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any fiction writers, or others using GTD for artistic work??

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  • any fiction writers, or others using GTD for artistic work??

    hi all,

    thanks for this super forum.

    I read GTD about a year ago and implemented a few 'tricks' but now i think i'm ready to do it for real. i spent today trying to do first phase of 'collecting' but i think i messed up and ended up purge-and-organizing, spending too long on everything and tiring myself out completely. oh well.

    so tomorrow i try again. i realize tho that in capturing everything on my desk i get a sense of my work but i'm not really capturing the biggest open loop - which is my stalled fiction writing career that i'm determined to try to implement into my life again. And all the little creative projects that i've started over the years and meant to get back to...

    The problem is those things are definitely not 'in front of the door.' They're buried in folders on my hard drive that it's easy to forget.

    So I was wondering first of all a procedural question - to process your computer files, is it necessary to print everything out? (That's a lot of trees!) Or has someone figured out another way?

    Secondly, is anyone using GTD to kind of manage a whole bunch of unfinished stories and songs and creative projects? i don't know if i'm looking for advice or just encouragement or what here.



  • #2
    Congratulations on getting started! What's great about GTD is there's really no way to "mess up". Consider your system a work in progress that you're free to change, fine-tune, and experiment with as often as you feel the need to.

    As far as your questions:

    1) I'd go through your hard drive, folder by folder, and capture any projects or next actions as they show up. For each project or NA, I'd also write down the associated folder and document name so it's easy to return to the detail material when you're ready to work on it. No need to print anything out at this point.

    Easy does it. A pleasant work location and frequent breaks will make this task relaxing and fun.

    2) You might want to check out Jeff Kirvin's "Writing on Your Palm" site at

    He's a writer, and wrote about his implementation of GTD in his Jan. 5, Jan. 26, Feb. 2, and Feb. 9 articles; look in the "Columns" section.

    I think you'll find both advice and encourgement, and a great sense of humor about it all.

    Hope this helps,


    • #3
      Ernest Hemingway used an interesting variation of GTD: he would write for a given amount of time, say, his morning two-hour session. Then as he was about to write a key sentence or event, he would stop. This meant that he would “hit the ground running” at the beginning of his next day’s writing session because he immediately had something to write down.

      David advises us that, when we are identifying and specifying our next action, we should set ourselves up for a win. I think Hemingway nailed that idea!



      • #4
        Re: any fiction writers, or others using GTD for artistic wo

        Originally posted by beets
        So I was wondering first of all a procedural question - to process your computer files, is it necessary to print everything out? (That's a lot of trees!) Or has someone figured out another way?

        Secondly, is anyone using GTD to kind of manage a whole bunch of unfinished stories and songs and creative projects? i don't know if i'm looking for advice or just encouragement or what here.


        1 - No, I never print anything out unless I am sending it out to someone to read. It just resides on my computer and Palm, and that is where I edit, add, compose, destroy, etc. My file tree for writing is broken down by genre first; then by whether the work is finished or unfinished; and then if the work is several files long (a novel, research project, whatever) then a separate subfolder for the project.

        2 - Personally I try to stick to one or two major writing projects at a time. I sit down to write and that is what I work on. If my one or two major projects are stalled, I may allow myself to do some proofing/editing on another project for a day or two, or else I force myself to get moving on one of the major projects. I always have more unfinished work than I can handle at any one time (there are so many ideas that I only have time to get down on paper or write the first few pages or chapters), so most of it hibernates and I just work on one or two projects. Then when I finish a project I can go back to something that is hibernating.

        Next actions? Pretty simple for me. If it is "unfinished" and one of my current projects, the next action is to write more (or if absolutely necessary to go backwards to do a bit of editting or rereading). If it is "finished" then my next action is to edit, look for holes, etc. Most of my writing does not make it to my next action list, simply because there are already regularly scheduled times that I sit down to write (commuting, lunchtime, after the little one is in bed) and I really don't write it down unless it is a step to one of my annual goals or I am stuck and have to make myself press on.



        • #5
          Using GTD for creative work

          I am a graphic designer / art director. I just got turned onto GTD this week and plan to use it to get myself (and office) in order. Even though my job is artistic, I still have to track a lot of details that tend to get lost.
          I would be interested to see if there are any other "Artistic" types out there that are using this system as well.
          I tend to find that I need "specifics and directions" and that is exactly what GTD gives you!


          • #6
            Re: I'm a writers using GTD

            To beets -- That is a huge problem but maybe not because your flies are buried in folders on your hard drive. You have to invent systems that are hard to forget. I have written and published 40 books and 1000 articles. I have a monthly column on marketing. My books are mostly on the subject of investing. It is easy to get lost. I have tuned my studio into a large workspace with tables and open shelves everywhere. I lay chapter out on the floor in front of me and on outlined on my tables. I have tow flat computer screens and may add a third. I can hold material I want to use on one screen as I edit the other. Writing is a messy business, but I'm visual and have to see the connections and see my process. I'm using outlook categories and tasks to help. I have to have a place to remember outside my brain but in plain sight. I know what you are going through.

