Organizing is what you do
before you do something,
so that when you do it,
it is not all mixed up.

[A. A. Milne]

My office has bookcases on each of three walls. A row of post-it notes line up along the middle shelf of the case opposite my chair. Today there are seven notes—one for each of my major projects. Each note has bullet points. I delight in crossing off items, and celebrate when I finish a note altogether.

I think list making might be genetic—I inherited the trait from my mama. When I was a child, I dreaded her lists of chores but, as an adult, I grew to appreciate the specificity of knowing what she needed me to do for her. When she died at age ninety five, I found her to-do list next to her bed. It was comforting in my grief to be able to finish her list for her.

Lists serve several purposes for me. They assuage my fear of dropping the ball on something I promised to do. They keep me focused and help me concentrate on the tasks at hand. They help me set priorities for using my work time. And when there are so many that I need to start using another shelf, I remind myself not to take on more than I can reasonably accomplish. My foibles lurk under these purposes. Without lists, I tend to dither my time away and forget what I set out to accomplish.

So it is with writing. If I am composing something brief, my list is in my head. If I am composing something long, complex or multifaceted, I write an outline that looks like an organizational chart. This is especially helpful if I am working with another person, or when I am writing something that will take several months to complete. Breaking a project into small tasks makes it less daunting. I often overcome writer’s block by making a list.