Thursday, 31 May 2012


I think I must have just about tried it all when it comes to trying to organise my writing life. Charts, timers, targets, getting up extra early…

Getting up early is fine in theory. But I’m not a lark. If I get up earlier than usual, I’m flagging by the afternoon. And I suffer from “I’m up early so I don’t have to hurry” syndrome and find that I’m not just flagging, but also well behind by teatime.

I am usually awake around 3.30 am which is when the birds start. Not that I’m complaining I hasten to add. I’m usually awake at that time in winter as well which is downright miserable, dark and cold and my thoughts then are not pleasant company.

At this time of year though, I enjoy listening to the birds as they wake up. The other morning there was one particularly beautiful singer out there and I was tempted to get up and record the song.

But it would have meant disturbing Indy and Beloved so I kept the song to myself. I do of course go back to sleep before the alarm goes off. I wouldn’t be worth knowing if I didn’t!

And it’s funny, but the seagulls and crows are always noisier on bin days – even before anyone has put out their rubbish.

I got this rather busy picture when I was out taking shots for covers for my new kindle books. I’m not going to use it as a cover, but I do like it.

A few years ago I decided to try the oven timer method. I set myself four tasks a day above and beyond my usual writing work. 20 minutes to be spent on each of four projects. And it worked …. for about a week, then I got fed up with the beeping and the projects.

I tried lists. Diane Fordham also writes about plans and lists here.

It wasn’t just writing. I used to list everything I had to do. It was the only way to stay on top, but the lists started to get me down. I found I was at screaming point trying to keep up – and so I ripped my lists up and said never again. Well no, I didn’t say “never again”, but I’m not going to tell you what I did scream and rant, goodness me no.

So I decided to go with the flow and oh boy was that a mistake. I didn’t just go with the flow, I drifted off course completely and ended up having to give myself a good talking to!

Now I have a chart on my wall. Four writing tasks to complete every week and included on that chart is “Write new story”. And of course I can put more than one tick in each box if I am doing well. I don’t expect to tick all the boxes, but if I can look at it at the end of each week and know I’ve done something, I’m satisfied.

I don’t expect it to last. I daresay I’ll tire of the chart eventually and try something else.

I also have a wall calendar. I put a green sticker on it every time I submit something. I've been doing this for years and I like it. Simple, but an effective way of keeping an eye on your productivity.

I keep meaning to share this site with you. Live webcams from the Lost Gardens of Heligan – one inside the owl box and one in the wood mice box. Fascinating.

There are owlets in the owl box, but not as many as there should be. Owls lay their eggs over a period of days and the last born ends up at the back of the queue when it comes to food.  Nature being what it is, when the weakest die, the strongest eat them. Fascinated as I am by the webcams, I am very glad not to have seen that happen.

Nature can be cruel, she can also be very beautiful. I love this time of year.


  1. Lovely pictures and a lovely post, Teresa. Thank you.

    There seems to be so much new life and everyone seems busier and more inspired at this time of year.I keep thinking of more tasks and larger projects, both with writing and around the house too.
    I was very interested in your lists and charts, because I have tried lists in the past. The trouble was that they became antagonistic and kept biting me, nipping at my good intentions whenever I walked past them. Basically, not being very good at taking orders, I enjoyed defying them, viewing them as monsters trying to wear me down.
    In the end, the more I attempted to organise myself, the less I achieved. The list grew larger and more menacing. And I stopped fighting it and just ignored it instead.

    However, I do have a (very odd) spreadsheet. My husband tried to get me to use a more logical one, but I like the one I've got because it's colourful with boxes to fill in. He doesn't understand how I can keep track of my submissions effectively, but it works for me and I have nothing else, other than scraps of paper with even odder notes for stories and my novel scrawled on them. Sometimes I gather up the scraps and staple them together. But then it seems like a thick pile of work to get through and I don't look at them nearly as often as I do when they're loose and gallivanting around the house.
    I don't ever write down my intentions because I like ideas to stay floating. The idea behind this is that anything worth pursuing will stay at the top of my memory. The rest will sink and good riddance to it. That's the theory, but it's almost certainly an excuse for being scatter-brained. I don't think I'll be able to change that now, but I do wish occasionally that I had greater organisational skills.

  2. Joanna you have put it so beautifully - those lists can become menacing :-)

    I love the sound of your spreadsheet :-) And there's nothing wrong with being scatter-brained :-) x

  3. I am glad to say I have never had a problem with writing, it's something I have wanted to do - and when I DON'T want to do it (such as when there's a problem) I generally do other things until a solution to the writing problem occurs to me. This might be because for years I worked mainly as a journalist, and you do just have to get the stuff written - for me it works better if I just write steadily.

