Making Lists: A Writing Strategy to Improve Your Focus
By Miranda Paul
5, 4, 3, 2, 1...Happy Resolution-Making Day!
The end of the year / beginning of a new year is always a busy time for me. My most productive days are list-making, checkmark-making days. Having a clear idea of what needs to get done combined with the art of slashing lines through those tasks is a winning combo.
Beyond making lists for the busywork of my days, I make different kinds of lists when I’m developing or polishing a manuscript. One of the most helpful types of lists is called a Comparative List.
A comparative list includes books that share a common topic, style, or other characteristic. In picture books, the most common comparative lists I see are by subject matter or topic. (Susanna Leonard Hill has a great list on her PPBF page.)
When I was struggling through a manuscript in which a boy’s grandfather passes away, for example, I made a list of picture books that dealt with grief/loss. This was eye-opening because I easily came up with 24 good books (plus a dozen mediocre ones). Almost instantaneously, I realized that:
List-making was also a key factor in writing my debut book, One Plastic Bag. It’s a book about a woman very few people in the US have heard of, set in the smallest country on the African continent. Obviously, there was nothing just like it to compare. But I scoured the picture book market for successful books featuring grassroots activists from developing countries. Eventually, my editor used some of those comparative titles in the acquisitions meeting.
You can make lists of books have something in common besides topic, too. If you’re long-winded, make a list of books that go over the average word count for your genre. If your manuscript is all dialogue, make a list of similar books. If you’re unpublished, make a list of recently-published debut titles.
You only have to find one commonality to make a list. I once made a list of picture books that use good pacing techniques. Other than good rhythm or pacing, these books are very different!
Comparative lists can help you tremendously when your manuscript is a rule-breaker. There are TONS of articles out there that spell out the rules of writing for kids, especially picture book writing. Yet...one can make lists of books that have talking inanimate objects, go over the 500-word limit, or feature grown-ups as main characters.
It’s important to be aware, though, that a list of comparable titles isn’t proof that your book should or will be published. The list is a starting point for research or a tool for helping you hone your own craft and style. It’s your job to read each title and de-construct the elements that make the book work (or fail).
Essentially, list-making is a tool to get you to focus on some aspect of writing or a topic you're exploring. After evaluating books on a list, you can go back to your own manuscript and have a better sense of how it fits in, stands out, or breaks rules (in a good or bad way).
Speaking of breaking rules, I'm going to break one of my own and shift focus quickly. In January, I'm going to be talking a lot about rule breaking in a webinar. Since almost every manuscript I’ve sold breaks one or more rules, I have a lot to share with you on this topic—plus lists of totally fantabulous rule-breaking books! The webinar will be on Saturday, January 24th, from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. PST (1 p.m. - 4 p.m. EST). Very soon, you’ll be able to sign up for the webinar right through the Children’s Book Academy website so watch for details.
Ok, back to list-making and New Year's productivity. Let’s count down the hours and make a plan to check new things off our lists in 2015. Happy New Year, everyone!
Miranda Paul is passionate about creating stories for young readers that inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. In addition to more than 50 short stories for magazines and digital markets, Miranda is the author of several forthcoming picture books from imprints of Lerner, Macmillan, and Random House. Her debut, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and received a starred SLJ review. Her second book, Water is Water, illustrated by Jason Chin, releases in May. She is the Executive Vice President of Outreach for We Need Diverse Books™ and the administrator of RateYourStory.org, a site for aspiring writers. Miranda believes in working hard, breaking rules, and being kind. Learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.
Meet the Wednesday Blogateers
First Wednesdays will feature Pen Faulkner Award nominee, NEA Grant Recipient, and Oberlin College Professor Sylvia Watanabe!!
Follow our Blogs!
Join our Tribe
and receive 7 Steps to Creative Happiness, access to free webinars, and lots more!
Your email addresses are always safe and respected with us.