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No. 150.4 | By Christine Carron

One of the most powerful  actions you can take on behalf of your writing and your writing productivity is to be more intentional about how you design your writerly work. When you do, it is easier to get your writing done. Stress and struggle subside. Confidence and flow arise.

Sounds good, right?

Now, if all we had to do to succeed on the writing adventure was increase our word count, designing our writerly tasks would be super easy. “Write x number of words” would just repeat over and over. But things aren’t so simple. To be successful as a writer involves much more than writing.

The definition of writerly work I teach is anything that helps you get your writing out into the world

Writing, obviously, helps you get your writing out into the world. But sometimes taking a day off will boost your productivity more than slogging through a task when you are exhausted. Daydreaming is also legit writerly work. As is planning. And attending a conference. And expanding your craft. And participating in a critique group. And researching agents. And building your author platform. And learning how to market your book. . . .  

Stack all that writerly work on top of all the specific writing projects you are juggling and—phew!—there is a lot to do. That is when smart writerly work design shines. Designing your work with intention is the fastest path to creating what I call lower case flow.

Upper Case Versus Lower Case Flow

When I refer to upper case Flow, I mean the state of being coined by psychology professor and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-SENT-Me-High): the state where you become so immersed in the joy of your work or activity “that nothing else seems to matter.”

Upper case Flow is awesome, and it is a gift whenever it happens. And of course we can cultivate the conditions that lead to Flow. One of the ways to do so is to become more adept at what I call lower case flow.

Lower case flow is not a state of being but rather a skillset you can learn to make it easier to move your writing work forward no matter if you are in a Flow state of being or not. A key part of acing lower case flow is—you guessed it—knowing how to design your writerly work with intention. 

Goodjelly’s 5 Principles of Smart Writerly Work Design

These five principles of smart writerly work design are based on proven project management processes, productivity research, and my own work over decades helping individuals and teams move their work forward with greater ease and confidence. I've refined these principles over the years and recently revised them after working with more and more writers.

The result? These principles are now fully tailored for writerly work, or really any solo creative work.

To land these five principles, and have your tasks set up for lower case flow, and have writing work designed with intention, you want (ideally) each writerly task you work on to meet all five of these criteria before you start working on it.

#1 | Designed to Move 

A task that is designed to move is—in Goodjelly lingo—a Manageable, Moveable Bit of work. That means you will be able to get it done in 2-3 your writing sessions. Learning how to break down your writerly work is both an art and a science, and like any practice, it is one that you will become more adept at over time.

The questions to validate the task is designed to MOVE: Is this task a Manageable, Moveable Bit of work? Can I realistically get this done in 2-3 writing sessions max? 

#2 | Designed to Show 

This principle is about creating a clear, tangible output for every writing task. The show factor is easy to identify for tasks that have a more quantitative quality, like: Write x number of words. The show factor is the x number of words written. You can show those to someone else to prove that the task was done.

You can also prove to yourself that the task was done. Or, more precisely, you can prove the task was done to the parts of you that often mess with your mindset. Think your inner critic and your inner perfectionist. 

That means this principle is a process check and a powerful mindset support, too. 

Design to Show is trickier (but even more important) for less quantitative tasks, like daydreaming or brainstorming. But it is possible, with some thinking and imagination, to define a show factor for any task. 

The questions to validate the task is designed to SHOW: Have I identified a clear, TANGIBLE output for this task that I could show to myself or someone else when it is done?

#3 | Designed for Done 

Designing for Done means that you’ve identified a crisp, clear set of criteria for what has to be done in order for you to mark the task complete. That criteria has an official, and literal, name: Definition of Done. A good Definition of Done wipes out all confusion, doubt, and wishy-washiness around a task's status, i.e, if it is done or not. 

To make Designing for Done crystal clear, let's use a non-writerly, household chore example. If I assigned you the task, Do the dishes, what would Done be for you?

Think about that for a second before reading on. 

Okay, now that you are clear in your head what the Definition of Done is for you, let’s explore the range of possible Definitions of Done that exists for Do the dishes.

For one person that may mean dishes off the table and moved to the kitchen. For another person it could mean dishes in the dishwasher. For another, dishes in the dishwasher and the dishwasher started. For another it could mean the dishes are out of the dishwasher and put away. And if someone doesn’t have a dishwasher we could start a whole different list. 

(Note: If you don’t live alone, having a discussion with those you live with around the Definitions of Done for household chores will spare you a lot of arguments.)

For your writing work, Designing for Done boosts your confidence and makes it easier to jump right into your writerly work because you know exactly what you have to do to get a task done. In addition, clear Definitions of Done allow you to collect crisper Done Boosts, which is Goodjelly parlance for those thrills of satisfaction and accomplishment that come when you finish tasks. (You want lots of Done Boosts as they boost motivation and momentum.)

Finally, if one of your Definitions of Done starts looking like a whole new to-do list, that is most likely a sign to go back to Principle #1 and break that task down into smaller bits of work.

These are just a few of the reasons why I adore Definitions of Done. I hope that you are now intrigued enough to give Designing for Done a whirl for your writerly tasks. 

The question to validate the task is designed for DONE: Have I identified a crisp Definition of Done for this task? 

#4 | Designed for You 

This principle is about ensuring that you are meeting yourself where you are around your writerly work. It means you design your work in a way that aligns with your creative process, i.e., how you like to work as a writer. It means that you are thoughtful about what you put on your plan for any given week, taking the time to think through: your current priorities, what might help you get unblocked, what are the next smart steps, etc. 

Designing for you is a reminder that you matter on your writing adventure, even down to the task level. 

The questions to validate the task is designed for YOU: Have I defined this task in a way that makes sense to how I like to create? Does this task meet me where I am? Does it make sense to do now?

#5 | Designed for No Heroics 

This principle is about keeping yourself out of burnout. Often writers want to get as much done as they can all the time. That is not smart process. It is a fast path to exhaustion, inner critic attacks, despair, and eventually burnout. 

Designing for No Heroics reminds you to design your tasks for consistent, sustainable progress instead of constantly setting yourself up to have to choose between exhausting yourself to complete a task or risking an inner critic harangue if you don't get it done.

Note: This principle does not mean you will not (or cannot) have periods of writerly work intensity. But you want those times of intense effort to be strategic and motivating. Not incessant and demoralizing. 

The questions to validate the task is designed for NO HEROICS: When I look at this task does it feel EASY for me to get done? Or do I already have doubt/worry/stress before I get started? 

Go Forth in Flow

There you have the five principles of smart writerly work design. I invite you to use them, integrate them, and and allow them to transform your writerly work. They'll help you create more lower case flow. They'll absolutely induce more upper case Flow, too. I’ve seen that happen again and again with the writers I coach. And, of course, I’ve experienced their flow- and Flow-inducing power myself.

Will you have to slow down each week to design your tasks using these principles? Yes, but that time investment will be returned to you many times over in efficiency gains, increased confidence, and expanded delight (i.e., satisfaction) with your writerly work overall. 

In the end, these principles are the keys to creating that in-your-bones sense of “I’ve got this!” for all your writing tasks. So have at it, and—Vroom! Vroom!—off you and your writing productivity will go. Wahoo!

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