            PS. Forget about the trees! If they publish your book and it's a success and 10 copies are in every bookstore in the country you will be responsible for thousands of dead trees.

            Larry Chambers


            • #7
              from beets - a man without meetings

              thanks, all, for the inspiration and advice. (this is the same guy as beets, i'm a member now). Love the Hemingway idea, Guest, and pd_workman, I like your blend of doggedness and realism - work on just two projects unless something's stuck then allow a third... and larry, wow. Three screens! Your office sounds inspirational. Though it's interesting how, well, piled up papers and such seem sort of a violation of strict GTD, which would ask us to file away what we're not working on - unless i've got that wrong. Anyway it goes to show how adaptable the system is. I'm going to implement lots of this advice.

              Speaking of implementing and adapting, I'm curious from all of you, netheadred you might be one of these, that don't have a lot of meetings to give structure to your day.

              Often when I'm reading GTD, David talks about all the meetings, and phone calls, and emails - and that's just not my workday. I feel like maybe the book's written for a different kind of worker. Still I believe in the system, and that's why this forum is so great, to go beyond what's in the book and find out how people adapt it to their needs.

              So I'm really curious to hear from those of you who don't have many meetings in your day, and who may not have too many things that you HAVE to get done in any one day. Based on the GTD system (look first at your hard-edged appts, then at your daily todo, then at your NA list), I pretty much go straight to the NA list. And that kind of sucks, because, Everything's on that list, important and not so important.

              Also my context lists - @calls, @computer, @office, also don't seem to help, because I'm in my home office with a computer and a phone - it's all right here. And while I do appreciate the zone of being in "phone mode" or "email mode" or "writing mode" (how rare that is!), their main function seems to be to provide eye relief from the vertiginous list of 100 odd NAs...

              I'm wondering if anyone else has had these issues and worked through them.

              Sorry for the hugely long email - and thanks again for all your support.


              • #8
                whoops - a lot of my questions are answered in another post

                sorry all-

                i'm now reading the post "too many NAs, can't focus" and a lot of answers are there.

                So sorry to be repetitive.

                - beets


                • #9

                  Speaking as a creative type, I have found through long and painful experience that I tend to approach EVERYTHING as if it were a creative project.

                  In other words, my instinct is to leave the task embellished with my own personal input/additions/styling, no matter what it is.

                  This is a good thing if I am rewriting a draft of a story, or turning an idea into a poem, or critically reading a draft for a friend.

                  But this tendency is a DISASTER in areas that I would consider to be “admin” – bill paying; remembering to pay bills; scheduling; filing and organising; tidying; showing up; etc etc.

                  I found that before I can hope to accomplish any of these types of tasks, I basically have to shut off the creative flow, because it inevitably leads to either a failure to complete a task, or a massive over-estimation of what I am required to do. If I am asked to add my part to a report in work, that’s all I have to do. As soon as I begin to re-read other sections to make sure that the whole thing hangs together stylistically, or has the same “voice”, I am doing the wrong thing, and trouble follows.

                  However, when applying myself to creative sessions, I can go at it with all guns blazing.

                  I read once that a cause of lost time in work is the tendency to try to “borrow” work time in order to fulfil personal need and desires. The most common one is the need to socialise, be it chatting to a co-worker, or making personal phone calls.

                  My self-diagnosis is that my creative drive leaks into my day job, and causes me to stray into artistic embellishment rather than administrative efficiency.

                  This can be very subtle. I am not talking about using different coloured pens, or overly ornate language. What happens to me is that, when I am considering a task, I find myself saying “now there’s got to be more to this than meets the eye – how can I stamp it with MY identity?”

                  Even when I watch colleagues dealing with a similar task, and the way they identify the key thing they have to do, and then do it in a matter of minutes, (and not suffer any negative consequences!) I still cannot accept that this is the right way to go.


                  I think another perilous outcome of the creative mind it that, in my case anyway, I tend to try to see things as forming part of a whole, rather than accepting that they are individual, often small, and totally unrelated tasks, many of which can be killed off and forgotten about in a matter of minutes.

                  It’s the overwhelming desire to record, remember, keep track of, and inter-relate things that causes me so many organisational headaches.

                  I think, possibly, it’s because a writer produces stuff by relating things together in a new, unexpected, and entertaining way. We like to see the familiar fragmented, so that we can re-make it in our own style. That’s our happy hunting ground. When stuff is tidied up, put away, and out of sight, it is, in our eyes, dead and pointless.

