List of Works
Filed under: On Writing
The nice thing about long holiday weekends in Seattle is that it usually rains — which means I get the opportunity to catch up on things and get to work on tasks that are otherwise on my to-do list for at least a year.
So this weekend, I created my List of Works, which I’d learned about in Priscilla Long‘s inspiring session at the Hugo House writers’ conference. Long, author of The Writer’s Portable Mentor (forthcoming this July from Wallingford Press), recommends keeping a comprehensive list of every piece you’ve ever written, even if it never got past the first draft stage. Why? Because, Long says, high-achieving artists who are masters of their craft share at least one common trait: they produce a lot of work. A lot. This means that they have their fair share of false starts — but that they create masterpieces as well.
To create a List of Works, Long suggests beginning with the current date and working backward, including every single thing you’ve ever written. So I began with 2010 and worked by way back, finally reaching “2000 & earlier,” mostly out of laziness but also because there were only few items in my files for the ’90s. Long also recommends labeling each item “Circulating” or “Published,” leaving anything outside those two categories blank.
I highly recommend giving this a try. Among the things I learned are that I have a lot of unfinished short stories. This is in part because I’ve been working on a novel for the last year and therefore, sadly, neglecting stories. But now that I have this list, I’m reminded of the stories that await me, and now I’m eager to return to them.
I also discovered that I have a lot of old files that need reviewing — mostly so that I can get rid of what I no longer need or want — but also to discover the work that still has potential. I probably wouldn’t have looked at any of this again for a long, long time if it weren’t for this exercise.
And because I went way back to the 1990s, I remembered projects I’d long forgotten, including a screenplay that I co-wrote with my husband. Not only was that a fun memory, but we’re now thinking of taking another look to see what its possibilities are. Creating a List of Works is like looking at old photo albums — you end up remembering where you were at a certain time and what you were doing, and thinking that maybe it’s time to visit some of those old places again because you had so much fun while you were there.
Give it a try. If you’re a writer vulnerable to procrastination, this is a great way to do just that — but best of all, it’s designed to make you more productive, and organized, in the end.
January 3, 2012 at 9:25 am
Sean — a great question (I have those projects, too) — but in fact, the idea is not to judge. Keep the cheesy mystery novel in there and label it “in progress” only. You never know when you could return to it and find that it’s brilliant. And how do you know you’re not the next Janet Evanovich??
January 3, 2012 at 9:22 am
I know I commented on this earlier on another post, but one link led to another…I still think this is a great idea. Should we also list what is legitimately bad?? I know, it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. I have the CHEESIEST mystery novel I attempted a few years back (for some reason I thought I could be the next Janet Evanovich), and I’m sure there are some ideas or stories sitting in a trunk somewhere – and for good reason. Along with “In Progress” and “In Circulation,” maybe my list can have an “Undesirable” section? 🙂
June 18, 2010 at 9:25 am
Wendy, I hadn’t thought of posting my list, and it’s probably too long — but you’ve reminded me that I should at least give people an idea of what it looks like. It’s up to the writer, obviously, how to arrange a List of Works — mine’s an Excel spreadsheet with two columns: the title of the work and the status of the work (either Published, Circulating, or blank). And it’s arranged by date. I like the idea of having only these two categories, as having that blank space is a reminder to finish a piece and/or get it out into the world. (For example, all of my 2010 works are currently blank, i.e., unfinished — a good reminder of how much work I need to do!)
June 17, 2010 at 9:08 pm
Hey! I thought I was going to get to see the List of Works at the end. I’m so curious! : ) I have a “List of Works Published,” but had never thought of including unpublished works.
June 7, 2010 at 9:56 am
Thanks so much for your note — and I hope your List of Works is going well. It really does do wonders — I’m now in the middle of a new story I’d probably have neglected for years if I didn’t have the list in front of me. 🙂
June 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm
Wow! I love this idea (and it also is terrifying to me!) but I’m going to try it. Her book sounds wonderful!
Thanks for this great suggestion, Midge! (off to tweet it!) 😉