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Cathy: Breakthrough, lists

Some people are born list makers and some definitively are not. I fall somewhere in between.

I like to make a list then buck it; or avoid making a list, thinking I can keep this, that and everything else in my head.

The truth of the matter is there are some instances in which making a bonafide list is truly necessary.

Otherwise I go into the grocery store for lemons, milk, asparagus, dill, and artichokes, and I come out with ice cream, cookies, potato chips, and baking soda. Then we have no vegetable side dish for dinner.

In the case of working on my manuscript, I found, I had a good editing list “in my head,” but I wasn’t doing the editing. It became daunting knowing I had to look for, and keep in mind this variety of “to dos” as I read through the manuscript. So what I actually ended up doing was nitpick editing the first 20-30 pages over and over again, getting hung up on a comma or a sentence, or a preposition. Then let two weeks go by, until I hit my writing group again and could sit there for three hours and look at the same 20-30 pages over again.

So, when I was at writing group yesterday, this suddenly dawned on me. I mean, it wasn’t really a new concept. I had been vaguely aware that I was preventing myself from doing the real work that needed doing for a while, but I saw an honest to goodness bluebird out the window, which set me dreaming about the edges of things, because they live in edge forests by open fields. The next thing I knew, I realized, I had been on the edge of my manuscript for months now.

So, yes, I KNEW what I needed to do, and it was plenty the more I mulled it, so I decided to write it down.

First I wrote down the chapter headings, made a list of all the chapters, like a table of contents without the page numbers. While I was doing that, it occurred to me that I could combine a couple of these short chapters into one in a few places, which would simplify a lot, really.

Then I made a list at the bottom of that which looks like this:

Working on:

~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes

~write observatory scene using A.H.’s notes

~pay attention to name changes for T.B. and T.N.

~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description

~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene

~edit down cooking relevance

~more on comets

While it still covers a lot of tasks, some quite involved, to see them written down is so much less confungulating (hybrid of confusing and confounding and frustrating my non-writer Honey came up with, which I love!) than when I was trying to keep them in my mind.

This way I can separate out the tasks and work on them, one at a time, and maybe fix a few of those name changes along the way.

What a concept! And to think I used to counsel my tutorial students to do exactly the same thing in organizing their much shorter papers.

Crossposted from musings in mayhem

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. i used to be in that “i can keep this, that and everything else in my head” camp. i still try to do that entirely too much but i’m finally breaking down and making lists. of course, i can never find my lists when i need them. at work i am a sticky note girl. i write each task on a small sticky note and stick them up around my desk, on my computer, etc. that way, when i finish that desk, i can just toss that particular sticky. doesn’t work so well at home, so i do try to make lists, but like i said, i can rarely find them when i need them!

    i just spent most of memorial day weekend unpacking all my mermaids and mamas stuff and getting my studio back in shape after that whirlwind of activity (last minute prep activity of course since, list or no list, i’m still the world’s worst procrastinator). got it all cleaned up and then messed it up again last night making a mixed media postcard for an online friend in “Heaven’s Ocean, Isle of Ornsay, Isle of Skye”. i just want to go there. i think we need to arrange a house swap for a week or two. 🙂

    June 1, 2010
  2. ooo, i’ve always wanted to see isle of skye, too!

    thanks, kelly. although if i added sticky notes to my desk…oh boy…i used to be a big sticky note person, same methodology. my desk is a dumping ground for everyone else’s junk.

    but yes, lists, i go in and out of phases of making them and following them or not. you should have seen dh and i going at opposite purposes trying to pack for a day at the beach this weekend! i was trying to go about it systematically, but i think i need to laminate a list for that oft repeated adventure of summertime.

    June 1, 2010
  3. Hi Cathy,

    I too have list phases especially with creative projects.

    Sometimes I’m in a procrastinating place and will avoid making a list at any cost! I sit there safely mulling over the things I have to do – almost relishing it because whilst the list is inside me, my jobs remain undone and I am safely in the midst of things. Strange? I know!!

    However, then I’ll shift out of procrastination and into productivity. The lists fly out! They get pinned to the fridge and can be found on scraps of paper and envelopes left on the sides.

    Maybe – with regards to creativity – there is a degree of inner processing that we need to do before the time is right to make a list and “do the doing”? To make a list and force action prematurely would not give the project time to mature/grow organically. Perhaps you being on the edge of your manuscript has given you the time to mature your work on a deeper level. Or am I just getting too deep about lists here?!!

    June 1, 2010
  4. not at all, bethan! in fact, i think you’re right on target!

    June 1, 2010
  5. I totally hear you on the working around the edges and getting off on nit picking tangents. I had the same experience when writing my book. I had to make lists to survive my own mind!!
    Like Bethan, when it comes to creative ideas, I come up with the idea first, let the creative breathing and dreaming take place and then make a list to guide it to completion. Writing a whole book is so daunting, that when you break it down into little bits, each part with it’s own eventual list seemed to work for me. Not that I always stuck to that pattern…. sometimes I veered off and then I usually ended up including parts of one chapter in another chapter! Thank goodness for a list guided editing process!

    June 2, 2010
  6. Excellent post Cathy! I am normally a list person and this post got me to thinking ‘why do I not do this when it comes to creative endeavors?’

    here are some things I came up with:

    1. I think it means the work is not as “inspired” if there is some sort of method to it.

    2. I have still not committed to the work behind the art

    3. If I do not write it down, then I feel no obligation to have to do it.

    Ouch! I needed to get this reality on paper!
    Hence, the list!

    June 2, 2010
  7. yes, robin, #3 is my club to the creative knees!

    shona, this second draft business is tough, I mean, for a poem, I can see the whole usually on one page and play around with it. but editing over ahundred pages makes it easy to get get lost in it.

    honestly, how did michaelangelo paint the sistine chapel ceiling mural? oh yea, he had a lot of help and a basic paint by numbers guide….

    writing is not quite as visually oriented, so ‘mapping it out’ for editing really does seem necessary, but it took me a full year to be able to digest the first draft so that I could do this now.

    June 2, 2010

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