Side-Step Anxiety and Procrastination: Make a List as a Starting Point for Writing

by Judy Stone-Goldman on August 2, 2010

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my list...still growing

I am sitting here, poised to write (hyper conscious of this being Day 2 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge), and I am staring at a list. It is a list of possible topics, a list that did not exist 24 hours ago. Oh, I suppose you could say it existed in my mind, and some of it showed up as fragments here and there throughout my To Do notebook. But this list, this orderly sequence of topics that covers half a large page, came into existence because I did three things:

  1. I said out loud to myself, “I’m going to write every day in this challenge,”
  2. I gave myself permission to put anything down, and
  3. I assured myself I did not have to write on a topic just because it was on the list.

The ideas then came quickly. Some were familiar (ideas I was going to write about but never did); some were linked to immediate events of the day; and some seemed to just show up, origins unknown.

I am not new to using lists. I have written about them before, and I recommend them as a way to start Reflective Writing. So what is new in my experience today? What made me want to write about list-making for today’s blog post?

Here is what I observed as my list emerged:

  1. The more I put on the list, the more ideas I had.
  2. Adding ideas to the list comforted me. I thought, “I do have enough to write about!”
  3. I began to have fun with it!
  4. My anxiety abated.
  5. I began to think of other lists that would help me get ready to do projects or tasks that were potentially overwhelming.
  6. I looked at the list and felt eager to start writing.

In fact, the minute I started the list I was writing. I was putting words on the page. I was making ideas visible through written language. Is that not writing? It seems easy enough to believe that one kind of writing then leads to another kind of writing.

The most common complaint I hear from people who struggle with a desire to write is that they are intimidated by writing and find it very hard to begin. I am a good person to respond to these complaints, not because I have magic answers (although I think I have good suggestions) but because I understand the problem.

I am no stranger to anxiety (I have, at times, been “The Anxious Artist”). I do battle with procrastination, and I know what it looks like to give in to lethargy. I have had my fair share of failure, days where the promise to create goes unfulfilled and the only thing I know for sure is that I will continue to have some of those days.

But today I enjoyed myself more than most, and I felt the anxiety dissipating rather than growing, even as the hours moved along and many tasks–some quite necessary and others hinting at procrastination–took precedence. Today I had my list, a list that gave me a place to start before I even realized I was starting, a list that cheered me on, a list that took away the dreaded blank page.

As I look at my list, I am excited to ponder which idea will become tomorrow’s topic. And should I find it difficult to begin even when I have my topic, I can always make another list: all the ideas that come to me about that particular topic. So I can move, from one list to the next, from one writing to the next writing, until one style leads to another, and the page fills up with the words that I have wanted to express all along.

Questions for Reflection: What are your experiences of avoidance or procrastination (around writing or anything else)? Do you currently have projects that overwhelm you or create anxiety? If so, how might you write a list to help you get started?

Writing Prompts: “I know I am procrastinating when I _____” (then keep writing); “I think writer’s block is _____” (then keep writing); “The list I need to write is _____” (then keep writing).

Suggested Activity: Write a list (of topics for writing or for any activity that you want to tackle). Then reflect on the experience of creating the list: “When I wrote my list I noticed _____” (then keep writing).

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolyn August 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I love your idea of a list, because it gets the creative juices flowing without having to think up catchy or flowery words.

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Jeanine Byers Hoag August 2, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Excellent suggestions! I am participating in the article challenge, too, at Ezine Articles, and am behind in my article-writing. One of the things that helps me is just to write down anything that comes to mind about the topic, even if it is not the beginning or if I am not even sure I will use it. Once I start, I often can just keep right on writing. ~~Jeanine

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
August 3, 2010 at 7:54 am

Jeanine, I agree about writing something, anything, as a way to get started. Don’t know about the Ezine challenge. I’m going to look it up (but not attempt it!!) Thanks for reading and posting.

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Josie August 3, 2010 at 8:31 am

Hi Judy!

I love that you’re doing this. I’m committing to reading it everyday, and you’re inspiring me to get back to some writing… maybe I’ll have to shake the dust off that old blog one of these days! 🙂

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
August 3, 2010 at 8:38 am

Oh Josie, I’m so thrilled to see you here! Thanks for your commitment to reading, it really helps me with my commitment to writing! You’d better get writing, because I do seem to remember you have a book waiting to be written… 🙂

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Caryn August 3, 2010 at 11:02 am

Hi Judy!
Josie sent me the link to your blog, and as a secret writer (mostly in journals) I’ve really enjoyed reading it. You are inspiring me to make my own commitment to write in my journal every day for the month of August, whether it feels like there is something burning to say or not. So I will be following and writing and cheering you on, and maybe using some of the prompts on the days when I’m not sure what to say! 🙂
Caryn

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
August 3, 2010 at 11:34 am

Perfect use of this month, Caryn! Let me know how it goes. Hope you (and Josie) will also come over to The Reflective Writer on Facebook–there’s a page there, too.

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