How I Catalogue the Chaos

Adam’s got a great post up today: Cataloguing the Chaos. It really helped me dissect my organisational skills in a way I hadn’t thought of previously.

I have the capacity to be disorganised. If the regularity with which I have to ring my mobile to find it is any indication of the level of disorganisation in my grey matter, you’ll understand my compulsive list making tendencies. The brain can only hold so much in short term memory and I often max it out between business and writing and the other things life insists you attend to. I also found coming out of my last bout of depression at the start of the year, my memory just wasn’t what it used to be.

The Week Starts Here

The first thing I do on Monday morning (well okay, after I’ve brewed tea) is open my diary and write a comprehensive to do list. This tames the swirling miasma of chaos and contains it to a single page.

I have a Moleskine diary that has the dates on one side and a page opposite to accommodate the list writing. It is both a ready reference and constant companion, so much so, by the end of the week the ink has faded from sitting open in the sun.

Lately I’ve gone from using pencil (even if it is easier to rub out) to using coloured ink. In the absence of any artistic talent beyond the odd wonky stick man, this is how I make the dry process of diary keeping and lists making juicy. I’m surprised at how a visually appealing to do list makes it easier to tackle. Highlighting important dates, while adding additional splashes of colour, ensures I don’t miss them.

Being organised on a Monday morning means I can than move on and flag any important dates with other people I’m working with, and the gears of the machine are oiled and move with precision.

Multiple Projects

I’m a terrible one for working on multiple project–simultaneously. I believe it is, in part, an artifact of last year: taking on too much, crashing and burning too often, saying yes when no was the appropriate answer and generally being someone who is naturally drawn to lots of different things at the one time.

Keeping an itemised list of all the things I’m working on helps me to see what’s on the go on any given week, quickly and easily, and where the priorities lie (what appears at the top of the list). It also means I can decide what I want to, or need to, work on the following day.

List Everything

Where possible I break down every task into its smallest unit size. On one hand it makes the list longer, and therefore possibly more daunting, but the reverse of this is tasks get completed and crossed off quickly. I’m a big one for momentum begetting momentum.

Several weeks ago I achieved a first, with the exception of getting back to my studies, I crossed everything off my list, added more and crossed it off too. There is nothing like hitting the weekend knowing you’ve achieved what you set out to do at the start of the week.

Separating Work and Pleasure

You’ll notice my to do list is divided into two: on the left side my editing and publishing responsibilities and on the other side what I want to achieve each week with my writing. Anything that doesn’t get crossed off is transferred across to the next week, as a way of keeping myself honest.

This week, as you’ll see above, is the first where the writing column is longer than the editing and publishing column. Keeping lists has enabled me to see how I’ve slowly transitioned into my sabbatical and how, yes, I’m almost fully there. It’s also a log of what I’ve worked on, what I’ve submitted, what I’ve completed and what’s still brewing.

Curbing the Outer Chaos

Life happens. Shit often accompanies it. Recently, more mornings than I care to to number, I’ve sunk into the wrong head-space before I’ve even reached my desk. If it weren’t for the list, I’d be lost. A head-space under siege is where a list comes into its own. When you’ve itemised your tasks down to bite sized pieces even a brain that resembles the mess of a 1000 word jigsaw puzzle just tipped from the box more than a thrumming set of circuits, can find something to start on until the head-space realigns.

Return of Chaos Theory

I know when I’ve succumbed to chaos. The diary disappears, the lists disappear and I lurch from one task to another and every second emails begins with “I’m sorry”. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t keep a diary or write lists for most of last year (the most chaotic of my entire adult life). I put it down to being unable to find ‘the right’ diary, but it really was a case of the horse bolting and never actually catching it.

I know better now. Thanks to Adam’s post, I understand this is my way of harnessing the chaos, rather than just being a bit of pedant who likes the look of her own writing on the page.

Five Tips For Taming The Chaos

  1. Have a diary and keep it handy. Put everything in there so you have a single overview of the week at your finger tips.
  2. Use your diary for dates and lists.
  3. Break your list into the different projects you’re currently working on. If it makes sense, make a division between business and pleasure.
  4. Break your list down further into small, easy to do tasks where possible
  5. Make your diary and your lists visually appealing and easy to follow. That way you’ll want to look at it.
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Come In, Have A Seat… No Really, Please

Inclusion as a staff writer at the Write Anything in 2012 was dependent (in part) on committing to and being publicly accountable for a year long writing project. The philosophy behind Paul’s decision was simple: it ensured all contributors were actively engaged in writing.

At the start of the year the actual idea of committing to writing was pretty horrific. I’d just been spat out the other side of another bout of depression and, for all intents and purposes, my creative space was shattered, my confidence at all time low and my belief in accomplishing anything… pretty much zero.

