Friday, June 27, 2014

One Writer’s To-do List for Writing—Putting the Joy Back in Writing

by Edie Melson  @EdieMelson

Have To, Need To, and Want To!
I have a love/hate relationship with lists. They definitely keep me organized and on track, but they also highlight just how many commitments I have. To combat the downside, and keep me moving forward, I’ve found a way to categorize my writing tasks through a 3-tiered approach.

I call it my Have To, Need To, and Want To system. It’s the definitions of the writing tasks that determine where they fit in this. Today I’m going to share those definitions with you, along with examples.

These are my non-negotiable tasks. There’s really no wiggle room for these because they affect either my income, my reputation, and/or someone else’s income or reputation. For me, the usually include:
  • Blog posts I write for money or as a regular contributor to a professional site—like Guideposts and Novel Rocket.
  • Daily social media updates. These are the updates I schedule every morning, but they’re divided up part here, in the Have To category and part in the Need To. I tell myself I HAVE TO schedule a minimum of 5 updates a day, 5 days a week. I’ll share the Need To part later.
  • Articles that I’ve been hired to write.
  • Certain blog posts on my site. My Have To posts are Monday’s Social Media Monday and one post minimum for Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Writing that’s been contracted (like for a book) or on a proposal that needs to go out.

These are the things that I know I need to do, if there’s any way I can. They're also the things I let slip if something important with my life comes up.
  • Daily social media updates beyond the HAVE TO five—I feel a NEED TO schedule 12 – 15 per day, 5 days a week.
  • Additional blog posts on my site. I feel the NEED TO have new content 7 days a week on my blog. That means I NEED TO write a large part of that content.
  • Contests that I feel would move my career forward.
  • Commenting on social media and blogs.
  • Finding new people to connect with through social media.

This part of the list is what fuels my joy in writing. If I’m only ever doing the HAVE TO and NEED TO, my time writing is in danger of becoming drudgery. So I try to make sure that I hit at least 1 thing that’s designated WANT TO. These include a lot of different things.
  • Poetry—I think writers can improve by playing around with poetry.
  • Short Fiction—again, it is part of improving my craft.
  • Photography—I know, it’s not writing per se. But I use my photography directly in my blog and in other parts of writing.
  • Research and brainstorming for new projects.

All right, this is how I look at my writing life. Do you have a similar system or something completely different? Do you have a system at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


Struggling with a writing to-do list that’s taking all the joy out of writing? @EdieMelson has some tips to help (Click toTweet)


  1. Great article and ideas for ways to prioritize.
    I had to laugh at your comment about love/hate relationship with lists. I have come to depend on mine. One month I did an experiment with a "supposed to" list. I listed all the things I am told I am supposed to be doing everyday. (8 hours of sleep, prayer time, Bible time, exercise time, housekeeping chores, shower, bookkeeping, writing thank you cards, preparing for teaching, writing, tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, answering e-mails, direct marketing, reading... and then go to work. Ha ha! And I don't have kids at home. A superhuman couldn't get them all done. I think everything you listed would end up on the supposed to list. That's why your categories are very freeing.
    I think carving out blocks of time ultimately helped me... social media block, writing block, work block. For me, your categories fit beautifully into each block. I love it! Thank you.

    1. Patricia, the "supposed to" list was a great idea! As far as blocks of time, that's how I organize my life, too. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Blessings, E

  2. I can't live with out lists! Grocery, tasks, even lists of where I need to go when I run errands. But I'm not so great at making lists for my writing. Maybe that's why I don't do well at organizing! It's puzzling why such an integral part of my personal life has been left out of my work life.

    Your posts always bless me!

    1. Sherry, interesting, definitely something you should explore. Thanks so much for taking time to comment! Blessings, E

  3. Good tips, good way to organize lists.

  4. I'm a list-maker too, Edie! I read a great book about work organization earlier this year, so I've been trying some of the methods. It's fun to switch it up!

  5. I need to do this because if I don't have a clear cut agenda, I'll always gravitate to the "want to" and try to convince myself it's a "have to" or "need to". Having it written out and clearly categorized might help me get the important stuff done more often!