if you require four (4) appointments, with two appointments per week, then the Target should reflect two weeks after the Target of the previous task.

Whew! That may seem like a lot of work, but the upfront cost will be far outweighed by the successful completion of your One Goal. Next month, I will walk you through the process of using this spreadsheet to manage your time effectively. However, if you don’t keep your Weekly Appointment to Write, you will never complete the tasks on this list. But, if you do keep your appointments, then the last Target date should be when you can expect to have accomplished your dream!

All right, another diaper change. God, I love parenthood😉

Tsk-tsk, So Many Tasks-tasks

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy!”

Ah, let the parental games begin…

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Kahlua’s gots Tori’s sock!”

All around the mulberry bush, daddy chases the puppy! Sigh…

Empress Erika

Empress Erika

Considering a neighbor of my mother-in-law had to have a sock surgically removed from their Corgi, our family must be vigilant in what gets haphazardly thrown to the floor. For some reason, socks are the favorite house prey of the Corgi, perhaps reflecting a deep seated desire to stay overnight at the vets.

Reflecting back across my myriad blogs I have imparted to you, I realized that it is a bit overwhelming to see so many tools at your disposal to simply manage your time. But I hope you’ll take away from this a greater understanding of its importance. If we allow our time to be dictated randomly without purpose, we will fail in all our endeavors. Again, don’t be the “What could have happened if…” and be the one who can say, “I did this!”. Patience.

Indeed, patience is a rare commodity in today’s culture of now-now, me-me, but that is what makes it precious, too. Starting down the wrong path will eat away at the precious time you must manage. You likely have heard the saying that there is never enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over. Let’s do it right from the outset, and spend that extra time devoted to doing it over on your writing.

As promised last month, we will look at the task management capabilities built into Microsoft Outlook, an email, calendaring, and task management system sold as part of Microsoft Office. It has several advantages over calendaring in that it supports a single view (all) along with various filtered views you can sort. Add to this that it also supports reminders and you can see it is a pretty powerful tool for managing your writing tasks.

I already hear your thoughts through my dog’s barking: If this is so good, why do you keep saying Microsoft Excel is the one you use? Good question, but one that is complex to answer. First, I actually use Microsoft Outlook tasks to manage my tasks at school. Considering the vast number of things I manage as a teacher and the fact I use Outlook for my email, it seemed a natural fit. However, it lacks portability with the exception that I can synchronize it with my Crackberry. Without Outlook installed and setup with my personal store, I cannot access these tasks.

All right, enough talk about what it can and can’t do, let’s talk about how you can use it to manage your Appointment to Write. I prefer the following basic fields to help me manage my tasks:

    TaskName of the task
    DueWhen the task should be completed
    Status Is it in progress, stalled, what?
    Comment Any specifics you need for the task (ie. web address, contact, supplies, etc)

It is a basic list of attributes, but simplicity is sometimes the best approach. The question is, can Outlook support these basic attributes? The answer is yes. In earlier versions of Outlook, you had to modify the field structure of the underlying task object, but with Outlook 2007, the basic task object has pretty much everything you need. Considering a new version of Microsoft Office is just around the corner (2010), I highly recommend you update to Office 2007 now.

However, as mentioned last month, you first must take your decomposed list of writing tasks and sort them by any order you wish to perform them in, or that makes logical sense. Once you have completed this, you must assign how many appointments it will take to accomplish each task. This is the duration of the task. Now, you are ready to enter each task into the system.

Open Microsoft Outlook and select Tasks in the left-hand menu. It should be the last item in your menu at the bottom of the menu pane. Notice that when you click on it, you get something eerily familiar to the email and calendaring view. This is one of the Outlook 2007 changes where the views are more consistent between the different services provided.

Now, in the To-Do-List Pane, double click on the Type a new task. Dialog Box. This opens the Task Edit Dialog which is remarkably similar to the Calendar Edit Dialog we looked at last month.

