The Worry List – by Kerry Schafer
It’s hard to write when your head feels like the kitchen junk drawer. You know the one. It’s the place for random elastic bands and those little plastic things from bread bags. Coupons you’re going to use some day. The screw that inexplicably dropped out of the bottom of the kitchen table that you will definitely put back in. Soon.
Mine also holds three kinds of tape, scissors, flea medicine for the dog, and a roll of stick-on Christmas present labels.
If you don’t own a drawer like this you are probably still a good person, and you are welcome to borrow the image of mine for the duration of this analogy.
Anyway, let’s agree that your head is stuffed to the point of spilling over. So when you sit down at the computer to write about a galaxy far, far away, instead you find yourself thinking about the drooping plant, the car that needs a brake repair, finances, not spending enough time with your family, laundry, what are you going to make for dinner and OMG – that blog you should have written for RMFW days ago but somehow forgot.
Panic ensues. Now you really can’t write anything at all because you’re much too upset and you need to dip into a container of ice cream first. Or have a drink. After which bed is the logical choice because things will look so much clearer in the morning.
And you manage to fall asleep because you truly are exhausted, only to be awakened by a crushing list of things to do or worry about. Sometimes the LIST takes on the qualities of Terry Pratchett’s Luggage (if you haven’t read the Discworld books and don’t know what The Luggage is, you should definitely add reading these books to The List right now).
One of the best cures for worrying that I know of is to actually give The List full focus for a space of time. It really doesn’t make it bigger, believe it or not, and it can actually make it more manageable and let you get back to getting things done.
Allot whatever time you can to this. I recommend clearing the decks for an hour in order to fully concentrate your attention on worrying, but I recognize this may not be possible. If so, you can complete the tasks in stages.
- Collect your supplies. You’ll need blank paper (a notebook is good), pen, different colored hi-liters, and a beverage of your choice. If at all possible, clear your space of children and spouses and maybe even cats. (I hear you calling me delusional. This is unkind, but possibly very true)
- Start jotting down the worry items, one to a line, in no particular order. This is a free writing activity. No item is too “trivial” to be included. Even if you know this is not a rational worry, write it down. If the problem of Goldfish Doesn’t Wear Socks came into your head, then it deserves a spot on your worry list. Keep that pen moving and keep on jotting down all the things, either until you run out of worries or your time is up. (New items may pop up later – just add them onto the end if they do.)
- Now here’s the fun part. Take a pen and cross out every item on that list that is not worth your worry time. That goldfish who doesn’t need socks, for example. Eliminate them.
- Next, read through and cross out all of the things over which you have absolutely no control. They may be very important personal or world problems, but if it’s something you know you either can’t or won’t take any action to fix, cross it out. BE RUTHLESS.
- Still with me? Now it’s time to begin categorizing the items that are left. Pick a hi-liter color for items that must be dealt with TODAY and mark them.
- Choose another color for the things that need to be dealt with this WEEK.
- Choose another color for the things that need to be dealt with this MONTH.
- If you’re an organized or compulsive sort of person you may feel the need to go on marking things for every month of the year. This is the point where I just choose a color and designate everything else on the list as “to take care of sometime.” I just can’t focus out more than a month at a time.
- Create an action plan for the things of today, promising yourself you’ll do the same again tomorrow for the next day’s needs.
Hopefully now you feel a little lighter, a little less cluttered, and can get on with the very important business of writing. Or sleeping.
Thanks for stopping by the blog today. Next month we’ll tackle a bit of the psychology involved in Writer Procrastination.
Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books