Get to Do

Jessie: In NH where it is finally warm enough to wear

I am on deadline. June 1 to be exact. I love deadlines and I hate them. The constant pressure of the clock ticking away in my ear, the calendar pages that seem to whip by in a whirl feel oppressive half the time. The other half of the time it feels like the universe has taken me firmly in hand and demanded I behave like a professional adult.

I have always been at my writerly best when under time pressure. As a high school student I would often write papers due in the afternoon during the lunch period. It clarified and focused my thoughts and I think I enjoyed the frenzied pace such a strategy demanded.

Now although my writing projects are far more complex and cannot be left to the day before I still find I thrive on writing at a rapid clip. I love to set audacious writing goals and to challenge myself to reach them each day. I love dashing each morning into the story and galloping furiously along until I’ve met my projected word count, especially if I am worried that I can’t do it.

But despite the pleasure I take from working that way there are some unexpected consequences. My usually tidy office is heaped and piled with delayed decisions and unfinished tasks. Emails go unanswered. I switch off my phone. The interior of my fridge is a sad, echoing sort of place. I don’t always make it out of my pajamas before noon. Which brings me to the final pleasure of writing with single-minded focus: the get to do list. 

Every time a deadline is drawing near I start keeping a list of all the things I am itching to do just as soon as it passes. The fact that I cannot seem to get to some things makes them seem all the more interesting. The trip to the grocer, steaming the wrinkles out of the new duvet, updating my website. All these things and more take on the air of forbidden fruit. Not only do I get to write the way I prefer but I end up looking forward to those tasks I would consider mundane under most circumstances and would likely put off doing them. It is all a little crazy. It is a little slice of heaven.

Readers and writers, do you love or hate deadlines? Do you keep get to do lists?



Favorite Things


Jessie: In New Hampshire where the ground is covered with snow and the birds flit merrily round the feeders throughout the day.

I am an inveterate list maker. I have lists of knitting projects, recipes to try, movies to watch, tasks to finish. I have a Ravelry account for my knitting, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video queues and a recipe box on Epicurious. Amazon’s Echo helps me to wrangle my grocery lists.  I pin all sorts of visual lists to my Pinterest boards.

But although I am always up for digital lists of all sorts I find myself scribbling lists on sticky notes and in whichever notebook I have to hand. Writing lists by hand allows me to indulge in my passion for fountain pens as well as for notebooks and papers and I always enjoy encountering lists I had made in the past. They serve as a diary of sorts, a kind of snapshot of a moment in time and often remind me of things I had forgotten.

Just this week I was planning a gathering for friends and needed to sort out a menu so naturally I reached for a pen and paper to start a list of menu ideas. I grabbed a notebook I keep in my nightstand drawer, a little A5 number with a cheerful Hello Kitty cover that my husband brought back for me from China a couple of years ago. As I thumbed through looking for a fresh page my glance fell on another sort of list entirely and one I cannot for the life of me remember writing, or even my reason for doing so.

It seems to be a list of favorite things. Just reading it over made me smile so I thought I would share it with you. Here are a few of the items listed:

  • Bento boxes
  • Fair Isle Socks
  • Vintage convertibles
  • Cardinals
  • Silk scarves
  • High ceilings and long windows
  • Fountain pens
  • Champagne
  • Brick sidewalks
  • Cashmere
  • The Atlantic
  • Fireplaces
  • Extravagant hats
  • Window boxes
  • Sparkling glassware
  • Louis Armstrong music
  • Plump goldfish

So what I am wondering dear readers is what would be on your list of favorite things? Do we have any shared loves? Writers, do you scribble down lists here, there and everywhere too? Does any of it ever make it into your writing?

Wicked Wednesday–Taking a Breath

It’s a busy time here at Wicked Cozy Authors World Headquarters. We have three book birthdays in October (Sheila Connolly, A Gala Event, Julianne Holmes, Just Killing Time and upcoming, Maddie Day, Flipped for Murder) and we have three in November  (Susannah Hardy Olive and Let Die, Level Best Books, Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Red Dawn and Sadie Hartwell, Yarned and Dangerous.) Throw in Bouchercon in October, and Crime Bake in November, and, well, it gets a little crazy.

So, today’s Wicked Wednesday is about taking a breath. Wickeds, how do you recharge your batteries when you only have a few down minutes or hours between one frantic activity and the next?

Edith: May I just add that IN BETWEEN Bouchercon and Crime Bake I’m headed out to MagnalogoIndiana for six days to personally launch Flipped for Murder at the Magna Cum Murder conference in Indianapolis and then at three author events around the lower third of the state. So recharging is going to be very important.

One thing I do at conferences is just lie down flat on the bed and breathe deeply for five minutes. Even if I wish I had time for a nap but don’t, having a mini-liedown/meditation (snort, I just typed “medication”…) break really helps. And if I have a half hour or more, I tie on my tennies and take a good brisk walk. Maybe I don’t have time to change into exercise clothes or take a shower afterward. Still, getting my blood moving, my oxygen replenished, and my energy recharged is a huge boost to me.

Liz: I’ve been trying to be more mindful and take mental breaks when I’m getting overwhelmed. Like Edith, I like to walk if I can fit it in, or even just run around the yard with the dogs for a few minutes. I also got one of those adult coloring books-I’ve always loved to color-and five minutes focusing on that improves my mood immediately.
I have a trampoline set up near my office, so if I’m working from home I can use that for five minutes here and there. I’m trying to meditate more, too…but I get distracted so easily!