    Sorry I can't suggest any better tips. Now what I need is advice on how to organise my EATING, since I have not managed to lose some weight that has crept on in the last couple of years......

  4. That's good advice Jenny - to go off and do something different :-)

    If you find a solution to the EATING problem, you'll make a fortune :-) x

  5. I've tried lists, getting up early etc. etc.. All to no avail. I think you just have to go what works for you at the end of the day. And when I find out that that is I'll let you know ;o) Caroline x

  6. The thing that would make the biggest difference to my productivity would be if I could manage with less sleep. Like you, I wake up early in summer, but if I start working instead of going back to sleep I feel jetlagged by the afternoon.

    I loved that TV programme about the Lost Gardens of Heligan. So beautiful and inspiring.

  7. I definitely need some better method of organising myself and my writing/notes. I used to be a list person but seem to have become sidetracked (probably by being online too much!) and find I'm jumping around between projects a lot.

    I smiled at Joanna's comment about writing on scraps of paper. Much as I love notebooks, I have a pile of pages from various small notebooks sitting on the desk accusingly, waiting for me to sort out and separate the ideas they contain!

  8. I’m with you, Teresa.

    This time of year, when the trees are greening, a new generation of
    birds is preparing to fly the nest, and M&S strawberries are half
    price…well, it’s just about as good as it gets.

    Thanks for the insight into your attempts at organizing your writing

    I love my lists and charts. Every week I jot down in my diary
    the projects I want to tackle. Not every one gets ticked, but most do.
    If I didn’t do this I would get absolutely nothing done.
    But I understand what Joanna says. Lists are only good if they work for you.

    I also use an oven timer, not to time a project, but to remind me to
    get up and move about regularly, otherwise I could quite happily sit
    at my computer for three or four hours at a stretch (not good for
    arthritic limbs)

  9. Yes, please do, Caroline :-) There must be a better way :-) x

    It looks such a lovely place, doesn't it, Joanne. I've always wanted to go there x

    I can just imagine your pile of notes looking accusingly at you, Rosemary - I know just what you mean :-) x

    M&S strawberries half price.... oh I wish we had an M&S nearby, Rena! That is a good idea for use of an oven timer :-) x

  10. 3.30am??? Yikes! A 'timely' post! I have just been helping staff set up personal KPIs at my company (Key Performance Indicators. Have left them designing a chart with which to track progress over the next three months. The idea is they reward themselves with something for each target reached, however small the achievement. Being a design and communications company, I foresee some exciting charts being produced - I might pinch one. My normal reward is a cup of tea and my way of tracking, a list of actions scrawled on a notepad or those annoying pop-ups in my Outlook calendar. Lost Gardens of heligan -one of my favourite places ;-) thank you. Oh and I see you are in Writer's Forum again this month - busy girl! :-)

  11. It's interesting to read about everyone's attempts at organisation.
    I have a few scraps of paper stuck to the wall in front of my PC. I have a magazine submissions list, a competitions sub list, an agents sub list and a WIP list. As long as I've got several items on each list I'm happy. I also have a chart so that I can keep an accurate check on which stories have gone to which publication. It's a bit belt and braces but it works for me.
    It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one struggling to keep track of things.

  12. I always enjoy your take on writing Teresa. I've been reading your stories forever and I congratulate you on your successes. This post has reassured me that 'even the best of the writers' search for ways to maintain and perhaps increase their productivity. Hey, thanks for the mention too. x

  13. Hi Teresa,
    A fascinating read about how you try to prepare yourself for writing inspiration.
    Your bird observations are something I can relate to. Although, at 3:30 A.M., often, I haven't even gone to bed. A time zone thing as I interact with my um fans in North America.
    Oh no, bin days and crows and seagulls and the bin dudes forgetting to take away the rubbish....
    Happy writing, Teresa.
    Gary x

  14. I'm becoming resigned to the fact that I'm just lacking in discipline and far too easily distracted.

  15. Those charts sound very interesting, Deborah.
    Ah haven't seen the WF yet! x

    I hadn't thought to include my subs lists, Keith. I record each submission in three different places, a book, a sheet of paper and in Word - I have no idea why, but it seems that all writers have to write, no matter what it is or where. Recording subs is fine - it's getting myself to do them and tick those boxes in the first place :-) x

    Thank you, Diane - you're welcome :-) x

    I couldn't stay awake until 3.30, Gary! Early this morning, the pigeons were bungey jumping out of the tree and whacking their wings on every branch - at least that's what it sounded like, bless em :-) x

    Maybe if we weren't easily distracted, we wouldn't dream enough to write, Martin :-) x

  16. I think the thing about lists is not to worry about them too much.I keep a list of things to do on a scrap of paper by my computer. Some of them get done and crossed off, others get put on the next list and the next and well... I'll get round to them sometime.