                  I am also still trying to marry GTD to the creative process – part of GTD is the facility to “get it out of your head and on to paper, where it will not distract you”. On the other hand, when I am writing, I like to flood my head with thoughts, music, impressions, memories, and sift like a gold prospector for shiny nuggets. But at least I can rely on GTD to reassure me that all the boring, obligatory stuff is nailed down in my lists where I don’t have to worry about them.

                  So that’s the challenge, for me anyway. I have read in a few places that both great artists AND great business-people have the joint talents of being highly creative and highly organised – I imagine they must be great finishers too. Now that’s the kind of person I want to be!



                  • #10
                    GTD and the Art Director

                    I too do not have a lot of meetings to define my day. I do, however, have a lot of projects. I tend to get either a) distracted or b) bored with a project. Both are extremely detrimental to my success. I have a tendancy to see or hear something while I am working on something completely different, drop everything, and work on that particular thing rather than finish what I am doing. Now, granted, I haven't gotten into GTD full force yet but the basic concept allows me to file away that thought when it comes up so that I can retrieve it later. This allows me to finish what I am working on.
                    Also, the idea of tracking lists, especially the waiting for list, reminds me of what I have where and to whom. One project at this printer, one project with this client etc., etc.
                    I think when you don't have a lot of meetings to structure your day, the main thing you could do with your next actions is break them down further so that not everything is on this list as one big hunk. That might help.
                    Also, the @computer or @phone could be combined to @office.

                    Just my 2 cents worth.


                    • #11
                      a few ideas

                      Buzen's mind mapping site has enough info to get you going on mind mapping and you might find it helpful. You could number your files, write an abstract for each and just print put the abstracts and create an index.
                      You might choose one smaller subject area to work on and see if your system works. And, finally, a lot of times we tend to think we need to harness and re-work a backlog before we cab manage what is coming in new. I read once that a person whoh was teaching people how to get out of debt would tell his "students" to track expenses for a week between classes but they would argue and say they had to go back for years to get any useful information. In fact what they spent excessively in a week prooved to be substantial and when saved over several months and applied to their debts was often enough to greatly improve their financiual situations.


                      • #12

                        You might find this thread relevant.



                        • #13
                          Yes, I use the GTD system for artistic work

                          I use the system to run my design and publishing business, and to track my various projects.

                          Hmmm, let's see some of the things that are being tracked right now...

                          1. My weekly e-zine manuscript is in the March 15 section of my day planner. I'm using one of those Franklin Monarch day planners to plan my daily schedule, and to serve as a tickler file.

                          2. I need to design a flyer to promote the business. The materials relating to that project are sitting in my @ACTION file pocket, which lives in the box below my in-box. Let's call that box the "projects in progress" box.

                          3. I'm working on a new letterhead and envelope design for the business, and wouldn't ya know it, that project is also in the @ACTION file pocket!

                          As for those ideas that seem to hit me, well, when I'm having breakfast or something crucial like that, I jot them down on little scraps of paper, toss 'em into the in-box and deal with them when I can. (I work at home, so the in-box isn't too far away from where I have breakfast.)

                          Hope this helps!


                          • #14
                            Hi all,

                            I've just begun this process, I did the full inventory and system implementation two weeks ago. The first thought that occurs to me about the concept of some sort of daily structure, ie "The Hard Landscape" is that, as independent workers we simply need to create a bit of that for our selves. We think of meetings and appointments as board rooms and client lunches - things we as writers (or other artists) don't always have. But we do likely have some sort of landscape we're just overlooking. This may sound silly, but part of my "job description" as the person in our family who handles daily issues like feeding everybody and seeing to it that the house stays tidy requires some structure. I have a morning routine that takes about half an hour (mundane stuff like dishes and making coffee) and I do it religously - it is on my calendar at the same time every day. I have to cook dinner - it's on there. (As an aside, getting these things out of the way has the nifty benefit of keeping me from sidetracking myself when it's time to write.) Also, you can put in an appointment with your notebook, or with a writer friend. The cool thing here, is that when you show up for the mundane(but important) things on your calendar, it builds a sense of trust in one's self; we show up for the writing because it is a habit to attend to all of the appointmens on the calendar!

                            Personally, I've hit a wall with my project and I am struggling to get back into my rythym. I've found that fully implementing this system has given me permission to tap into a deep resevoir. I've begun to discover how many things I've taken on that are unreleated to my writing and are draining me - just having all of those things down has done a beautiful thing for my creativity, it's freed me to have more ideas and to give a larger piece of myself to the writing.

                            Thanks for starting this thread, I too have been wondering how other artists may be using this system and I look forward to more tips and ideas.