Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Listmaker's Dilemma

I make lists for everything - from the ordinary (list of books I want to read) to the peculiar (list of every Whole Foods I have ever visited) to the unpleasant (list of things-I-must-do-now-so-I-don't-have-to-think-about-them-one-minute-longer).

Yes, I even keep a list of all the lists I have made, just in case.

Not all my lists are on paper or securely lodged in my iPhone - some lists I keep only inside my head, although I see them in real list "format," lines and numbers and all.

That is the organized me, the analythical thinker, the lawyer, the mom.  The person inside the box.

Thus, when I first began to write fiction I thought I would need to cast aside my lists and my tendencies to organize, seeing these as traits of the "boxed-in" me, as cages that would only hold back my imagination.

I wrote my first draft and re-draft without a list of plot locations, a list of family members and names, a chronological order, and so on, and just let it flow.

But my approach did not work.

Holes in the plot, characters devoid of depth, and time zones out of order screamed at me as I worked my way through the pages.  During that process I realized that while some writers may not require lists or charts or concrete ideas, I do.  It is part of who I am and it is how I function well.  Thus, the fourth draft is like a whole new novel.

How about you?  Do you use lists when writing?  Do you become a different person when you are in "creative mode?"


  1. You know I know what you mean about needing organization with writing! I'm not entirely sold on being a planner with writing, but I can't say that every time it's okay for me to write without plans. When I'm in creative mode, I do have to know what happens, even if I don't write it down! I have to know the various plot turning points! Which is weird be aide I'm a very disorganized person usually! :)

  2. Okay. I LOVE lists, but I've never made a LIST of LISTS.
    That's actually sort of awesome

  3. I agree that the first draft should flow and then you can refer to your lists on the second or third revision. Great points E.D.

  4. I'd like to say I'm a 'seat of the pantster' who just writes with a fevered passion that flows, but I'm not. I have the plot charted out (with lists and notes!) before I ever start.

  5. Some days it seems like all I do are make lists. I have lists of characters, family trees, punch lists, feature lists, calendars... I even had to go as far as draw out an actual physical map so I could keep locations in order. My map making skills, as it turns out, definitely leave something to be desired.

  6. I'm always amazed by the people who can write a novel with no planning at all. If I try that I end up with exactly the same problems you mention. I keep a journal of thoughts that I refer to frequently, but I also diagram in Excel. Visual representations always help me! Here is Kurt Vonnegut on diagramming - great help for writers trying to get organized! http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/89331

  7. Have you read Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell? It's a great book! I tried the "shoot from the hip" approach, but it didn't work for me. The analytic Diane does not let me do this successfully. I finally purchased Contour, a plot structuring software and I think it is working for me.

    Here's a small review from my experience if you want to try it. I'm not sure if I can link it, but I'll try.


  8. I agree with Diane - Read PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell. That man writes some seriously good books!!

    And I love the fact that you have lists for your lists. That's totally cool. :) I like lists as well, and I have never been able to function without a To-Do list. Helps keep the A.D.D. in me under control! haha

  9. Thank you Ladies! It seems like it is totally OK to make my lists and charts and whatnots and be creative from the inside out :-)

    Thanks! Happy writing!

  10. Diane & Vicky - thank you for the recommendation!

  11. I very much could not write without lists! I think not every book has so many things that need to be kept track of, but mine does. And then there's all the revision notes. And the notes of what to do in the next scenes. And what to have in the climax. And stuff to work in about characters and character arcs. Lists are a writers friend!

    And no. Creative me is not any different than the other me.

  12. I'm not a "lister". I do keep about a half page of notes, unrelated to each other, as reminders of where I am overall but that's about it.

  13. Thank you Peggy and Michael - it is great to learn about other's habits and efforts to make the process work!