Our Eastside Writing Room Writers

The Eastside Writing Room. We’ve been meeting for 11 years, the last three via Zoom. We meet each Tuesday to state our writing intentions for that day. It’s an individual commitment in a group setting. Sounds pretty structured, eh?

Intentions

My intention on a recent Tuesday was to do some business writing. Not exciting but a certain creativity was required to “lean in” and make the results compelling enough to get replies to my requests i.e., better customer service, repeating a request, questioning the lack of response for a medical report request – that kind of “best to do it now” stuff. 

Then two colleagues shared their method for tracking the next steps for an essay, memoir, novel, research, or character development.

This got me thinking. I’m not procrastinating about that business folder. I can see it right there in my peripheral vision. Intentions are not have-to’s or solemn promises, and do not come with a 24-hour expiration. Intentions get me on my creative path for writing. I trust my thinking when I make intentions. And I know how my writing process works.

What I Know About My Writing Process 

Two concepts that I know are true for me:

  1. When I was teaching elementary children we used a writing process approach ( thank you, Lucy Calkins). The primary question we asked each young writer was, “Who’s the boss of your writing?” Second graders aced that one. “Me.” Being the boss  included what they wrote about and which system they chose (of the many modeled) to track their writing. For some it was circles with ideas written inside the circle to be cut out and lined up for sequencing. True for me too. See Word Splash
  2. I don’t think I’ve ever had the “nothing to write about blues.” I have tons of ideas. The obstacle is deciding which idea to focus on. I do love all my ideas when the lightning of a fresh idea strikes. While I’m in that walking around with the idea or in the cleaning out cabinets mode of deciding which one, I usually come to the deadline factor. When must it be done? Soonest date gets first writing. 

Some Tracking Ideas

But how to keep track of what got started, what got done, and what’s next? In my head is inefficient, fatiguing. and unrealistic. Over the years, I have used various tracking methods:

Every piece I write gets labeled with a working title and date created. Brainstorm topic words are hand-written immediately; drafts are on my laptop. I keep a spreadsheet list on my computer of titles and dates created, revised, completed, where submitted, and the results. At the very least the title, date, and what to do next is entered on the spreadsheet.

 

 

Pre iPhone my tracking was bits of paper. Then I got organized and carried my ideas pad everywhere. I jotted things down in a notepad – just bits and pieces of an idea. Snippets.

I started using Notes on my iPhone in 2019. But I find I write faster on paper. My fingers don’t hit the right keys on the phone and the mic reinvents dictated words which then requires spell and word check. I could investigate Scrivener, Evernote, and go back to Google docs. That would involve a learning curve of sorts so… back to the Snippets pad.

Tracking Drafts for a Book, Essay, Story, Presentation

The most recent organization plan is for a new book where drafts are already completed; some also have revisions (with their working title, date created, and revision dates).

I culled drafts and blogs that will work for Seedlings 2. This can be a companion to Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. The individual stories or essays were all listed on my master spreadsheet so scrolling titles made it easy to then locate them in ELM docs or ELM blogs and print them. Handling hard copy is still easiest for me. Documents and photos are now in one folder. 

Utilization plan: Open the folder. Choose one to explore, revise, or proof right now. Note with date what was done and put it on the bottom of the pile. Choose the next doc. 

In reality: Today I prioritized all pieces according to what appeals to me most. I reviewed, revised, and updated one. That’s good progress.  

 A Visual/Tactile System That Works

This was Bee Bloeser’s technique for her book Vaccines and Bayonets.

 

 

 

 

It seems to have worked quite well for her because the book’s published, and she’s still on a whirlwind of speaking engagements at book clubs, organizations, and conferences about the book and her writing process.

Materials: At least three colors of Post-its and wall space. In this case it was a rather long hallway. Chapters became delineated to detailed scenes, to be removed during a celebratory final draft. 

Quotes From Other Writers

  • I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~ Elmore Leonard
  • I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork. ~ Peter De Vries
  • I keep little notepads all over the place to write down ideas as soon as they strike, but the ones that fill up the quickest are always the ones at my nightstand. ~ Emily Logan Decens
  • Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet. ~ Zadie Smith
  • Get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. For each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.” he said again for emphasis. ~ Jerry Seinfeld from  “Productivity Habits from Famous Writers” ~ The Don’t Quit Podcast

You Decide

It seems the success of it is that writers, often by trial and error, find the tracking system that works for them at a certain time, for a particular piece. There are no “shoulds” of when to write, where, or how long. Who’s the boss of your writing? What’s the deadline?

What’s working for you right now?

Interested in being with interesting writers? Contact Ethel.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She retired after 30 years of teaching, and semi-retired from coaching, and professional editing. Founder of the Eastside Writing Room based in Tucson AZ, she’s posted 100s of blogs, and is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, teaching about the power of words, gather writers together, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys speaking and storytelling at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, Center for Spiritual Living Tucson, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.