Archive for June, 2011

Getting Organized: A Guest Post by Jacquelin Cangro

We all know there aren’t enough hours in the day to do the things we want to do, let alone the things we have to do, so when the very sharp and savvy Jacquelin Cangro offered to do a guest post on time management, I was thrilled. An accomplished writer and teacher, she knows her stuff when it comes to the subject. And after just a few minutes of reading, we will too.

Thanks, Jackie. (And thanks, Reggie, for sharing her with us!)


Timeless: How to Organize Your Writing Day

By Jacquelin Cangro


My company’s human resources department recently offered a time management seminar with tips on how to maximize employees’ productivity while minimizing our stress. I didn’t sign up because I couldn’t find the time to attend.

In all seriousness, like most of you, my days are jam-packed with chores and tasks. On any given day, I have about four jobs. There’s the corporate gig that keeps the roof over my head. There’s the new business I’m trying to get off the ground. I also edit novel manuscripts for other authors while putting the finishing touches on my own. With all of that going on, I quickly realized that if I wanted to remain sane, I had to get serious about time management. Of course time can’t be managed, strictly speaking. What I mean is organizing my day in a way that suits my personality.  Finding a method that fits with who you are is crucial to sticking with it. Here are some things I do that play to my strengths.

To-do lists. I rely on lists. If I didn’t write down what needs to get done I’d simply forget. Besides, I enjoy that little feeling of accomplishment when I cross off an item. But management experts suggest that left-brained creative folks who tend to think conceptually find to-do lists overwhelming. If that describes you, try plotting your tasks on index cards. Then you can shuffle and reorder them as necessary.

Set a date. Entering a due date next to each item on my to-do list keeps me on track and helps me prioritize. If I’m not on a specific editorial deadline, say I’ve been meaning to update my website, I give myself a date so the task doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Compartmentalize. For a compulsive multi-tasker like me, this is my biggest problem: trying to do too many things at once. To maintain my focus, I realistically calculate how much time a project is going to take. If I have the mindset that writing this article will take about an hour, it accomplishes two things: I can allot that chunk of time (or break it down into manageable chunks) and then set the proper expectations. I also reassess if a project is taking longer than anticipated.

Break it down. It’s daunting, even downright paralyzing to face a large, ongoing project. When I decided I had to change my novel from first person to third, I avoided the manuscript for days (okay, weeks). It was much easier to tackle other tasks that I could complete quickly. But there was an elephant in the room named WIP. So I divided the manuscript into bite size pieces: chapter 1, pages 25-35, Rose’s scene on the train. Then I added the pieces to my to-do list. Once I did that, the elephant kindly went to another writer’s house.

Know thyself. I know plenty of writers who love to burn the midnight oil. Not me. I’m a morning person. I set my alarm 30 minutes before I really need to be up for work and tackle the most challenging or involved projects before lunch. If I’m planning to meet a friend for dinner tonight, the likelihood that I will revise chapter 12 of my novel after I get home is equal to that of George Clooney knocking on my door to ask me on a date.

Stop waiting for the muse. A friend of mine who has two small children and a full time job says it’s difficult to write because he doesn’t have stretches of uninterrupted time. If he gets 10 minutes to himself, he’s lucky. What can you do with 10 minutes aside from update your FB status? A lot actually. Find 10 minutes three times a day and you’ve got a half hour. I carry a notebook and a chapter of my WIP everywhere I go. Standing in line at the grocery store? Waiting at the doctor’s office? That leads me to…

Check your obsession at the door. I’ve seen this problem in many of my students. These writers get stalled on the intro because they are waiting for the perfect conflagration of words to come to them. They spend a lot of time staring into space hoping inspiration will strike. The clock is ticking. Don’t wait. Write.

Listen to Jonathan Franzen. “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection is writing good fiction.” When I sit down to write, my browser is closed. Enough said.

I hope that with a few tweaks of these suggestions to fit your personality and work style, you’ll find yourself a lean, mean writing machine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to cross this guest post off my to-do list.


Jacquelin Cangro’s first book, The Subway Chronicles, is a collection of essays about the New York City subway system. She’s had short stories published in the literary journals Pangolin Papers and The Macguffin and she completed her first novel. She recently started The Writers’ Salon, a writing center with classes on techniques, workshops and the business of writing. She blogs here.

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Rising dough. Paying off a student loan. On hold with your insurance provider.

These are things that take time.

But what about the timeline for a novel? Does that have a built-in life expectancy?

For LITTLE GALE GUMBO, I took my time. Almost forty years, to be exact. When we first meet Camille Bergeron, she is a shy teenager helping her mother work a spell in the back of their Voodoo shop in New Orleans. By the story’s end, she has left a legacy on an island off the coast of Maine, started a Creole cafe that will become an island staple, and raised two remarkable daughters who share their own struggles and celebrations throughout the course of the novel.

Wait for it...Wait for it...Some things take time. Like bird photography. And, if you're this heron, a good meal.

So when I sat down to write my next novel, it was hard to imagine, but I was feeling a little less, well, patient. The story that was coming to me wanted to be told faster. MUCH faster. As in, one week faster.

Is that possible? Is that blasphemy? Can a reader care about people who have the literary lifespan of a fruit fly?

Why not?  Just because a story takes place over a short period of time doesn’t mean its characters can’t develop believable relationships, does it? Admittedly, it’s a challenge. In particular, building romances. No reader accepts the love-at-first-sight clause without proof. And what about the ending? Can you provide resolution for your reader–believable resolution–when only a matter of days have transpired? I mean, how much can a character REALLY grow in seven days?

Well, I’ll let you know. I’m finding that out right now, and I’m here to say, I think they can grow quite a lot. But I am holding fast to one rule: Be it seven days or seven years, the evolution of a character requires consistency and authenticity above all else.

Frankly, I’m loving the challenge of this structure. I love the idea of a compact story with bursting characters whose years of history aren’t nearly as crucial as the seven days in which that history comes to the forefront and collides with their future and those around them who hope to be a part of it.

It’s almost like accelerated dog years. For every seven years of character development, I get one day to let it live.

So what about you all? Do you find it’s easier to write a story that spans a long chronology–or do you prefer to keep your timeline short? Any examples come to mind of short-termed storylines that left you feeling full or midnight-munchies starving?

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