Thursday, March 4, 2010

One Writer's List Love List

I may be wrong, but I think most writers are, to some degree, list lovers. I am. In almost every area of my life, lists loom large. I have my generic to-do lists of course,but also my own version of a combination atta-girl / gratitude list. In my writing life too, lists rule. Perhaps a tour through the lists that litter my writing process will look familiar to you. If not, crib away.

The Brain Dump List. This one might not look like a conventional list, but it is. Brain Dump is the term I use to describe what happens when I first start dumping (into an electronic document or onto a notebook page) everything that occurs to me about a particular topic I plan to write about. I let it spew out in any order, and it usually makes for a helluva mess, disregarding every rule ever made governing grammar, punctuation, style or usage. It's a messy listy sort of thing much more than it's even a first draft. That comes next.

The Stuff to Include List. This usually comes after the Brain Dump, but it might also happen anytime during the initial few drafts. It feels more like a typical list and it's where I capture all the fragments which occur to me, ideas I need to expand and include in the next draft.

The Research Needed List. All those annoying factual items that need to checked. Or double checked. Sure, I could just highlight them on a draft, but I get a perverse pleasure from ticking them off a list.

The Reading List. This is not the list of books I want to read (there isn't enough paper in my office for that one). Rather, it's a list of essays, memoir pieces, craft articles, chapters, or other items I think would be helpful to read as I work my way through a particular piece.

The Tangent List. Also known as the This-might-be-another-piece List. As I work from draft to draft, I often notice ideas, thoughts, and nuances which resonate for me but just don't really fit into the current piece. Taken separately, however, they might lead to a different stand-alone piece. I've "discovered" many eventually successful pieces this way.

The Who Should Read My Almost-Final Draft List. This is usually a short one. A few trusted writer friends I'll ask to read and provide feedback. Since I don't currently have a regularly-meeting writing group, this list tends to shift from piece to piece. At first I thought this was a disadvantage, but lately I find it's useful to ask a very small group of specific people for feedback, selected depending on the subject of the piece and my writer friends' varying areas of interest, expertise and experience.

The Titles List. Unless a supremely appropriate title jumps out at me from the start, this list comes pretty late in the revision stage. At times, I've generated as many at two and three dozen possible titles for a piece, and other times the list had less than half a dozen options. Most of the possible titles on my list are lifted directly from the text – a phrase or word which seems to vibrate off the page.

The Places I'd Like to See it Published List. Pie in the sky, folks. At the top of the list go my current to-die-for byline venue. I make the list, in descending order, then I get real and make the….

Places to Submit It List. Everyone knows what this is. It's the more realistic version of the above. Sometimes however, I let them mingle a little and then when I am very lucky they intersect. Usually they don't. Still, if I hang in there, I get to make the...

Checks Expected and/or Publication Forthcoming List. But if not, then there is always the.....

Rewrite List. What's that they say about the end dictating the beginning?


Anonymous said...

Just curious, Lisa. Where do you keep all these lists? Is the important thing about lists in the making, or the filing (and retrieving), or both?

Perhaps this is the subject of another post altogether: list management.

Shaun Hunter

Lisa Romeo said...

Let's see. Several answers.
I'm old enough that I still have a paper file going for every individual piece I'm writing, so many lists go in there, usually on a sheet of notebook paper. Others are on Post-its on the draft(s) and a few are electronic (the submit-to list is on Excel).

And yes, sometimes I do find that the "usefulness" of a list is in the process, the making of it, not so much the storing and consulting of it later.

Susan Lilley said...

Loved the lists, Lisa--I keep some of the same ones and got ideas for new ones! You rock.

Jesaka Long said...

Wow, I only thought I was a list-maker! Thanks for sharing your lists. It's inspiring and gave me some great ideas for tracking the life of an essay and for capturing fragments that could morph into new essays.