I have been making lists a long time now.
Grocery lists, invitation lists , travel to-do lists, tasks-of-the-day lists. I summon lists when I have a problem to solve and am not sure where to start off at. Any new assignment comes my way and I begin making lists.
What started off as a harmless way of staying organized, has now become my chosen warfare for attacking problems. And thinking. And writing. Even when I am writing my journal and the words flow into long sentences and paragraphs, jumbled thoughts flowing out as they arrive. Then after a few paragraphs there is a surge of anxiety. I have to stop.
- Break it up into paragraphs
- Make logical sections
- Put the key points in bullets
Thinking in bullets, is what I call it . Which is wonderful if you want to make a point, but can be a handicap when you want to share your thoughts and emotions, articulate a story. Is there a right brain part of you which decimates as the left brain becomes more powerful ?
My worries exacerbated when I observed my writing style. As I braced myself to sit down to write, there was a ruthlessly drilled habit ingrained in my head.
- List ideas
- Organize them in logical groups
- Build connections and make a story
- Sort according to the order in which you want to convey your message
- Bullet them for clarity of reading
It was this management consulting routine that had been honed over hours spent painstakingly on presentations, many of which were mercilessly ripped apart in reviews with my managers – “You made this long list of recommendations – but what exactly is the story ?”. I always wondered, what can they see that I am not able to see?!
More practice, list-making and exacting reviews made me realize what I was missing. And also that my fears were unfounded. The link between list making, consulting techniques and creative writing, is after-all – the Story!
Take this piece of writing for example:
A quiet room. Sheafs of magazines stacked at the corner of the sofa.. Pillow under the crook of my arm. Two broken pencils, crumbs of wooden shavings, Off-white lighting throwing long shadows in the living room. The cat purring the corner.. This is a lifeless list, but what is the message here. Is it boredom ? is it loneliness ? As writers that’s the story we are trying hard to convey.
A list is a medium to lay out all the facts and data points out there.
A Story is the heart of message – what is it that you are REALLY trying to say? And oftentimes it is the hardest part of writing, because you aren’t really sure of what you are trying to say in the beginning. But if you are lucky, or think hard enough, or keep going at it – you would stumble on the right answer. The Aha moment of your writing.
You suddenly realize – Yes, this is what I want to say!