If I ever want to get anything done, I have to have a list. I actually have a list all the time, but sometimes it finds a temporary home in a stack of things to ignore. When I’m ignoring my list, my days ramble. It’s not that I don’t accomplish anything – I do (I have many obsessions, and one of them is being productive), but my life becomes reactive. That said, I never let it get too far out of hand. Often enough, I kick myself in the butt and realize it’s time to resurrect the list. When I get into list mode, I go a little overboard.
First, I rewrite the list on a new, clean sheet of paper, carrying over only the things that didn’t get done last time. Somehow this makes it seem fresh and like I will do all the things that are on the list. Sometimes I have to do this more than once, because I obsess over organizing items on the list in some way that seems sensible to me in the moment, but then I realize it’s not, or I have to add something and there’s no room in the section I created for things of that type. Sometimes I write things on the list that are already done just so I can mark them off.
I’ve been in ‘ignore list’ mode for a while, now, and I’m just on the cusp of switching back into ‘pay attention to list’ mode. I have a memoir in progress that I’ve been ignoring in order to get some perspective, and I think it’s really starting to pay off. I have more than 350 pages – and, I am starting to see I probably only need half that. When I started writing, I was writing from a list – a list of topics that represented my life. It covered mostly my growing up years, but it was a laundry list, and the resulting full story seems a bit like a big pot of spaghetti. Perhaps the biggest issue with where I left off is that my story had no ending, and I’ve come to believe that’s because it had no central theme.
So, as I get ready to resurrect my list, it will have a significantly different focus than it did the last time around. It was incredibly helpful to do a brain dump of all the things I wrote about, but now I am excited to start to sift through it, make decisions about what is important and what isn’t, and find the real story within all the writing. For those of you that have done memoir or creative non-fiction writing, what does your process look like?