ChecklistsIncrease Your Efficiency:
Create Your Own Checklists

by Marg McAlister


1. Why Use Checklists?

Checklists ensure that: 

  • you don't forget anything important
  • you know (a)what you've done and (b) what you need to do
  • you build your skills in an organised way

It's likely that you already use a checklist in its most basic form - the good old 'to-do' list. How often do you make a shopping list? A list of household chores? A list of debts to tackle?

When you make a list, you are acknowledging that anything on it has to be dealt with in some way. Calling it a 'checklist' simply infers that you need to tick off the items on it as the desired action is completed.

However, you may not realise that your OWN checklists are the most useful kind you can have. Sure, use a downloadable template as a basis; use someone else's suggestions - but if you PERSONALISE your lists you'll make more headway.

2. What Kind of Checklists Can You Create?

We're talking writers here, not groceries, so let's brainstorm what writers need. Here are some possible topics:

a. Writing Technique and Plotting.

This is the most obvious type of checklist for a writer, and you'll get off to a great start by downloading the checklists from (Go to the home page of the Writing4Success club, and click on the link 'Download Library' under 'Resources' in the left hand panel. Then you click on 'Checklists' in the first column to see a list.) The basic checklists offered from Writing4Success are:

(1) Getting Ideas
(2) Your Basic Plot
(3) Characters
(4) Viewpoint
(5) Dialogue
(6) Scenes

b. Grammar and Language.

What causes problems when you're writing? If there are some aspects of grammar, punctuation and/or sentence structure that continually trip you up, add them to your personal checklist. Some suggestions:

(1) Punctuation - commas, colons, semi-colons, quotation marks, exclamation marks, question marks.
(2) Grammar - past tense, present tense, past perfect tense; first person, second person, third person; who/whom
(3) Sentence structure - conjunctions (and, but); run-on sentences; comma splice; sentence fragments

These are just a few suggestions. Substitute your own particular bugbears, and add more as they are brought to your attention. Unfortunately, you'll probably need feedback from someone else to alert you to errors associated with grammar and language.

c. Career Development.

What do you need to do or to work on to build your writing career? Make a list of anything that seems relevant, then break it down into manageable chunks that you can chip away at. Some examples:

(1) Join a writers' group
(2) Buy a book on dialogue
(3) Do a course on plotting
(4) Research viewpoint on the Internet
(5) Attend the next romance writers' conference
(6) Do a workshop on writing mysteries
(7) Send out one query letter each week to publishers
(8) Send out one query letter each week to agents
(9) Do a course on public speaking; join Toastmasters
(10) Learn how to build a website
(11) Start a blog
(12) Create a media kit for download from your website and/or to hand out to journalists

d. Home Office and Equipment.

(1) Buy a new laptop
(2) Organise writer's reference library
(3) Buy a new printer
(4) Shop for a new chair
(5) Organise filing cabinet
(6) Upgrade writing software
(7) Install new noticeboard/whiteboard
(8) Organise computer files
(9) Buy external hard drive for backup
(10) Learn how to filter email and create folders in your mailbox

Five More Ideas for Checklists

- Organising a writer's group (e.g. organisation and procedure)
- Improving your writing technique (e.g. learning from books, courses, Internet, forum)
- Learning new skills/software (e.g. how to do podcasts, how to create a promotional video for YouTube)
- Building a network of writing colleagues (e.g. what kind of writers would you like to know? How can you meet them?)
- Moving from outside 9-5 work to freelance writing work

3. Some Tips on Making Any Checklist More Effective

(a) Make it personal! Yes, this bears repeating. Don't leave in anything on a checklist template that you don't need or want.

(b) Break it down into small tasks. Do this for EVERY CHECKLIST YOU CREATE. Keep breaking down topics until every item you have on your checklist is achievable in one working day.

(c) If you have particular difficulty with one item, analyse it to find out why. Do you need to fill a knowledge gap before you can do a task? Or is this something that you don't really want to do? If you don't, how can you make it easier/more palatable? If you STILL don't want to do it, do you need to think more carefully about what you really want? If you need money to achieve it, how can you earn that money? (Sell things on eBay? Get a part-time job? Work overtime? Have a garage sale? Ask for what you want as a combined Christmas/birthday present from family?)

Checklists can help you to organise your writing life and to achieve your goals. Spend time on them to make them effective and useful. Then share them with your writing colleagues!


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