    Everything is so green and fresh at the moment, bursting with life which is not surprising after all this rain. It's wonderful to see.

  17. Thanks for that fascinating post Teresa and what a great response! We are forever intrigued by how other people organise their writing days. I have a submissions Word table chart where I record everything and refer to where the story or poem is stored.

    I have always been a great list person, but that is for everyday household things. I obviously don't write enough to have a separate list for that and just include what I have to write in my to-do list for the day.

    I realise that in order to get published I need to put more effort into it, so I will try to include at least a minimum of 1 hour a day from now on. Once I sit down to write I can easily exceed that 1 hour. It's getting my bum on the seat in the first place that is the hardest part.

    Thanks again for a great post and the inspiration to 'just do it'.

  18. Those are very wise words, Kate :-) It is lovely to see everywhere so green and fresh, although I am looking at it all through the rain at the mo! x

    I've really enjoyed the responses to this post too, Maggie :-) I think an hour a day sounds good. I've just glanced at my trusty notebook and noticed a few scribblings - not a list as such,just random things I ought to be doing... hm ;-) x

  19. Great pictures.

    I have lists for jobs to do, writing tasks and shopping. I have a wall calender at home, diary in my bag and my outlook one on the computer at work. I think I worry that I'll forget something if I don't keep them.

  20. I have three calendars and a diary and I set reminders in my mail program, Debs and I still manage to forget things - sigh ;-) x

  21. Hi Teresa,
    Thanks for sharing your writing methods. I've been following your stories for years as you know. I keep three diarys, and jot in them all, but keep a list of what's gone where. That's just me showing off with more diarys than I need. I'm like Joanna, I don't take orders very well. Lovely photo at the end there.xx

  22. Thank you, Suzy :-) Taking orders is no fun is it ;-) x

  23. I used to love Springwatch and was an avid viewer but since all the changes...!! Anyway - thanks for the link to the Heligan gardens - beautiful! I think one of the classic Springwatch clip was the one of the baby owls erm.. making a snack out of each other!! Oh dear! But nature does as nature does - it sustains life and living and loving and survival and death and life again!

    I love how you are surrounded by charts and lists and stickers and things! I'm the most disorganized person and so am in AWE at your determination to get all focused and disciplined with your writerly goals! Good for you!

    Take care

  24. I stopped watching Springwatch when they got rid of Bill Oddie, Old Kitty!
    You are quite right - nature does as nature does.

    You wouldn't think I was organized if you could see my desk right now ... argh! x

  25. This is a great post. I really like the idea of a calendar with stickers for submissions - if I could actually see easily how little I have 'out there' it might give me a bit of a kick start to get more done.

    Listening to the dawn chorus is a lovely way to wake up - even if some of those wee birds sound just a bit too happy for their own good.


  26. This is the time of year when I will slip downstairs before dawn to write. It is cooler and so peaceful. Love the pic, brings back memories. I am a panster who tries to plot and list. I forget I have made them once I am into full flow of writing.
    We are doing a last minute fly into UK in a few days. I am dropping into Harwich to visit Dad in care home for a day. I will be shooting a few pics to inspire novel three while I am there. :)

    Catching up on your posts:
    White shoes I try to avoid because of the Essex girl jokes. I am with you on the shoes and shopping issue.

    Ooh, I want that doggie shampoo. I have four to bath before we fly!

    I might have to tug some sun over, I hear the heatwave has gone, and I need warm clothes!

    Wow, you must be thrilled about your daughter. Re-book cover.

    I used to feel for the patients with Raynauds and Scleroderma. Such a shame.

  27. It is quite scary sometimes, Suz, when the stickers are thin and it does often give me a kick up the bum!
    That is true - the birds always sound happy don't they (except when next door's cat is after them!) x

    Oh please bring some sunshine with you, Glynis - it was 4 degrees this morning and the weather is so miserable - you will definitely need warm clothes! x

  28. Four degrees??? How horrid! It is 34 here, I am going to notice one heck of a difference! Brrr.

  29. Just half of those degrees would be welcome at the moment, Glynis :-) x

  30. I remember June 4th 1976. I was nursing in London. The weather was fine, and we moved our patients outside for ward cleaning. Within hours it started to snow! Then came the well known heatwave and we had standpipes around our residence. So you never know, Teresa!

  31. There is still hope then, Glynis :-) x

  32. Thanks for this, Teresa. I think we're all fascinated by how other writers try to organize their writing lives because we all feel so inadequate ourselves, we think that everyone else must be getting it right! I'm a list person too, but my writing tasks just get lumped in there with things like "iron four t-shirts" and "buy fish" and "do sainsburys shop". Sooo glamourous! x

  33. You're right there, Lydia - writers seem to find it very easy to feel inadequate :-) x