So I’ve had a lot of questions about the process I’m now using to write and which I used to produce the first draft of Black As Knight. It’s quite complex and comprehensive so the plan has always been to blog about it as I move onto the final draft of Thieving King.
There is a lot of set up to do and I will preface this with saying that I’m changing things all the time, trying different things. So what I’m doing now may change next week. I also make a point of not using playing with process as a procrastination exercise.
But there is a bit of setup with my personal process, possibly overkill in many respects, and if you want to follow it, it’s worth blocking off a couple of weeks to get it all in place.
The first stage, before you even put pen to paper, is to get yourself organised.

Back in the summer when I was first putting this process together I came across an interesting fact. I’d just started geocaching again after leggeddon and whilst this was restricted to Sundays, I found my productivity took a massive hit during the week. I went from weeks of productive writing to … nothing! And it confused the hell out of me.
There had to be some correlation but it wasn’t one that was obvious. My caching and writing were being done at completely different times, one during daylight at weekends, the other in the evening during the week. The conclusion I came to was that my brain was so “full of geocaching stuff” it was pushing the “writing stuff” out.
I decided that I needed to get all that stuff out of my head to leave the mental space for creating stories . I looked to the world of office time management, the idea being that instead of thinking “Once upon a … Ooo, I need to get eggs” I could just focus on story.
I spent a good part of the summer reading up on various systems before settling on a system based on “Getting Things Done”. I’ll admit it’s a bit over-complicated and in the months since I’ve really only tended to heavily use it for those times when I’m busy on lots of different things. I could be better at it but I only use it enough to get the current workload done rather than rely on it as a lifestyle choice.
The idea behind Getting Things Done and the appeal for me is that it says that worrying about the eggs clutters your mind and stops you focusing on the task at hand. If you have one massive todo list and then triage these based on what type of task (putting it into what are called buckets) and how important it is, that moment you think “I need eggs”, you add it to the list and can forget about it because once it’s in the system it will take care of itself.
Now you need something , a system, in which to store all these buckets and sort all the tasks. I tried one using Evernote (http://www.thesecretweapon.org/) but it was too cumbersome for me so I ended up using Remember The Milk (RTM). RTM is a todo list available across a range of devices and operating systems. It means that I can add an item on my iPhone and then find it on my PC later. The basic version is free and whilst there are some restraints (devices only sync once a day) it’s good enough for what I need.
This blog post was what I based my setup on (http://blog.rememberthemilk.com/2008/05/guest-post-advanced-gtd-with-remember-the-milk/) and gives a lot of the terminology and technical setup but here’s what I specifically do (might be best to read that article first to make sense of what I write below).
I have lists for Fiction, Non-Fiction, Geocaching, Work, Marketing and Personal. I use the smart lists feature to create lists for 1-Today, 2-This Week, 3-Next 2 Weeks, 4-This Month, 5-Someday 6-Waiting. I also have locations of @home, @work, @online, @town. Hopefully the aforementioned link should help this all make sense.
So every time I think I need eggs or need to email someone or have a day-job task, it goes into the list. I don’t worry about doing anything other than adding it. Once it’s added I can forget about it.
Then once a day I will go into my RTM Inbox and triage the tasks in my inbox. I’ll decide which bucket to put it in (is it a fiction task, or a Geocaching one?), decide the location and tag it with the titles of one of my smart lists (i.e. effectively give it urgency).
So now I have a task that says “Get Eggs” in the personal bucket, with a location of @town, and in the tagged with 1-Today.
But there might be other tasks in the 1-Today Smart List, and possibly others requiring to be done @town. That way I can I can go into town, look at my @town list and hopefully not only clear the ones for 1-Today, but possibly some of 2-This Week as well. The best thing is that until I look at all the @town list I’ve completely forgotten about that letter I need to post (because I put it into the system and then forgot about it rather than have “must remember to post that letter” rattling round my brain all week). If you play around with smart lists you can get a lot of flexibility out of the system.
During the week I’ll only keep an eye on the 1-Today and 2-This Week Smart Lists and move tasks up from one to the other as required. Once a week I’ll got through all the tasks and move them up the smart lists as required (i.e. some of the 3-Next 2 Weeks tasks move to 2-This Week, some 4-This Month move to 3-Next 2 Weeks, etc.)
In reality I find that most of the time I dabble with it, keeping it up to date but often forgetting to put quick and easy tasks into it (GTD says anything that takes less than 2 minutes should be done instantly but I find I often forget / don’t bother to put 5 minute tasks into the system unless I find them clouding my writing time). It’s only in times of heavy workload that I really heavily make use of it. But that’s when it’s a Godsend.
The effort really is in setting it up and getting into the habit of using it. I’ve not gone into too much detail about Smart Lists and other Remember The Milk features or even the basic principles of GTD (Anne Lyle recently did a piece on it) but there’s a lot of background reading out there if you want it.
It takes a bit of practise to get it going and I think the trick is to use it as a tool rather than a crutch, but I find on days when I want to scream because I have so many things I want to accomplish, it’s kept me sane and guided me through, resulting in some very productive days.