Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Doing the Next Thing on the List

During the turbulent time 2011 was for me, there were moments when I thought "I can't do this."  Related both to my employment situation, the major surgery I had in May, my family's financial condition, and after I was laid off, the desolation of my period of unemployment.

Luckily, I happen to be the daughter of the most brilliant woman in the world.  She always told me "Take a deep breath and just do the next thing on the list."  Compartmentalizing things and creating a mental checklist always saw me through.

I was just thinking that this philosophy can be applied to my writing as well.  When I first had this thought, I was ready to dismiss it right away.  I reasoned, a pantser (which I am) can't possibly do that since I have no idea what IS on the list in the first place.  But then, I put it to the test last night.

During the time I had the night job, Mondays and Tuesdays were my days off and therefore those evenings were the only times I had to write.  Most nights it was effortless.  But recent stresses and difficulties at the night job had made the "flow", well, go.  I was stalled.  And I was again last night......stalled.  Then I heard a familiar voice in my head.  Instead of the directed and demanding voice of my Muse, I heard the comforting voice of my Mum.  "Do the next thing on the list," she said.

How? I whined.  I've written myself into a corner.  I can't go left or right and I'm facing a wall, Mum.

Then go up.

I sat there blinking for a while, kind of stupidly.  Then I did look up.  I looked up to the wooden ceiling of the den I write in, day after day, and gasped.  The scene I wanted, the scene the book needed, was playing itself out on my beams.  Yep, there was my antagonist, in an AMAZING setting, being, well, antagonistic.  I wrote steadily for an hour and at the end came up with 900 plus words for a super scene that slips effortlessly into the storyline and introduces a new conflict.  Thanks Mum!

So, I challenge you to a new trick when you are stumped or stalled in your writing.  Try and think about what would your character think about doing next.  If he/she had an imaginary checklist: Find love, check, lose love, check, defeat demon, check, then imagine him/her methodically checkboxing finished tasks.  I've always drilled my professional mantra into you, Write, Publish, and Be Informed.  Now, please adopt my personal one.  Do The Next Thing On The List.

Oh....and don't forget to look up.


  1. Ha ha ha! Maybe you should put "look up" on the list somewhere so you remember it!

  2. Thanks for this! I can certainly sympathize with being crunched by it all. I will look up!

  3. Your daughter is a sage. Remember that! Check. Great post!

  4. Thanks for the inspiration Samantha

  5. What a wonderful, inspirational post! Thank you. I often find myself in a corner. Now, I'll just write the next thing on the list.

  6. Very moving. Thanks for this timely post.

  7. Thanks so much for the uplifting (no pun intended) thought. I often find myself in a corner and feel like someone installed an instant wall in front of me. Next time I'll try to remember this advice.

  8. Terrific suggestions.
    And, before somebody beats me to it, here's a suggestion: post your list on the ceiling. Just kidding.
    I definitely believe having a 'dialog' with your characters can be helpful at times.
    My method is slightly different, though. I often type out the questions or problems withing the text, right where I am at the moment. [Of course, I set them off with bold & brackets so I can easily differentiate them from the text.]
    Often, by the time I'm at the end of the list of questions/problems, I find that some of them already have answers/solutions. I just type those in and keep going. Don't stop to make everything neat. There's always time for that later.