I have a list of things I need, and want, to do. The list includes things like “Create new course for blog,” “Apply to Nursing School,” “make eBooks ready for print publication,” “Detail the Car,” and so on.

It’s a list that is so long, I just kept adding to it and never actually tackling anything on the list. If an item made it to the list it was virtually guaranteed I wouldn’t get it done. It was like the graveyard for things I needed to do but felt overwhelmed by.

Time for Action

One day last month, after my kid went away to college and left me home feeling completely lost, I pulled out the dreaded list. I drew a line after every two items on the list.

So the first two items were “paint the home office/guest bedroom,” and “clean out the basement.”

I designated August “Get the home in order month.”

Then I looked at the next two items on my list. Looks like September is apply to nursing school and detail the car month. October is the month I work on my books.

Creating Structure from Chaos

Essentially, I took that very long list and made it more manageable. Each month I have one or two tasks to manage. They’re on my calendar and I don’t have to worry about them until the month begins. It’s made the list more manageable and me more productive.

My Volkswagen

In fact, as I write this I’m taking breaks to remove the old trim tape from the paneling that fell

picture this car without the red trim down the side. That's my car. Cute, right?

picture this car without the red trim down the side. That’s my car. Cute, right?

off of my 1996 Volkswagen GTI (yes it’s really that old) so that I can re-attach the trim and make it look pretty again.

A lovely and kind man offered to do it all for me, for $200, but I figured I can add two-sided trim tape to a long piece of rubber and attach it to my car all by myself.

I installed a new car stereo, I can handle a piece of rubber.

But let’s get to the point…

The point is that whether you’re looking at a long book outline and you have no idea where to start or you’re looking at a nasty to-do list, the approach is the same.

Start by deciding what you can accomplish.

Can you write one chapter a week? Can you write 500 words a day?

Decide what’s realistic and achievable and create a plan to make it happen.

For example, if you’re going to write one chapter a week, how long are your chapters on average? Mine are about 7 pages. Yours may be longer. If you have a 7 page chapter average that’s one page a day, right? Now you figure out how you’re going to write one page a day.

Yes, writers often like to think of themselves as artists and spontaneous creators. However, trusting spontaneity to write a book is like trusting a toddler to behave rationally. You have to create some sort of plan and schedule.

Embrace spontaneity and your creative side and embrace your “I’m going to finish this F#*%ing book” side too.