I had one burning desire though: to fall back in love with writing. To experience the kind of intense character interaction that compelled me to write. To get lost in the timelessness afforded by the actual physical act of writing.

Knowing that, I chose two projects: the first to write the letters that would become Post Marked: Pipers Reachwith Adam Byatt (something fun, requiring me to turn up at the page once a fortnight, doing something I had always enjoyed) and the second, to complete my birthpunk novella.

Today the second, of three, project updates is live at Write Anything.

Written in conversational style (because I just couldn’t bring myself to write a report card on myself!) I offer up virtual cake and tea, while I chat about Elyora, Byrthed and Pipers Reach, including some tasty morsels not seen elsewhere (and well if you are a Write Anything subscriber – you would have got me accidentally letting too much go about Pipers Reach in your email this morning).

Everything this year has been about forward progression and I’m looking forward to the final three months of the year, and seeing the pay off for all the energy put into these projects.

What are you currently working on?

The End… Starts Here

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My guess is I am not the only writer on the planet whose hard drive is filled with unfinished pieces of work. And by unfinished I don’t just mean the snippets and fragments of stories that never made it to “The End” and NaNo manuscripts abandoned forever on the 1st December, but completed first drafts and partially worked second or third drafts. Never polished. Never submitted. Never given a chance to shine or be rejected. Forever caught in limbo.

This year I made a commitment to finish writing as many of my unfinished stories as possible.

New Beginnings

It’s been tough, going back over old stories—some very old! I’m very much a person inspired and energised by the potency of the beginning. The middle and the end is always like dragging myself across a carpark laced with broken glass.

To date I’ve picked up five unfinished pieces and completed four. The year is definitely not over yet and momentum is building.

Firefly Epilogue

Firefly Epilogue broke its flash form to settle at 3000 words and is currently under consideration at a local short story comp. If it’s not successful I have another market lined up. It is my first every comp entry and was my first foray into finishing what I’d started. (In fact this story pre-dated the closure of Borders and I think was the final new story I penned there).

Intersected

I reworked the opening section of one of last year’s NaNo shorts (in itself an unfinished project reaching only 20K of the allotted 50K and three stories of the intended 10) to create the vignette Intersected, published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal #2. It’s the only piece of fiction written during NaNoWriMo to ever seen the printed light of day (proving failure is only what you make of it).

Byrthed

At the beginning of the year I committed to complete my (then unnamed) birthpunk novella. That commitment morphed into a novel-length work. Byrthed is currently two chapters in and is about to pick up some serious speed as long-standing projects come to their own conclusions.

Elyora

The unfinished story Elyora, based on a dream I had in August last year, went from 5,000 words to a novella of 28,000 words. Submitted at the end of June, it is currently under consideration with Review of Australian Literature as part of a special Rabbit Hole edition. If it is unsuccessful – the part two of the publishing plan has already been set in motion. I’m also keen to see if I can adapt it for the screen.

Indigo

Last, but not least (well for now) there is Indigo, a story that has truly weathered my creative storm over the past year. It is my contribution to the From Stage Door Shadows anthology (formerly Tiny Dancer). It’s a story that meandered through five very different incarnations and premises, multiple settings, multiple characters, multiple sub-genres and multiple versions of the same bloody story (one particular scenes was redrafted ad nauseum).

I honestly thought I didn’t have it in me to finish it. Sometimes you just need to look at something and know it is just not going to work and step away. I was ready to let it slide (though kept writing it on my to do list in my diary.) In fact it was the act of letting it go I think that sparked my resolve to finish it. That and the knowledge I was having my first real life book launch in September and for the first time, a Literary Mix Tapes anthology would not contain a story from me. Oh, and the fact a week ago the underlying theme for the story slid in beside me on the drive to the fish and chip shop.

There were whoops of joy when I penned the final scene yesterday afternoon and another round when a tighter second draft found its way to beta readers before dinner last night. But I’m aware, I’m still a long way from finishing. Beta comments and edits to consider, rewrites, more rewrites…

It doesn’t matter though. Indigo makes me feel like I can do and achieve anything. It’s probably not the best story I have ever written. But it’s a story that proved my metal as a writer. Proved I could keep going when all felt like it was lost.

Not only did I make it to the end but the final story is faithful to the concept that sparked it…The Living End lyrics: The ending is just the beginning repeating. How very meta!

In The End

Sometimes you just need to adopt a different way of thinking. Sometimes endings need to become beginnings. And sometimes you just need to turn the music up loud and stop thinking too hard. Or go get take-away.

If you could pick up one unfinished story/manuscript/poem from your hard drive, what would it be? What would be the pay off for you, for finishing it? What’s stopping you?

#FGC22: In Four Parts

“If it was you, what would you do?”

“If it was me? I’d do it.”

“What if it was Matt?”

“I wouldn’t stop him.”

