For the Love of a Good List

I don’t know if any of you have caught on to this by any chance, but I’m not a particularly organized person as a rule. Things scamper into my brain and if I don’t capture them on paper, there’s no hope of them not scampering right back out again.

I have a great deal of faith in The List. When I was preparing to go off to my freshman year of college, I was going to a school where I knew absolutely no one. Not a single one of my friends was going there, or even a vague acquaintance. As much as this terrified me, I also knew it was an opportunity that may or may not ever come again- the chance to be exactly who I wanted to be, no baggage, and no history except for what I chose to share.

So naturally, I made a list. The qualities I wanted to have, the things I wanted to participate in, goals I wanted to achieve, they were all in there. And the crazy thing is, it worked. I wasn’t exactly shy, cashiering and theatre had knocked that out of me, but I didn’t love meeting people either, and I was perfectly content to not say a word to anyone. Once I went to college, I purposely went out and talked to random people. I went to meetings, lectures, events- I’d hunt out the people who looked as awkward as I felt and sweep them under my wing. I can safely say that list played a huge part in becoming who I am now. Without it I would never have hung onto all those things about who I wanted to be and how to get there, or why it was even important to me in the first place.

So what does my lovely little coming-of-age tale have to do with writing? Let’s go back to the list.

What do you know about what you want to write, how you’re going to get it done, and what you’re going to do with it? I’ll freely admit I’m not great about this myself, usually I’m lucky if there’s a submission date scribbled on a post-it somewhere in the heap of notes and outlines. But how can you really measure where you’re going and how you’re improving if you don’t have much to compare it to? How do you keep your goals for learning and improving, for querying and submitting, and for getting words on the page front and center?

It can be easy to just write, write some more, occasionally edit, and all the while have some vague ideas about things you’ll do someday. If you want to work with purpose, making conscious improvements and taking calculated risks, I suggest you set aside a few minutes to write some things down. Think about where you want to go. Who you want to be as a writer, what you hope to achieve. Let these ideas simmer and, when you’re ready, commit them to a list. Then, come slow days or addictive tv shows or rejections, keep true to the list and stay the course until you reach your goal.

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