Outlook Edit Task Dialog

Outlook Edit Task Dialog

In the Task Edit Dialog, enter the following information for the first task in your task list:

  • Subject: – Enter the name of your task
  • Start Date: – Enter the appointment to write date you will begin this task
  • End Date: – Enter the actual due date for completion (duration)
  • Status: – Leave as Not Started until the start date
  • Reminder: – Select checkbox if you want a reminder and set the date to your appointment to write

In the open dialog box at the bottom, you can enter any comments, notes, web addresses, or supplies you need to begin or work on the task. The following image illustrates an example task created for my Appointment to Write.

Sample Writing Task

Sample Writing Task

Save and close your new Outlook task. In the main Outlook task pane you should see your task listed in the To-Do List. Click on the task and the preview pane will display the details of your task. The following illustrates this.OutlookTaskPane

Enter all your tasks into the system one by one and you will soon be managing your tasks to pursue your publishing dreams. The beauty is you can sort the To-Do List on any field you wish, you can filter using the left-hand menu items, and you can track your progress as you work on each task. Now, when you keep your Appointment to Write, you can open Outlook tasks and see what is currently due and then work on it until you have completed it.

With so much power built into Outlook Tasks, it still begs the question why I don’t use it for my writing tasks. Well, first, I must admit portability is less important today than in the past, so I could use it on my home computer where I normally write. Second, it does require less skill than Excel, so my task management could become less burdensome. However, I think ultimately my problem with it is I simply have too many things to manage.

In fact, I actually maintain three separate task lists in Excel for Publishing, Marketing, and Sales. Although each on their own are manageable, having all three combined in Outlook might be overwhelming. If you are starting out and only have writing tasks to contend with, I highly recommend Outlook tasks to manage those tasks and your time. Between the power it provides and the reminders to keep you on track, you can’t beat it for free if you already purchased Microsoft Office.

However, as you pursue your publishing dreams over time, you will find you need something more powerful and flexible as the number of your tasks increases. Not only do I use a spreadsheet for managing tasks, but it manages my sales, my web site statistics, my contacts, my web addresses, my future goals, my ideas, etc.

Next month we will finally discuss how you can use the companion spreadsheet to manage your tasks. In the meantime, if you do not own Microsoft Excel, you might want to purchase it and install it.

“Okay, Erika, close all the doors so we can corner Kahlua!”

Improving Your Outlook On Time

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Dah-dah?”

Here we go again…

“Yes, sweet pea?”

“Ehwika, ma dem seto me!”

Where did I put my secret decoder ring? Sigh…

Tori the Terrible

Tori the Terrible

Language is such an amazing thing, especially when you watch someone develop it over a couple years. It is amazing how fast they acquire a working vocabulary. Of course, she understands five times more than she can say, but I rather think her understanding can be selective. If it is to her advantage, she understands it.

Based on the minimal hits on the blog last month, most of you are not really into ancient technology like a Dayplanner. Not to worry, the computer age has freed us from the bonds of dead trees, at least to some degree.

This month’s blog will explain how the Microsoft Outlook email program can be used to manage your time and your tasks. If you don’t have this program, then you might want to consider purchasing a copy of Microsoft Office. I realize that some of you are into the open source code movement, and hey, I have OpenOffice installed as well. However, as far as email, calendaring, and task management systems go, Microsoft Outlook is near the top, and OpenOffice doesn’t have an equivalent program.

Okay, you have Outlook installed, and you are ready to enter your hard created task list into it so you can start making the most of your appointment to write. Stop for one minute. We have two ways we can manage our list: Calendar and Tasks. Yes, Outlook comes with both features, and both provide a wonderful way to manage your time and/or tasks.

But which should you use? Calendaring? Tasks? Both? It can be a bit daunting to make the call because once you go down a path, you certainly don’t want to have to backtrack again. Let me explain the value of both, then you can decide which seems right for you.

First, with Outlook calendaring, you can use a real calendar with multiple views: daily, weekly, work week, monthly. Since Outlook is also an email program, you will likely have it running while you are working on your appointment to write, so having an open calendar to view can be wonderful and effective. The calendar feature is simply a Dayplanner on your computer. However, because it is on your computer, you can set reminders to popup and remind you of your current appointment to write, thus helping you keep that appointment, in theory at least.

