YWS: The Writer’s To-Do List

Every writer I know has a to-do list. And it seems like the harder I work on mine, the more it grows. Of course, my manager, Italia Gandolfo has something to do with that. As soon as I knock something off the to-do list, she adds three or four things and gives me an evil laugh. I think she’s trying to keep me occupied so I stay out of trouble and have less time to make jokes. *whispers* It doesn’t work… I postpone doing the to-do list and do something that makes me laugh anyway. I just tell her the world needs more laughter.

Why do most writers have a to-do list? To help us keep track of what we’re supposed to be working on and give us some semblance of order. And certain things need to be done whether we like them or not … kinda like life itself. My informal list is always comprised of the following major categories and the specific items underneath those categories tend to fluctuate: Stuff I should be doing, Stuff I need to do, Stuff I want to do, and the final category (and my personal favorite) Stuff I am doing. I’m going to share a portion of my current to-do list and explain why some of the items are where they are. (And normally I don’t write out the list… but if it gets too much longer, I’m going to have to in order to know what I should be working on.


  1. Stuff I Should Be Doing:
    • Writing Character Sketches
      • This item could be writing character sketches (which I do have to do for the chapter book series), or outlining a writing project, or doing research for a story — anything relating to writing preparation. Something of this nature is always on my to-do list because I have several projects in the works in various stages at any given time. In this particular case, I need to start creating a series “bible” for the chapter book series Timmy and the Golden Lion Tamarin. Because this project is a collaboration, my writing partners, Luke, Olivia, and I need all the details in one place.

    • Revising a scene
      • Revisions and edits are an essential part of the writing process. No matter what else I’m working on, I usually have something that requires revisions or edits — whether my own work or someone else’s that I’m editing. While writing the story itself is largely a solitary process, a necessary part of the cycle is getting someone else to take a look and provide feedback on the work. I have someone I trade work with, so she provides editorial notes on my work once it is ready and I do the same for her. In addition to this, I also edit manuscripts for some of my agency mates. So revisions and edits always on my list because I do several rounds of edits on my own work before giving it to anyone else.

    • Blogging
      • This is the item that is ALWAYS on my list and the one I always push off to get other things done. I admire those writers who are able to plan out and get articles posted on a regular basis. My poor neglected blog sometimes cries its heart out in the middle of the night because it is not high on my priority list. And I do enjoy blogging. It’s just when looking at the mountain I have to climb with the things I have to do and look at the clock and realize I can’t stop time from ticking away, I get overwhelmed and know how much time it takes me to put together a post. So it usually gets kicked to the side. I consider putting together a blog post a noteworthy event. And I ask for a cookie when I’m done.

    • Create Timeline for the WIP (Work in Progress)
      • This is similar to the Character Sketches in that it can be one (or more) of several activities. But while the Character Sketches item pertains to projects other than the current work in progress, this pertains to the current work. Right now, I need to establish a plot timeline for the book I’m working on so I can nail down the flow of the book. This could be any additional administrative type activity which is not part of the actual drafting/editing process of the WIP.

    • Answer Emails
      • While this may seem like an insignificant thing to put on a to-do list, the number of emails keeps increasing and the time to answer them keeps shrinking. So time must be allotted to tame the inbox.

  2. Stuff I Need To Do:
    • Laundry
    • Grocery Shopping
      • I’m going to be brief with this category and lump these items together. Essentially, these are the tasks that must be done to keep life moving forward. Evil, but necessary things. Grocery shopping always reaches the critical point when the toilet paper runs low. That’s one item I cannot ignore and the thought of running out forces me to brave the stores. While you’re still in school, someone else may take care of the life essentials for you, but homework could go in this spot.

  3. Stuff I Want To Do:
    • Write more of current WIP
      • I am currently working on an upper YA in the drafting phase and it is not the number one priority task for completion, so of course, it is the task calling my name the loudest. It never ceases to amaze me how many writers get shiny new ideas while working on their WIP… which makes them want to drop the current WIP to explore the shiny new idea. This usually happens when half to three quarters of the manuscript has been completed. The shiny on the current WIP has worn off and you’re in the midst of the realization that writing is hard work. Then along comes the temptress of the shiny new idea, luring you away from the task at hand.

      • Get a massage
        • This could be a massage, going to the movies with friends, hanging out at the mall, ANYTHING other than a writing related task that brings you pleasure and something where you cannot possibly write while doing. I’ve heard there is life outside of writing and occasionally I want to do things that have nothing to do with writing. These items usually stay on the list for a while because like the blogging, they usually get kicked to the curb so I can get something else completed.

    • Stuff I AM Doing:
      • Playing with Photoshop
      • Posting on Facebook
      • Tweeting with friends
      • Posting pics on Tumblr
      • Ditto on Instagram
        • Basically, this is what writers do when they’re trying to pretend the to-do list isn’t currently leaning over and getting ready to crush them. Goofing off. Letting off a little steam now and then is actually good for the work. The trick (and it is a real juggling act) is to balance the goofing off to give yourself a break with making forward progress on the list of things to get done. For me it is mentally essential to take these breaks. If I cut myself off from social interaction for too long a period, I go stir crazy and the work suffers. But I also don’t let the 10 or 15 minutes of playing extend to a half-hour, hour, or two hours (very often 🙂 ) If you find you are not able to manage the time limits on the play time, set up an alarm or use the online programs which limit internet. I don’t use those because I frequently need to research a point during the middle of working on whatever it is that I’m working on… and it would be a pain to have to turn off that restriction just to do what is necessary for the job. But I have heard others say those services work effectively for them.

There you have it… my basic working list at any given time. What does your to-do list look like?

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