Life has been hectic lately, with few large chunks of time to work. So I went back to creating 20-minute tasks for my “slices of salami.”
The Challenge of Chopping
Chop, chop! How do you break writing tasks into those 20 minute slices? At the beginning of the summer, I made a three-page single-spaced list of such tasks, covering several project areas (a novel revision, a possible nonfiction e-book, some work-for-hire educational writing, and marketing).
The beauty of the list to me is that I don’t have trouble getting started. I pick a task–not necessarily in the order listed–set my timer, and get going! Since getting started has always been my biggest hurdle, the list goes a long way toward getting me over that hump.
Examples of Short Writing Tasks
If your main project is fiction, and you only have 20-30 minutes to write, pre-thinking is critical before you sit down at the keyboard. Otherwise you’ll waste your time getting started and focusing. I became skilled at pre-thinking when I was first taking the ICL course because I had a preschooler, a toddler and a newborn. I wrote in 10-minute slices back then.
I made long lists of tasks for the short stories I wanted to write. The tasks covered such things as outlining steps, “creative steps” like thinking of character and setting names, mechanical steps (e.g. write opening paragraph), revision steps, and marketing steps.
The list of short fiction ”slices” would include things like:
- Think of three titles
- Revise titles to be more suspenseful
- Decide on main character’s name
- Decide on ending
- Write physical character description of mother
- Look up street names and weather in XXX town
Nonfiction “slices” might include:
- Fact check xxxxx
- Organize sources into alphabetical bibliography list
- Revise (or tighten) opening
Examples for marketing might be:
- Find three agent blogs to read
- Find three publishers’ blogs to read
- Read one blog post and leave a comment
- Set up a Twitter account
- Get domain name at GoDaddy.com
I was going to list some of my own 20-minute tasks for you, but I realized they wouldn’t mean anything to anyone but me. (e.g. search/replace name change, check epiphanies re: p. 194 MAC, make “sense” lists for each scene in last chapter) But I think the examples above give you a better idea of breaking things down into small slices.
Estimating Time Needed
Realize that it’s difficult to estimate times correctly. Sometimes I gave myself twenty minutes to do a certain task, and it only actually took me five minutes. Other times, the task took me three 20-minute periods to finish.
For example, in the past, one of my 20-minute tasks was to set up my author page on Amazon.com. (I had needed to do this for more than fifteen years!) My friend did hers in 20 minutes, but even though we were adding the same amount of info, I took three 20-minute times to finish mine. It took me the first twenty minutes just to read and understand the directions, another twenty to write the bio, and another twenty to add the book jackets and video trailer. (Actually there was another twenty minutes spent later because some of the dust jackets wouldn’t load, which I gave up on.)
Fight Overwhelming To-Do Lists with Slices
Life is too busy and overwhelming at times. Yet we need to keep writing so we don’t lose the flow and continuity.
I hope these examples have given you ideas for breaking down your own writing projects into do-able slices. You won’t choke if you take one tiny slice at a time. Now…go eat that salami!