“But you’re—”

“Married. Look… people don’t remember the wonderful things when they’re dying. They remember all the things they didn’t do. Matt used to sit with me while I cried, my uniform soaked in blood, telling him the last thing someone told me before they died on the side of the road. We understand how fragile life is. We promised each other we wouldn’t live a life of regret. I’d never stop him doing something he needed to do.”

“Need. Or want?”

“There’s only a delineation if you want to get moralistic.”

“Moralistic. C’mon Ava. Of course there’s a difference. I want another piece of your strawberry kirsch slice, with an extra helping of cream, but I don’t need it.”

“You’re skin and bones, so that’s debatable… Look, it’s not about selfishness or selflessness. It about what makes you happy. And those you love, happy. That’s all the matters at the end of the day.”

***

“He’s married.”

“So you keep telling me. Or are you reminding yourself.”

“I… It’s not… It’s just… not the way I thought it would be.”

“How did you think it would be? You’d marry him and live happily ever after.”

“Hell, no. Shit. We were just kids. Our friend Mandy used to keep a scrap book of bridal stuff. It freaked me out.”

“So you wanted to get laid.”

“It was complicated. My Mum. His family. I just didn’t want it to end. Him and I. He was my best friend, but I wanted more. And I thought he did too. Shit. And he told me he did. Well I think he did, in his letters. All that perving he admitted to. I wanted him so badly it hurt to be near him but I couldn’t stay away. It was messy and I stupidly left him behind… Going back is like dredging up all the unresolved stuff from twenty years ago, without the safety of time and paper and distance and all of that. I don’t think I can do it.”

****

“Has he ever sent you a photo?”

“I never asked. It’s not like I don’t know what he looks like.”

“Twenty years ago, you mean. He’s probably balding and overweight now and you’ll look back and—”

“His Dad still had all his hair.”

“His Dad had all his hair.”

“He did!”

“Dilemma sorted then. Go forth and bump uglies with Jude.”

“Ava!”

“You want it to happen. I see the expression on your face. The thinly veiled desire when you read his letters. The yearning when you write back.”

“He’s married.”

“Then don’t go.”

“I want to go.”

“You want to go. So go. Say hello, shake his hand, kiss him on the cheek. Give him a bit of a hug if you really want to walk on the wild side. Meet his wife, have a banal conversation about how they met, and how cute their tribe of kids are. Drink, mingle, come home and mark it off your bucket list.”

“He’s not on my bucket list.”

“Of course he isn’t. You don’t even have a bucket list.”

“Stop mocking me.”

“Stop driving me spare. Go. Go and get him out of your system. You need to move on. “

“I don’t want to move on.”

“Jesus Mary and Joseph. This is some kind of warped wish-fulfilment weighed down by your conscience, isn’t it? Don’t shake your head.”

“What if this is our second chance? The fact I’m alive to even have this conversation means there has to be more.”

“Maybe it is a second chance. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe second chances are a lie we tell ourselves to keep hope alive. Or justification—”

“I’m not justifying anything. I’m just saying—”

“Why did you come to me? To talk you out of it? Or talk you into it?… Look, it doesn’t matter what you want or don’t want. Or what you pledge to do or not do. Honour and loyalty and fidelity. Sometimes things just happen because two people are in the same space together. And that’s the way it is.”

“He won’t. I know he won’t.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about and you owe me five minutes of my life.”

“…I can’t say the same for me.”

“Ella-Louise, if you really want to be with him, just be with him. Be happy. That’s all I want for you: to be happy. But promise me no matter what does or doesn’t happen you won’t feel guilty. Guilt will hold you hostage worse than all these what-ifs you’re still carrying around.”

***

“He’s done one hell of a job on you.”

“He’s done nothing. Said nothing. Intimated nothing. Promised nothing. Suggested nothing.”

“Other than invite you up there.”

“Along with everyone else.”

“And tell you he’s beige and offered it up like some challenge. I know you Ella-Louise. My bet is he does too.”

“It’s not a contest.”

“Battle of wills perhaps.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Really? This is the fourth time this week you’ve bought it up.”

“I didn’t.”

“The look on your face did then.”

“…So? Did you bet against me?”

“You think Matt and I are that shallow.”

“I know you, Ava.”

“Perhaps I’ve hedged my bets each way.”

“I know you, Ava.”

“Ask me when you get back. Then it won’t really matter, will it? It will be done one way or the other.”

**YOU CAN VOTE FOR “IN FOUR PARTS” HERE AS PART OF THE READERS’ CHOICE AWARD FOR THIS WEEK.**

Author’s Note: I’ve done something a little naughty and taken two of the characters from Piper’s Reach and written them off the page. The opening conversation has been in my head for months and it became increasingly clear with current events, it would never find a home in one of Ella-Louise’s letters. Ironically it fits perfectly with Ella-Louise’s most current letter. Stranger things happen!