Writing Strategy: Don't Write, Just List

Picture of laptop, coffee mug and notepad with list of ideas to represent the writing strategy of lmaking a list
This week I found myself mildly fearful of producing a set of PowerPoint slides for a an online course I'm developing. (I still consider that a writing project because it's about developing a thesis, supporting it iwth arguments and providing evidence.) So I finally sat down yesterday morning, grabbed my pen and a small notepad (the fact that it was small made my task seem small, too) and made a messy list of my ideas. Now I have started. Now when I give myself an entire hour to work on this it won't feel like I'm beginning from ground zero. 
by Ann Abbott

Do you ever procrastinate on a writing project?

I do. Not as much as I used to, but still, it happens. Even with a relatively small writing project I sometimes feel like I need a block of time (even if it's small) that I don't have. Or I think that since it won't take long I can wait until it's closer to the due date. Or I just don't feel like I'm in the mood for writing.

So I've learned not to write. Just to list.

See, successful writing comes in large part from having strong, clear ideas with supporting evidence. That's structural. And for me, a lot of that can happen before I even write a complete sentence at all.

The trick is to know that jotting down your ideas and listing them is writing that doesn't feel like writing.

Making a list has none of the psychological pressures of "writing." Jot down. Scratch out some ideas. Let me think about this for a couple of minutes. None of those phrases cause as much anxiety as "writing."

So that's what I try to do when I feel myself procrastinating on a writing project. Just make a list. 

I often write letters to myself, and looking through some of those letters recently I came upon this advice I had given myself:

"One thing that worked well for you and always does was to jot down ideas, let those soak in and percolate for a while, then write from that list. ... Don't forget this important strategy. Long before something is due, jot down your ideas. Your brain will work on them even when you're doing other things."

Do you use this strategy? Do you have other advice for moving from the procrastination stage to the pre-writing stage? From pre-writing to writing? I think this is so important because I meet so many people with wonderful ideas, fascinating experiences, important knowledge, funny stories who could edify the world with their writing. There's nothing wrong with not writing, of course. You're still smart, funny, wise and experienced without writing anything! But if you want to write and fear holds you back from crossing the threshold between not writing and writing, then why not try to just list your ideas. See if that moves you into writing.


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