Make a list…or don’t.

85I am not the most organized person.

Wait.

I take that back. I do pretty well for someone who refuses to make a list. My kids get dressed and fed on a regular basis, and sometimes even get bathed. That’s got to count for something, right? But I definitely can be one of those clichéd frazzled moms that goes to the grocery store and comes home with peanut butter cups and barbecue chips but forgets the dish soap she went for in the first place.

On a pretty regular basis, I come to my husband discouraged and downtrodden, whining, “I am just so overwhelmed! There’s so much to do, and I don’t know how I’m going to remember it all much less do it all!”

And he always, so patiently and helpfully asks, “Have you made a list?”

Um. Well, no. I suppose that might help. Maybe.

This disorganization has found its way into my writing and submitting life as well. I like to think this is a sign of creative genius, but there are definitely down-sides. With my most recent middle grade novel, I spent a year writing my first draft without any sort of real direction. I just sat down to write and went where it took me. That led to some wonderful surprises in my writing, as I took my main character to places unplanned and unimagined at the time I started. BUT. After the initial draft was done, it took me three years to really get the manuscript to the place it needed to be in order to be a marketable novel. Three years. Three years to take all of those pieces, rearrange them, fill them in, and structure them into a story.

Now it’s totally possible that this is just my creative process, and it will never change, and I will always need 4 years to complete a novel. But I can’t help hearing my husband’s voice in the back of my head asking me if I’ve made a list. And I can’t help wondering if maybe, just maybe, I should try it.

So this time, as I am preparing to write my second middle grade novel, I’ve decided to do something different. Something so foreign to my writing process. Something I’ve never done before. I’m going to make a list. And it’s scary because I can’t help thinking, what if this totally stifles my creativity? What about the unplanned and unimagined surprises? Who will buy the peanut butter cups and barbecue chips?

SG coverI’m reading a wonderful book called STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, and she walks you through making a blueprint for your novel. It has been a fascinating process for me. And I am finding myself making surprising discoveries in the planning. What started out as a light, funny premise I’ve discovered has a more serious underbelly. As I’ve explored my MC’s motivations for the light and funny things, I’ve learned some things about her that I didn’t know when I started. And I’ve been delighted to discover that there are still peanut butter cups and barbecue chips! They are showing up in the planning, and they taste just as good.

Making a blueprint might work. It might add depth to my story, it might make my main character more believable, and it might make plotting easier. Or it might not. That is an unknown right now. But here’s the thing I’ve realized. It doesn’t matter. Because choosing to do this thing that is so outside what I’ve done before is helping me to grow as a writer. Trying something new is going to have one of two consequences…either it’s going to work, and my novel writing is going to get better, or it’s going to fail, but I will have learned something in the process. Either way, I win.

So, my point here is not to tell you that everyone should make a list. But it is to encourage you to try something new. Something outside of what you normally do. It’s possible that you haven’t related to a single word of this blog post, because you are a list-maker. That’s amazing, and I admire you! If you are a list-maker type, try writing without a plan, and see what happens. If you usually only submit to an agent after three months of thorough research, try entering a twitter pitch contest! Whatever type you are, try something else. Bust out of your old routines and see if trying things brings a new level of creativity and inspiration to your writing and submitting life.

So make a list…or don’t…just don’t forget to pass the peanut butter cups.

About Amy Dixon

Kidlit writer and mom-of-four, writing a million words, one handful at a time. Author of MARATHON MOUSE and SOPHIE'S ANIMAL PARADE, illustrated by Katia Wish, available everywhere books are sold!
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9 Responses to Make a list…or don’t.

  1. Mary Warth says:

    Thanks Amy – I like the idea of trying something different, anything! I am a list maker but usually my list is lost. So I rely on the process of writing it to help me remember! It works most of the time. No where is that list …

  2. laura516 says:

    Amy, I love reading your posts. They are always down-to-earth, relevant, and inspirational. Thank you for the encouraging words!

  3. Ahhh…I have this book and just germinated an MG idea. I’m glad to hear it worked for you and am excited to see where it takes me.

  4. I love Lisa’s book! Thanks for the reminder to revisit it.

  5. Great post. Story Genius sounds very interesting and helpful.

  6. chardixon47 says:

    Love the list idea, Amy 🙂 I do make lists, but I often fall off that list wagon. Thanks for the heads up on Lisa Cron’s book.

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