Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Make a List

I have a friend whose father often said to her, “Make a list! Make a list!” Then he'd add, “Make a list!”

That papa knew what he was talking about, and felt keenly the urge to pass it on.
Lists are not glamorous. If fact, they are downright dowdy. But lists have saved my sanity. If I were prone to drink, I’d say they kept me sober. Goodness, I’ll say it anyway.

I began making daily task lists in high school. My plate was so full that I needed to check things off to keep tabs on how I was doing.

I fell off the list-wagon for some years after that, but discovered, when I became a full time mom, that lists were essential. How else would I know if I was getting anything done? A mom’s work never is.
And it was also the only visible sign I had of doing well. Babies don’t tell you. By way of thanks, they push yet another bowl of cereal on the floor so you can get to cheerfully wipe and pick up.

As my babies grew up, so did my writing. I began writing longer stories. This is where lists became the most crucial of all. Longer stories take many days-weeks-months and (gulp) years to conjure. Only a growing word-count told me I’ve accomplished something that day, and word-counts are, you know, rather dumb things.

This is when I discovered the importance of charting, or the list of major points in the story. I didn't need it for a bang-up beginning. That would come to me almost in a dream, and propel me to tell the story in the first place. It was about midway through when the story’s list/chart became its lifesaver.

The middle doldrums benefit from charting. That thin wire, strung across from the rooftops of the *oh-wow!* beginning to the *Ah-ha!* ending had kept me from falling off altogether and never making it to the end.
When I can see the finish line, or the rooftop of the ending, I glide to it, propelled by its sense-making and glorious feeling of both closure and accomplishment.
It’s the tenuous middle where I'm shaky.

Make a list.


  1. Nice post. I'm a list maker. I don't always get to everything on my list as soon as I'd like, but those lists do help me keep track. I like your idea of charting the story points.

  2. I'm also a list maker. It's something I started when I got my first job with a real department store (as opposed to boutiques) as a visual merchandiser. I had to keep track of the displays on four floors of a large store and a list was the only way to do it. Now, like you, I use lists to plan my plots. I <3 lists!

  3. Lists rule! It's the only way I keep on track.

  4. I make lists. But as for making lists for book writing, my hat is off to all of you novel or chapter book authors. Lists don't come in handy quite as well for pbs as longer books. :)

  5. Great analogy of list making to charting events in stories! I'm a list maker and a plotter. Coincidence?

  6. I love lists! Couldn't live without them.

  7. I couldn't make it in life or in writing without lists. And there's that wonderful satisfaction as you cross things out too.

  8. Me too! I love lists. I wonder if this is a personality trait of writers. You're right. We need the lists to tell us we are accomplishing something important. Especially since no one else is around to motivate us. Just ourselves. And our lists! :)

  9. When I was younger I could multi-task and remember things and saw people with lists and wondered why but as I got older I started jotting things down. Today, I'm a list maker big time!

  10. Every night I scribble out a list and hope to get through it the next day. I don't use lists in writing, but maybe I should...

  11. I make lists everyday just so I can strike tasks off them. There is such satisfaction in it. Not sexy, but certainly makes one feel productive!