Life, Writing

Post-it notes, scribbles & notebooks: why I apparently can’t live – or write – without lists


I’ve realized lately that lists serve a very big purpose in my life in general, but especially for me as a writer. My desk is littered with lists: there are assorted pink and yellow post-it notes that are always slipping in under my keyboard or fluttering to the floor or getting stuck to books or papers; there are notes scribbled in the heat of the moment on the backs of receipts and in the margins of various pieces of junk-mail. These bits of paper list bills to pay, random phone numbers, translation and home improvement projects, ideas for Christmas presents, things to buy for the house, and things to do around the house (“fix up front garden” one list growls, accusingly). And then there are the notebooks – the small notebook for music related stuff (for my other website); and the big notebook containing the lists that have to do with my writing.

All my lists are important to me – I’d feel lost without them – but the lists for my writing projects seem to have special powers. I used to think that these Iists – with working titles for books and stories, and half-baked, nebulous ideas for world-building and plot and characters – were just a way of keeping track of what I was doing (or rather: what I should be doing): a simple way of jotting down all the ideas that popped into my brain before I forgot them. But I’ve come to realize that these lists are more than that.

Writing things down, putting them down on paper, doesn’t just help me remember what to do, it is also a way of motivating me to actually do it. Once I write a working title down in that big notebook, once I name and physically take note of the projects that have been bumping around in my brain, I am actually able to get more of them done. Slowly (ever so slowly in many cases), but surely. Maybe it’s because of that “boring” part of my personality, the one that is so orderly and conscientious: if it says on that piece of paper that I’m supposed to work on this particular piece of writing, then who am I to argue with that? It’s on the schedule! It’s written down! It’s on the list.

All my writing projects are in that notebook, with space to add new ideas for each one (as long as I can find the notebook… which can be difficult at times). And no, these are not structured and highly organized story-outlines. Rather, they are scatterbrained ideas that come to me when I’m walking the dog or falling asleep or driving the kids to school. But even if they are simple, the lists make order out of the chaos. The lists give structure to the creative wilderness in my brain. The lists make the ideas real and firm and visible, and then the lists just sit there: accusingly, longingly, invitingly, patiently… waiting for me to get things done, to make them real: typed words, pages of words, stories, books.

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