Keeping on track

If there’s one thing that far too many of us have in common these days, it’s the simple words: “I am busy”.

At the moment I’m going to school to pursue a Masters of Library Science, I’m running a freelance editing service, I’m trying to fix up my own manuscript, I’m participating in the Speculative Fiction Critiquing Marathon on Agent Query Connect, I’m trying to keep on top of the cooking and cleaning and yard work…

My pumpkin patch is currently trying to declare its independence
My pumpkin patch is currently trying to declare its independence

And in a few days, I’ll be caring for and training our brand new puppy. (Yes, I’ll post pictures when I bring him in.)

These days, it feels like my catchphrase is “Give me one second!” as I’m scrambling to get everything done.

People are going to give you a billion tips and strategies for ways to streamline your life and make things more manageable. There are thousands of options and methods out there.

Me, though, I like keeping a list.20130731_224615

I like to consider myself a master procrastinator. If something’s making me anxious, then I’ll put off doing it until the last minute. That’s what makes a simple pen-and-paper to-do list so effective for me: usually, I don’t have to do the tasks in any particular order.

If I don’t want to do my homework, I can jump to something else on the list. I can procrastinate all I want with less intimidating tasks, and still feel like I’m being productive. Often, by the time I’ve gotten a bunch of other stuff done, I feel confident enough to tackle the scarier projects.

When the project is particularly big, I can divide it into smaller tasks, each of which I can check off when I get done with it. After all, there’s a feeling of satisfaction that comes when you cross an item off, even if it’s a small one.

If you like technology, here are some free digital to-do lists that I’ve found:

  • Subtask divides larger projects up into smaller tasks and tells you how far along you are as you check things off
  • Remember the Milk is a to-do list app that can connect to your phone and computer, and it can send you reminders via text and Skype messages
  • Astrid was an awesome program, but it has since shut down.
  • — I haven’t tried this one yet… but I’m sure I’ll get around to it…
  • To Do (Tomorrow) advertises itself as a To-Do list for procrastinators. It’s Apple-based, but has options for Android as well.

Do to-do lists work for you? Why or why not? And do you have any software that you’re especially fond of for keeping productive? 


Writing Exercise: Gender Bender

Marilyn’s traditional poses are given a whole new perspective. (Photo credit: bionicteaching)

I’ve heard a lot of people say gender doesn’t matter– that we are all equal in soul and under the skin– and I’m not arguing that, with or against. But it’s undeniable that society changes our expectations of how men and women look, think and behave, and how they should be portrayed– at least on some level. The Hawkeye Initiative plays with this concept a lot, pointing out that what we consider acceptable poses for female comic book characters are just plain ridiculous when you make a male character try to pull them off.

Even in my own writing, gender plays a big role in how my characters behave. My first finished manuscript began as an idea for a character, but without a sex to go with it. After consulting with my little sister, I decided the name was more feminine than masculine, and the rest of the story fell into place. I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be the same story if Chicago was a teenage boy being stalked by his childhood maybe-girlfriend. In another manuscript, I’ve got a very powerful and confident woman… who, when genderflipped, stops seeming powerful and starts looking like a sexual predator.


I’m not saying all traditional gender-based behaviors and actions are necessarily bad, but they do open the doors for us to gain some new perspective.

If you’re having trouble writing a scene, try flipping it– all the dudes are now chicks, all the chicks are now dudes, all the MtF are now FtM, etc– and write it from that perspective. What are they saying that they weren’t saying before? What are they suddenly hiding? Pay attention to the changes in their body language, changes in vocabulary.

Once you’ve written it gender-bent, go back and turn it right-side-up (or maybe you’ll find it works better that way, and change the rest of the story to match it). If you decide to keep your initial gender roles, rewrite that scene back in the old style, but still pay attention to the body language, the vocabulary, the taboos and secrets and posturing. You’ll be amazed what you find.