Sherry: If I’m at a conference escaping to my room for five minutes alone or with a couple of good friends is great for relaxing. Eating a few nuts or some other protein if I’m feeling sluggish also helps. At home, taking a reading break helps me escape from whatever is making me feel overwhelmed.

Jessie: Whenever I feel frazzled and overwhelmed by what-all is swirling round my head, I sit down and make a list. So often everything is a lot more manageable when it is written down in black and white. I also always have a knitting project on the needles, and for me, there is no better way to unwind than to add a few rows to a work-in-progress.

Barb: I was going to say play solitaire on my computer (or iPad or phone or whatever device is at hand). Isn’t that what everybody does? But then I realized that might not be quite in the spirit, so I’ll go with the “water cure.” In Key West I swim in it, in Maine I gaze at it. Somehow, being near water relaxes me. I think it’s in the human DNA.

Readers, how do you take a breather during a busy day or week?

Wicked Dealing with Deadlines: Short-Term

Two weeks ago we discussed strategies for dealing with deadlines that are far in the

"Double-Bell Alarm Clock" by Anonymous illustrator - Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, 1917

“Double-Bell Alarm Clock” by Anonymous illustrator – Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, 1917

future. Today we’ll talk about the deadlines that suddenly are on top of us. Do you stay up all night to finish something? Go to bed at ten but set the alarm for three in the morning? Make lists? What about when short-term deadlines stack up like planes waiting to land?

Liz: Oh, boy. This happens to me all the time. I don’t usually stay up all night because I’m way too cranky the next day, but I have been known to have marathon sessions in the evenings or on weekends to get a bunch of things done. I try really hard to be a better planner, but alas, it doesn’t always work!

Jessie: I make lists. I make one at the beginning of the month for projects that require a bit of time and one each day for more immediate tasks. I like seeing what needs doing laid out in black and white. Getting things on paper gets them out of my head and makes room for me to be more creative about how to accomplish what’s on the list.

Julie: I am a big fan of the Franklin Covey system. (Would that it was an app, or a Google plug-in, but I digress.) I have big deadlines (book #2 due to my editor, book #1 proofs need to be read, a grant application for work, etc.), middle sized deadlines (birthdays and other occasions that require attention, social media updates) and small deadlines that require some attention (parking permit updates, bills that need to be paid, subscriptions that need to be updated). I have lists of them all, and am trying to get in the habit of choosing what I can do that day, and prioritizing.

Sherry: I put reminders in my phone for short term deadlines and set alarms to help remind me when something is due. My husband and I also share a calendar which helps keep track of events we are both involved in.

Barb: I have a to-do list that I update frequently, sometimes weekly, sometimes every few days, sometimes every few weeks. My to-do list has categories –MCM (Maine Clambake Mysteries), LBB (Level Best Books), WCA (Wicked Cozy Authors), MCW (Maine Crime Writers), CB (Crime Bake) and personal. All the to-dos get divided up among them. I would say it helps me keep balanced, but that’s not my nature. I usually dive deep into stuff. So mostly, it reminds me what hanging out there while I’m on one of my deep dives. The to-dos in my running chronological notes in my Levenger Junior Notebook, which also contains my calendar and is never far from my side.

Edith: I love all these different strategies! I keep a daily short-term to-do list next to my ToDoListlaptop. After Ramona DeFelice Long posted about the ten-item to-do list last week, I went back and counted up how many items I normally have on the list, and it turns out to be about ten. I have two priority items on the top every day, and I cross them off every day: Write (or Edits/Revise, depending), and Walk. The day after we got back from our Old Orchard retreat, I had twenty things on the list, but seven didn’t get done, and some were very tiny…like “shower.” Think I needed a boost of confidence that day or what?

Readers: How do you deal with things that have to get done right now, pretty soon, all at once?

Ready, Set, Goal!

Today is the last day of elementary school for my youngest child. It is checkeredflagbittersweet. Things are changing, things are ending. It is time for some new direction, new opportunities, new goals. And that, is right up my alley.

I confess to being a goal and list junkie. I am seduced by free apps for my smartphone that offer me faster, more intuitive ways to plan my time. I love notebooks that offer organizing systems. I adore those New Year’s Resolution blog posts that spring up every January.

About a year and a half ago I started taking my goal setting seriously. I started planning a new series of goals in seven areas of life every twelve weeks. Each week, on Sunday afternoon, I think about what I will do during the upcoming week to move me closer to my objectives. I decide on three tasks and write them down. Jack Canfield, of Chicken Soup for the Soul  fame, has a great printable sheet on his website that I like to use.

I’m also a  big fan of to-do lists. Sometimes I make one on an index card,todolist dividing it in half. On one side I write down three or four things I absolutely promise myself I will accomplish that day. On the other half, I place the same number of things I would like the universe to deliver to me. I find if I honor the commitments on my half, the universe tends to be obliging.

One of my very favorite lists has kind of a reverse approach.  Lists are often made by compiling tasks with the idea that completing them will help you arrive a a better feeling place. I like to make lists based on what I want to feel and then decide which efforts will get me there. For example, if I want to feel connected I will call or write to a friend. If I want to feel healthy and energized I will make a point to take a walk and to drink sixty-four ounces of water that day.

This strategy helps with even the most dreaded tasks. I’ve noticed usually I can’t access the feelings I want to experience if something unpleasant is hanging over my head. More often than not, I add things I’ve been procrastinating to the list in order to feel accomplished, or freed up, or triumphant.

How about you? Are you a goal setting list maker too?