Keep A Work Journal to Stay On Track

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Every day, I start with the best intentions. I devise a 'to-do' list, and after checking email and sipping a cup of brewed tea, I start writing.

And that's when the trouble begins.

"LuAnn, can you run to town for tractor parts?"

"LuAnn, the heifers are out. Yup, all 200 of them. I need your help rounding them up."

"Hon, can you whip up some pancakes and coffee? I'm starved."

Or if it isn't farm and family associated interruptions, it's the ringing phone, the "you've got mail" sound effect, or a restless mind bouncing what seems like a million ideas off each other.

After encountering these interferences, I've learned to restructure my 'to-do' list. Actually, my list is written inside a green journal with wild flowers on the cover. The pages are a crisp honeydew green, and within its pages is tangible proof of my writing career. I learned this technique in Advanced Comp and Creative Writing in college some 20 (or more) years ago. And this simple daily goal listing has helped my productivity and attention span.

I make five entries for each day. First, I write the date and time. By looking at previous entries, I can determine if my schedule is consistent. For the most part - except the days I substitute teach - I begin by 7:30 A.M.

Next, I organize my day and structure my writing time. I read email at specific times: 7:30, 1:30, and 6:30. If the phone rings, I check caller ID to see if answering it is a necessity. This strategy also lets me check voice mail when I need a break or when I check email.

Living on a dairy farm means that there are farm-life parameters I need to follow. Having lunch on the table at noon makes my farmer happy. So I know I need at least 45 minutes to prepare a meal.

What does that leave? It leaves from approximately 8:00 - 11:15 for researching, interviewing, blogging, querying, and editing.

I resume office hours around 1:30 and write for three hours, at a minimum. I spend time editing and re-writing, if necessary.

Then I pen specific goals for the day. Generic statements like "work on character development" don't cut it for me. Instead, my list looks something like this: research how cinnamon improves health, query AARP re: cinnamon research, edit article for The Denver Post, write effective lead for the turkey industry article.

I try to stick to my list of goals, but sometimes my writing genius kicks into overdrive and I realize I have a good idea for the structure of an article, so I follow my instincts and fine tune that area.

The key: be flexible while accomplishing a goal.

After that, I reflect on the day, although a writer's day never ends, does it? I note what I've completed or started or stalled on throughout the day. If I don't get everything done, I list reasons that held me back. Maybe I'm battling a cold and cough and I just couldn't focus on the computer screen. Or maybe there were 15 calls from the dairy barn, and after call number three, I knew I needed to answer the phone. Every time. Or maybe today turned into an idea-only day after I started researching, and now those ideas for possible articles or stories are scattered across my desk.

But no matter what I do or don't complete, this journal forces me to be accountable for my writing.

Finally, I take note of tomorrow's schedule and list when I plan to begin writing and a general notation of what I will work on. It's a daily date with my planner; a reminder that yes, I have to write tomorrow.

Twenty years ago, an old college prof told me that writers lead a double life: they possess a creative side and they run a business. You need to handle both to experience success. That's when he taught us this technique, hoping we would realize that writing isn't always a glamorous life.

I've found that I have more of a sense of responsibility to my writing and my career. There's more of a structure to this business, which can change with a phone call, an email, or a husband who is hungry and wants some homemade cookies for a mid-afternoon snack.


Sue said...

Thanks for sharing your journaling habits in this post, LuAnn! I've been ignoring mine, and it is one thing that kept me on track for a long time. Maybe that's why I'm wobbling on and off my balance beam. ;-)

You also mentioned a strong point we shouldn't forget. "Writers lead a double life" in order to be successful, and it's another aspect to writing that requires a special balancing act.

Insightful post!

Anonymous said...

Very good points; it's essential to be disciplined when you don't have a boss looking over your shoulder & you seem to have that mastered.

Angela Mackintosh said...


Wow, how fascinating! This is an amazing insight into your life. I have to say, I've never met a dairy Queen before. ;-) Except for the ice cream place (yum!).

You seem to have a great structure down and I hope that you're using your daily life as a muse. I mean, how many dairy farms are really left out there that are family owned? Where I'm from, there's only one farm locally left, and the city is trying to push them out...even though they're the oldest (and last) farm in my area of Orange County, California (The OC). I did an art show on this to raise awareness at one point.

Your farm-life must be incredibly time-consuming, yet, you manage to work in a fantastic writing schedule that makes mine look very frazzled. I'm very proud of you, and hope that you continue to share your writing goals with us.

So, you never told us, how does cinnamon improve health? I'd love to know. ;-)



Anonymous said...

I have to be honest, LuAnn! I commend you! To set up a journal like that.

To be honest I am organized in my writing, I usually set myself up with appointments on my calendar to write. Of course life does change those appointments and makes me move them around, but I love the idea of using a notebook/planner to keep myself more accountable for my writing. Bravo!

Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope you don't mind if I "follow" in your footsteps.

I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors!!!

Happy Writing!

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