Sticky Note Solutions

November—already, can you believe it? Some of you are probably happily bogged down with Nanowrimo this month. It’s early in, the inspiration is thick and humid, the words and ideas are growing like crazy, but despite your amazing work ethic and exciting word counts thus far, you’re ever cognisant of the reality that you need to log 1666.66 words per day (better round that up to 1667!) to nail this bad boy.

Others of you, like me, decided to forgo the 50 000 word extravaganza this month, because you have other writing priorities yelling loudly in your head that you don’t want to ignore.

Whatever camp you fall in, I suspect that because you have spectacularly lofty goals this month, life will throw a lot of unexpected distractions at you this month, including but not limited to things like: surprise visits from old friends, birthday bashes, baby showers, or other celebratory not to be missed events, extra work hours, a small family crisis or two, etc . . .

Wait? Am I talking about November particularly or the writing life in general? Rats, you caught me. Nano or no Nano, my writing life, despite my best laid plans, always gets interrupted. I still manage to get quite a lot done most months, however, and one of the easiest ways I’ve learned to motivate and focus myself (not to mention remind myself of what I actually want to accomplish) is to use sticky notes. And not the sticky note app—the actual, messy little pieces of paper that one scrawls notes on and sticks up all over the place.

The idea is not uniquely mine, of course. After all, sticky notes were invented to leave memos for yourself. And I took a class with author Kerri Nelson, called “The Book Factory—Produce Multiple Novels in a Year” that I raved about before in “Take 15 . . .

Kerri advocated constructing a brief list of things you need to get done in a day or in a chunk of writing time, keeping it in a highly visible place, then before you got to bed that evening making sure you’ve accomplished each one.

There’s something powerful in the act of prioritizing (only so many goals fit on a sticky note) and then crossing each accomplishment with swift stroke of ink. The more specific the goals, the better.

When I jot down “Blog post,” it’s a little tougher to get down to, than if I write “Blog post + TITLE,” because just writing a title is consideration of an idea—and idea that stirs about in the muck and mire of my brain, and is then more than ready to muddy up the page once I sit down to it.

When I write “Edit TITLE,” it’s not as effective as when I write, “Edit three chapters of TITLE.”

“Write a chapter” is not as forward-driving as “Write scene where blah-blah-blah.” (Of “blah blah blah” is actually spelled out on the note—even if so cryptically that only I know at a glance what on earth I’m talking about.)

I also write mundane, non-writing tasks on my sticky notes (“Toyota Payment, “Park Optometry,” etc.), not because I consider them writing-related per se, but because my brain sometimes uses menial chores and other trivial “must-do’s” as a way to avoid writing. “You shouldn’t write right now. You should insert-silly-but-practical-distraction.” Once those chores make it to the sticky note, I can make my procrastinator shut-up. (It’s on the sticky note, it’ll get done. Now be quiet, I have work to do!)

I don’t know if sticky notes will revolutionize your writing days or the short sessions you try to sneak in around the other demands of life, but I know that when I’m using my sticky note system, I’m always a little blown away, by how I manage to get things done when I have no time.

I wish you crazy productivity this month—especially if you’re Nanowrimoing! And if you have special methods or tips for breaking down your big goals into smaller, manageable ones, please share.:)

A writer writes…

* If you would be a reader, read; a writer, write. ~ Epictetus AD 55-c.135

I am well into my Nano novel—although realistically, not quite as well into it as I should be considering the date on the calendar. However, “winning” (making it to the 50K marker by midnight on November 30) is still well within my grasp (and grasp it I will, if I have to pull two all nighters in a row). Month up or not, word count beaten or not, I can already elaborate on the primary value of Nanowrimo for me. Wonderfully, it’s not some obscure, limited-to-one-month-per-year benefit, available only to the select few who can fit Nano’s intensity into their calendar. No. It’s immediately transferable and tangible help to anyone who will just adopt Nanowrimo’s primary focus, goal, raison d’etre: Write daily, accumulate words, beat the monster who whispers ugly nothings in your ear.


Whenever I’m working on fiction regularly (so not just in November), I find that my self-confidence as a writer soars. It’s not that I think I’m writing such great stuff (quite the opposite usually). It’s that showing up to write every day tosses my worst fear to the ground and stomps on it. I’m always afraid that maybe I’m not a “real” writer (whatever that is), and that I’ll never make it (whatever that means!). Somehow all past finished works fade from my memory when I stay too long away from my computer; I think they’re flukes, flash-in-the-pans, all she wrote. When I’m writing close to daily though, it’s another thing entirely. I’m a writer because I write. Everything my nasty inner beast can throw at me is quieted.


“Shhhhh, I’m writing here, show some respect,” I say.


“Oh no,” screams the beast. “She is.”


“A writer writes, so by definition….”


The beast can take no more. It slinks away, and for today—because I write—it’s vanquished. It will be back. I will write it away again and again, as often as it takes. And if it beats me for a few days? No matter. I write frequently. I accumulate words. I will run it through with the sword of my pen when I take up the battle again, which for today, is now.


*I always find this quote motivating. Some interpret it as, “Don’t read if you’re a writer, just write,” but I think of the words as expanding, not limiting. If you would be anything, an artist, a musician, a writer, a runner, a chef…. Paint! Play! Write! Run! Cook! Do the things you feel you must, live those lives, not at the expense of all the other things you are and do, but in addition to them, adding depth and layers of enjoyment and passion to your every day.

Nanowrimo 2008–crazy-funtastic writing insanity!

It’s the middle of Nanowrimo right now (okay… “middle” is misused; it’s only Day 3!), and although it’s only my second year involved with the crazy-funtastic insanity of writing 50K+ in thirty days, I’m already reminded of why this month long free-write is the second best gift I give myself every year (the first being my annual foray to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference every October).

I find it easy to get bogged down in feelings of inadequacy as a writer. The world that comes out on the page (especially initially) is so different than what I see in my head. The authors I adore are inspiring, yes, but they’re also discouraging. How can I even esteem to their level? And why write at all when they’ve already said what I want to say and said it better. Plus, what if I am ever fortunate enough to share my stories and then not only do people not like them, they can’t even bother to hate them, because my words are…. nothing.

So if I’m so bloody insecure and neurotic about writing, why do I even bother? Well, because I need to. And because there’s just nothing else in the world like it. I love the worlds that seem almost more real to me than the one I literally inhabit. I love how writing makes me disappear, but how, at the same time, it’s through the process of writing my insides out that I discover myself. I love how it helps me make peace with the past and gives me hope for the future. I love…. Oh, enough. I love it; you get it.

And that’s what November, a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month, reminds me of and helps me celebrate: writing is about writing. Take away the fact that disciplining myself to churn out 50 000 words is a great benefit to me as a would-be-career-novelist. Erase the thought that it’s a great exercise to attempt to write every awkward kind of scene that I might otherwise avoid, thus building my writing muscles. Delete the value of experimentation with no pressure to ever share the monster you brought to life…. Nanowrimo is all about the fun, the playing, the pure for the fun of it joy of storytelling and world building.

If you are not Nanowrimoing this year, plan for it in 2009–the world needs more addicts. 😉

“Writing isn’t something to take up if it fills you with angst, it’s something to cherish and do so with childlike delight.” ~ James Mccann