Thursday, September 1, 2011

Build a List for Success

Some of you may already know this, but I'm a fan of lists and list making. Sometimes, I even wonder if I started writing because of my list making or if I love lists because of my writing (an interesting chicken-egg question).

Lists help me keep focus. Lists help me remember everything (or at least everything I remember to put on my list). Lists assist me in collecting things. I use them at the grocery store, to help me pack for trips, to stay on task as an editor, and to manage my writing, especially as far as my submissions are concerned.

If you're not a natural born list maker, then this post is for you. I'm going to provide some ideas for how to use lists to help your productivity. Plus, I hope others will feel inclined to share their tips in the comments below.

Goal Lists
When new writers ask me what they need to do to find success, I always tell them to start by making two lists. The first list should include long-term goals (some of them more realistic than others). For instance, my long-term goal list includes things like publish a full-length collection of poetry, win a national book award, teach a college creative writing course, be named national poet laureate, etc.

The second list should include short-term goals. Most of these should be rather realistic and be stepping stones to achieving your long-term goals. For instance, my short-term goals include placing poems in publications, selling copies of my new chapbook, speaking at events, etc.

The two lists work together, but I'm usually more focused on the short-term than the long-term list. Every so often, I allow myself to edit each list as well, because goals can change over time.

Task Lists
Task lists are different than your goal lists. These include daily tasks you need to accomplish. (Click here to read an explanation of how I handle my task list.) Personally, I include work and personal tasks on the same list, but I break them up by day.

Here are a few of the things on my task list for today:
  • Blog post on making lists for MNINB
  • Create and test newsletter for 090211
  • Combine Market Book questionnaires
  • Develop tutorial ideas for WD
  • Post on poetic form for Poetic Asides blog
  • Send interview Qs to Scott Owens
  • Submit poems to Words Dance
These aren't goals; they are actual tasks, and I expect to complete them on the same day.

Submission Lists
I've found that listing my submissions works best for me in a grid format. I have columns for date of submission, name of publication (to which I'm submitting), what I'm submitting (query, manuscript title(s), etc.), acceptance date (for good news), rejection date (the more used column). Since I deal in poetry, payment is not usually an issue, but many freelancers also include columns for payment, rights sold, etc.

If you make submissions without a list, you are really setting yourself up to make some embarrassing mistakes and/or find success very elusive. A submission list helps a writer know when to follow up and avoid submitting the same manuscript to the same market multiple times and/or submit an already published piece to a market that only accepts previously unpublished work.

Then, there's the outline, which is basically a list of points you wish to hit in a story or blog post. As an award-winning fiction writer in the University of Cincinnati undergrad program, I found outlines very helpful in plotting my stories. They helped get the skeleton of the story pieced together. Of course, I still had to add in all the blood and guts and give the story personality.

Outlines are also very helpful in plotting nonfiction articles and blog posts (yes, I usually use rough outlines for many of my blog posts). They even help me assemble the major pieces of my Market Books and my poetry chapbooks.

How Do You Use Lists?
The lists above help me achieve success as an editor and poet. But I'm always open to learning new ways to use lists to make my life easier and more enjoyable. How do you use lists to achieve success? Please share in the comments below.


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And since they're brand new, here's a list of fresh Market Books. They're packed with publishing opportunities and articles on the craft and business of writing.


Julia Munroe Martin said...

Great advice and breakdown -- at a good time because I'm just getting ready to come up with new systems to get myself more motivated and organized -- Thanks!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Lists always help motivate me. I'm weird like that.

Andrea (Andee) Beltran said...

Thanks for this post, Robert. I'm a big fan of lists, but sometimes I find I need a list for my lists. ;) Happy Friday!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Great post! So helpful. I make submission lists, and roughly list a few goals, but this is so crisp and concise. I plan to do better listing as of right now.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Happy Friday, Andrea! That's exactly why I started breaking my lists up by days.

Elizabeth, I've found the more specific I am the better I am at completing my tasks.

Dawn Roscoe said...

Lists have been on my mind lately as well, I finished a preliminary plan last week on my blog. My BHAG is to get a full funded MFA acceptance in 2013.

The plan is just starting and already I feel the power of intentional focus. I have no idea if the ultimate goal will come to realization - I am having a blast on my journey to see if I get there though!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Good luck, Dawn! I love that early phases of a project feeling. And having those lists should help pull you through the all-important middle part of the process just in time to catch that second wind near the end. Keep at it!

BeingtheBee said...

Thanks for this post Robert. I am a list maker myself :)Mostly for the tasking. So your short-term list gives me direction. I also get into the trap of over-stuffing the list and then feeling not-so-happy at the end of the day, when I'm just half way through.
I've started a new blog and I'm thinking I'll use your Outline method to grab the ideas flying out in every direction and give them one tree to settle on.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Hey Bee,

I know all about "over-stuffing" lists. So I try to make sure I always "under-stuff" each day. After all, I can always get a headstart on tomorrow, but it's a pain always shuffling today's tasks to another day--because the unexpected DOES happen never every day.