Photo via Happy Housewives Club, which is a FANTASTIC site, btw.
I have always struggled with organization, and frankly, if don’t make a list, I will be sorting baby pictures or writing out greeting cards in three minutes flat. I’ve always been envious of people who run their homes with military efficiency. You know the people I am talking about; those folk who aren’t afraid of their closets and actually know what is in every drawer. Show-offs :P.
Yet, I have to say that just because something is our nature doesn’t mean that we are to be a victim to our innate shortcomings. In fact, Bob Mayer gave a really interesting exercise in his Warrior Writer Workshop. He said to look at your Myers-Briggs personality…then look at the opposite of your personality, and likely that is the area you need the most work. I am going to take it a step farther. I believe that the opposite of our personality could be what keeps us from ever enjoying great success.
More on this in a second…
One of my all-time favorite books is Eat That Frog—21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey. In Eat That Frog, Tracey gives an interesting rule.
Rule: Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.
Tracey advises that you sit down and write out all that is required for you to do your job. We’ll take five for our purposes today. As a writer I must:
- Have a good imagination
- A solid command of grammar
- Possess a modicum of talent when it comes to writing prose
- Have the self-discipline to write
- Possess superior organizational ability
When it comes to the first four, I totally ROCK….and then we get to that last part *winces.* Superior organization? Oh yeah.
First of all, even when you write non-fiction, information needs to flow in an optimal way or it won’t be enjoyable reading. I just turned in my new book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and one of the largest challenges was taking all these lessons from my blog and making them flow like a book…62,000 words of seamless lessons.
Eep! Yeah, it was tough, but after 42 versions and a lot of alcohol, chocolate and crying, I got there.
Same thing applies to fiction. If we hope to be a successful novelist, we have to be masters at organization. We have to balance narrative plot points, character arcs, POV, setting, dialogue and keep everything straight and give it perfect timing. The greatest part of dramatic tension is relaying the right piece of information at the right time. We have to manage all these components over the span of 60-110,000 words. This is one of the reasons many aspiring novelists never get beyond the “aspiring” part. They believe that the talent to manage all of this information is something writers are born with, when in fact it is a skill that 99% of the time must be taught, and then refined with a lot of trial, error and shots of tequila.
Writing a novel is an entirely different creature, yet many new writers mistakenly believe that they can jump from short story to novel with no problem. Sure. That is like creating a three-bar melody and then believing we are ready to compose a symphony with a 100 piece orchestra.
And, if I look at where I have had the largest struggles when it comes to writing…it has always been in my ability to organize (or lack of ability as the case may be).
Ah, but if we look at my Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP, which means I am highly skilled at concepts and BIG ideas…but I fall apart when it comes to execution because I have a hard time managing the details. If we look at the opposite of my personality we get…my husband. Seriously, there should be a picture of my husband below the ISTJ.
Tigger married Spock.
ENFP (The Inspirer)——ISTJ (The Duty Fulfiller)
“Kristen, you are being illogical.”
I have creativity, imagination and enough energy to power a small city, but it is clear where I fall abysmally short. Ah, the devil is in the details.
I think this Myers Briggs test is a great exercise for getting a clear idea of what specifically is in our nature that needs to be addressed. But I want to take it a step farther.
In Eat That Frog, Tracey also introduces the Pareto Principle. In 1895, economist Vincent Pareto noticed that society seemed to naturally divide into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” 20% of the population had all the wealth power and influence and the bottom 80% got whatever was left. He later discovered that this principle held true in all economic activity.
In short, 20% of our activity will account for 80% of our results.
This means that if we have a list of ten things to do, TWO of those items will be worth as much if not more than the other eight combined. But can you guess which items we are most likely to procrastinate on doing? Right. The two activities that could make the most difference. We are also most likely to procrastinate where we are weak.
Can you guess where I procrastinate? Yep, any activity that requires organizational skills. Whether it is plotting my novel or filing invoices, I do everything I can to get out of doing the chores that require I operate where I am weak. Yet, remember the rule I began with?
Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.
This rule basically says that if I do not figure out a way to mitigate or correct my greatest weakness, that it will always be my single greatest limiting factor.
So what can we do?
First, buy a copy of Eat That Frog. LOVE this book and use its principles to get A LOT of work done. See, knowledge is power and once we become aware of our limiting factors, then we can take action. We aren’t at the mercy of our nature.
As far as time-management, I know organization will never come natural to me, but it does come naturally to my mother, my sister-in-law, and my husband. When I need a system worked out for me, I have learned that I don’t have to do everything. I can delegate. GASP! I know! Cool, right? Of course, delegating isn’t one of those things I do well, naturally either, so I have to surround myself with friends who will yell at me if I fail to delegate properly. Hi, Piper! Hi, Cid!
I also make lists every day and no longer try to just “keep it in my head.” I then look at that list and whatever item makes me cringe when I read it (FROGS)? That is what I do first. Remember, 20% of our activity is going to account for 80% of our results.
When I tackle the toughest items first, I actually get more accomplished overall.
When we do the toughest jobs first, we get an endorphin rush from the sense of accomplishment. Also, since our toughest jobs are out of the way, the other “less important” chores go faster since we aren’t dragging our feet dreading the FROGS.
And how does this apply to writing? Well, I know that my prose is strong and I suffer no lack of imagination, BUT I do not naturally plot well. I used to get lost in the details and had a tough time keeping everything straight. This is why most of the writing books I now buy have to do with various ways to plot. Instead of reading book after book studying my strengths (dialogue), I now focus on my weakness, because that area will be my limiting factor if left unadressed. I also know that my writing will be faster and clearner and require fewer revisions if I can strengthen this weak area. What is your weak writing area? Work on that FIRST.
So what are some issues you guys struggle with and how do you deal with them? Any books or resources you can recommend? Are you a master at organization and maybe can offer tips? Or, are you like me? A junk drawer junkie? How do you overcome the clutter?
I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.
This Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique–Irene Vernadis
Happy Easter and happy writing!
Until next time….
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.