I have created a very simple and very effective writing motivator. It’s a spreadsheet in which I’ve listed every one of my works in progress. This ranges from finished and published works to ideas I’ve only just started to jot down notes for. I’ve given myself space to input the date when each project transitioned to a new stage (ie from idea to 1st draft, 1st draft to beta draft, beta to submission, etc) as well as a column that calculates the total age of a project from inception to today as well as how much time elapsed between each milestone.For example, a quick glance at my spreadsheet tells me that I started Mistress Novel five and a half years ago and that it took me only 4 months to finish the first draft but then almost a year and a half to get it good enough to show beta readers.
While the set-up of the spreadsheet itself took some time, as I had to look up a bunch of dates for older projects, it will be very little work to maintain as I only need to note new projects and dates on the sheet from now on as I go. While I’ve been meaning for a long time to get together a definitive list of everything I’m working on, I’m finding this little list to be incredibly helpful in several ways.
- Understanding my process. Right now, I don’t have a great sense of how long it takes me to edit something beyond “too long, clearly.” But this spreadsheet gives me that info at a glance, showing me exactly where each project is getting hung up and what I need to improve on overall. For example, I get first drafts done very fast, the longest it’s ever taken me is 4 months, which is great! But I’ve also been taking a year or more to get most projects (regardless of length) ready for beta readers so that needs work.
- Visualizing the timeline. Sometimes I have no sense of the passage of time. If you had asked me to guess how old Asplode was, I’d have guessed maybe three years but that project is really four and a half years old. I thought I took that playwriting class two years ago but it was 2011! I’m finding it incredibly helpful to see the dates all in a row because it allows me to see the big picture. For example, in the last two years I’ve more than doubled the combined output of THE ENTIRE REST OF MY LIFE which is something I not only didn’t realize, but I find incredibly inspiring. And also sort of depressing but that’s another story.
- Prioritizing my projects. Gotta love a spreadsheet for making everything nice and clear in black and white (well, blue and purple because I like to make it pretty)! I can dither all day about which project I feel like working on but when I look at my spreadsheet and realize that The Muppet Play has been one scene away from Finished for years, the choice is clear. Duh, Hillary, just move that to the top of your priority list, write that one scene next, get the damn thing done, and have the high of finishing something without much work. And if a project’s been stuck at the idea stage for 2 years with no movement, clearly it’s not a high enough priority for me to work on over something that’s chugging along nicely and is close to done.
- Motivating myself to finish with guilt and numbers. It’s been SEVEN years since I finished the first draft of Wife Novel and, while I’ve done a lot of great work on it since then, I still don’t have a draft to show to betas. That’s embarrassing! You disgust me, me. And I know that the only way I will stop feeling crappy about that delay and others like it is by getting those long lingering projects into a new stage or dropping them off my writing radar like the time freeloaders that they are. I sure don’t want to drop Wife Novel so now I’m fired up to work on it so I don’t have to kill it. Fish or cut bait, WIPs, whatever the hell that means my mom just says that all the time.
On a final note, I like having my published works on the same list with projects I just started. It’s not only useful to have them calculated into the average with the unfinished works, it’s also rather inspiriting to have them alongside the newbies. “I was just a little idea like you once,” they seem to say from their neat little rows where all the milestone dates are filled in, “and just look at me now!” It’s a nice little reminder that, no matter how long the writing journey is, it does eventually end and things are eventually finished and released into the world.