With Outlook tasks, it more closely models the spreadsheet format we will discuss in the future. Using this feature allows you to enter more information than just the task name, and you can customize it to have different fields for the tasks you are managing. Once setup, you can display and sort the tasks based on the fields you have defined. It can be powerful, but still lacks portability.

In fact, using Outlook at all reduces your portability dramatically. Your writing tasks will be tied to the one computer on which you have Outlook installed. For many, this may not be a problem. For me, I need portability. You’ll have to decide which sounds best for your needs and then follow the directions below to get started using it.

This month, I will give you the instructions for using the calendar feature which somewhat mirror those for the Dayplanner I discussed last month. Take your decomposed list of writing tasks and sort them by order you wish, or that logically makes sense, then assign the number of appointments it will require to complete each task. When you are done, you should have a good list to begin entering into the calendar system.

In Outlook, select the calendar feature in the left-hand window pane. Once in calendar, at the top of the main pane, select the Week view and be sure it shows the full week, not just the work week. If you are like me, you’ll be working on weekends since you have a day job! Now, use the date control arrows to move to the week where you intend to start your first appointment to write. Find the day and time of that first appointment and then click on the start time to open an appointment dialog.

ApptRecurrenceSmall

In the appointment dialog, you will setup this appointment to write for every week until infinity. To do that, you must access the recurrence option dialog as indicated in the diagram to the left. Within this dialog, you want to set the Start and End times based on what you have etched out of your week to write. I find two hours a couple days a week to be perfect. Now, set the recurrence pattern to Weekly, and select the day or days that you will write on. If the different days have different times, then enter another recurring appointment separately for the other day. Set the Start date and make sure it will not end. Hit OK to save the recurrence.

Once you are back at the appointment dialog, you need to specify the Subject of your appointment. I suggest “Appointment to Write“, but you could make it more whimsical like “Dancing with my dreams!“. Either way, setting your appointment is a big step towards pursuing your writing dreams. Now, set the appointment to show Busy and set the Reminder to whatever time makes sense to you. For a weekend appointment, I suggest a reminder one day in advance so that you see it before the weekend gets there. Save and Close the dialog to enter it into your calendar.

Okay, you wondering how this manages your tasks, right? Hang in there, we are not done. You have established your weekly appointment(s) and will be reminded each week to keep that appointment. This is good, even for those who won’t manage their tasks using the calendar feature.

However, if you want to use your calendaring to manage your tasks, then you have more work to do. Starting at the top of your list, go to date of the first appointment you will work on that task. Click on the recurring appointment to write, but when asked whether to open this occurrence or the series, open that occurrence only. In the Comment/Description field at the bottom, enter in the task name and any information pertinent to that task. The image below shows an example I did for writing this blog.

Outlook Appointment Occurence With Task

Outlook Appointment Occurence With Task

Now, for every appointment required to complete that task, go to the next occurrences and enter the same information. Or, if you have multiple appointments per week, then you might work on one task on one day and another on the other day. You decide and enter the task into each particular occurrence. When you become an expert at it, you can setup recurring appointments for each task as opposed to single occurrences for each task. Either way, you will now have your tasks and your appointment set to remind you each week. Very effective and hard to ignore if you spend time on your computer.

Unfortunately, besides portability, the calendaring feature lacks an important aspect that you will find disconcerting over time. You cannot look at your complete list of tasks, and when your tasks do change, you must track down every appointment for that task and modify it appropriately. This is the same level of work you would have to do with a Dayplanner, thus why it is less effective.

Fortunately, with Outlook tasks, you can overcome this deficiency in calendaring and see and manage your tasks appropriately. However, they will not be attached to individual appointments, but that may not matter. We will look at using Microsoft Outlook Tasks in next month’s blog which will provide a good lead in for the oft lauded spreadsheet we are working our way towards. Patience if you are waiting:)

Play with Outlook calendaring anyway, regardless if you decide to manage your writing with something else. It is a powerful appointment program that can help you manage your time, if not your tasks.

“Okay, sweet pea, show me what Erika did!”