For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #12: The To Do List

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Can you believe we’re nearly ten months into this year-long writing extravaganza? I’m pretty damn impressed that we’ve all made it this far, and hope that everyone’s feeling good about the work they’ve done.

So far we’ve covered a lot of ground and tested out a bunch of different approaches. Now, it’s time to take stock and consider the future.

#12: The To Do List

I graduated with an MA in Creative Writing in 2005. Over the course of the program I was completely immersed in a lifestyle that pretty much revolved around writing; days I would walk around London, where I was living at the time, with a notebook in hand, taking notes on anything and everything that caught my eye (this was pre-smartphone, which helped with the easy observations). Nights I worked at a tequila bar, which offered its own kind of strange inspirations.

I moved from England’s capital city to San Francisco in 2006 with grand plans: handwritten lists of all the competitions I wanted to enter, stacks and stacks of pages with the beginnings, middles, and ends of stories just waiting to be developed with a little TLC. Then I got a job, and real life settled in, and my best intentions faded away, along with my love for just sitting down to splurge out some sentences.

Part of the reason I started this series on Ploughshares was, well… selfish. I wanted to enjoy writing again. But before I began, I started talking to people about their own writing, and realized there’s a lot of us out there who are looking for a gentle nudge and a get-in-gear spark. In that way, these exercises were designed to be done in a low-pressure zone: a safe space with no must-dos, no aggressive editors, no need to do anything other than spend some dedicated time rethinking the way we approach our written words.

There’s merit in allowing yourself the freedom to experiment, but having a few thoughtful goals can do wonders for the process as well. This session, we’re defining our dreams and figuring out the ways to make them happen.


  • A dedicated notebook; a new Word doc; a clean spreadsheet
  • the Internet might be helpful


Set at least two actionable goals for yourself with regards to your writing. A great place to start is checking out some of the competitions and reading periods for some of your favorite publications—ain’t nothin’ like a deadline to encourage you to move’n’shake. But don’t limit yourself! There are so, so many avenues to express yourself. Here are some other ideas:

  • Start a Twitter account and follow your favorite authors, publishing houses, and literary magazine
  • Begin a blog and cover whatever you damn well please
  • Hand-write—and send!—a letter a week
  • Join—or start!—a writing group
  • Mentor a young person who could use some guidance and moral support to start expressing herself on the page
  • Go all-out for NaNoWriMo (coming up in November!)
  • Snag an agent
  • Finally finish that Great American Novel you’ve been noodling with forever

Be creative! Sit and think about what would be the absolute coolest thing that could come from your writing. Maybe it’s prestige and a cash prize, or maybe it’s seeing your name in print, or maybe it’s simply making someone else’s day with a card in the mail. Once you’ve got your ideals, flesh out the real world logistics of how to make it happen.

An important thing to remember about goals: it’s very possible they’ll evolve and shift as you get closer to them, or further away. That’s okay! It’s actually great. You’re growing and changing, so your plans can/should to.

Time commitment: 

It could very well take some time to refine what would ultimately bring you the most joy. Give yourself that time. Jot down all the potentials and save ‘em for later.

Recommended Reading: 

Do a little research on your favorite authors and creative folks. Everyone came to the game differently, and it’s always encouraging to read the myriad ways to—and definitions of—success.

As always, if you’re just joining us here, now’s a good time to catch up on the previous posts in the series.

#11: Guided By Voices

#10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

#9: Q & A & Q & A ….

#8: Cut & Paste

#7: Show & Tell

#6: Stop, Look, and Listen

#5: Take a (Mindful) Break

#4: Go Big

#3: Letters

#2: Prompts

#1: Pencil on Paper

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