I love lists. I live by lists. I have dozens of them at any one time. Food I need at the grocery store. Things to accomplish during the day. Places I need to stop after I drop off the kids. Plots holes I need to fill in my book. Agents I want to query. Dreams.
I get detailed, too. None of this general stuff for me. Because if I write laundry on the list of things to do and I wash and dry a load but don't get it folded or put away, I face the question of whether or not I get to cross it off. If I do, it's like a little lie. If I don't, I go to bed thinking I've done nothing during the day. So my list looks something like this:
put whites away
you get the picture. Then, at the end of the day I can check, check, check, and I feel like I've accomplished a lot - which, if you've ever tried to do laundry with three young kids demanding attention and catering to their own schedules, and do it with a dryer that takes two and a half hours to dry one load, you understand that the small things need celebrating!
When I was a new mom and found myself at home all day for the first time ever, I got to the end of my day feeling completely unaccomplished, my husband told me to write down everything I did during the day. Everything.
It read something like this:
changed 12 diapers
nursed 7 times
changed baby's clothes three times
read 15 baby books
sang 14 lullabies
danced with baby until he stopped crying
rocked baby for 2 hours and 45 minutes when he got colic
fixed breakfast, lunch and dinner for us
ate breakfast, lunch and dinner
did dishes three times
swept floor three times
cleaned table and counters three times
took baby on walk with dog
you get the idea. And when I looked at the list at the end of the day, I realized how much I really did during the day and when I looked at my tiny baby sleeping soundly, I realized how important each and every one of those mundane things were.
As my writing group has been looking at our dreams, visualizing the future, I've started writing those picky lists for how I need to get there. Unlike most of the public's perception, a writer doesn't just write a book and then it appears on the bookshelves in a prominent position at Borders. It's even more difficult than write a book, get an agent, get published. And between the decision to write and the bookshelf at Borders there are a million little steps. A million steps even between getting published, and being successful with that book.
By starting to write these baby steps down, I can feel a sense of accomplishment along the way. I know I am moving forward with my dream of being published, even if I can't check the big ones off yet. If my only list for writing looked like this:
write a book
query and secure agent
get book published
go to many book signings and get famous
I'd feel like every day I was falling behind, getting nowhere. Instead, my list for tomorrow looks like this:
read through pages 70-110
replace all formal verb forms with contractions
find places where doesn't and aren't should be replaced with don't and ain't
introduce Logan's troubles at school
intensify church involvement at the hospital
check for slips in tense
tighten and remove unnecessary words
check that every word is one Babs would use
This is only part of the list. But knowing what I have to do makes the doing easier, it makes my limited time more focused, it makes the manuscript better, it makes me feel like I am doing something to make my dreams come true.
I may be obsessive, but I'm okay with that. I hope one day that obsession will land me in a bookstore somewhere near you.