‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.
Today's guest is scriptwriter, playwright, freelance writer and actor Fiona Harris. Fiona has written and performed on comedy television shows Skithouse, Flipside, Comedy Inc. and The Librarians, as well as scriptwriting ABC kids’ series, Prank Patrol. She’s written a junior fiction novel, numerous freelance articles and has most recently written and performed in the successful comedy play, Plus One at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
When Damon asked me to write this piece I had to think hard about which of my all-important and indispensable writing tools is the most crucial to my process as a writer. What immediately sprang to mind of course were those tangible tools that I can’t possibly fathom writing without.
These include my numerous lined notebooks, my beloved Macbook and my equally beloved children, who in the past eight years have taught me the true meaning of the words “time management”. Gone are the endless free hours of time spent lolling around thinking about how much I would like to write, and how I would surely get around to doing it one day. These days, when I know I have two-hour window between the kinder drop off and pick up, I am alert and upright at the computer, typing like a mad thing.
So yes, my children have a lot to answer for when it comes to teaching me the joy of shouting, “In your face, procrastination!” and forcing me to just get on with it.
But finally I’ve had to acknowledge that the one tool responsible for everything I write is the humble list.
The truth is that I am a list-maker and list-lover from way back. Even in those time-rich pre-kids days of old, the lists were my constant companions. They were always there - my exposed girders to hold on to during the mini-tornadoes of life. They have stared out at me from the inside of my diary, the whiteboard, the kitchen noticeboard, the post-it note on the front of my computer and the A4 page typed out and Blu-Tacked to the wall.
Quite simply, without my multiple lists I would feel as if I had no real purpose in life… Ok, that may be going a tad far…but I certainly wouldn’t have met the countless deadlines that have filled my calendars over the years.
In other words, I am a self-confessed girly swot…and proud of it. And like all good girly swots there is nothing more satisfying and constructive for me than having a system in place. Plans, goal charts, mind maps, pie charts, I’ve been there and embraced them all. However, the simple technique of writing a list and adhering to it is what succeeds in getting me off my backside and writing every time. I love nothing better than a system; a tried and true methodology of working that appeals to the anally retentive creature inside of me who constantly rebels against this insanely unstable lifestyle I have chosen. So, to appease my inner-Girl Guide I have learnt how to structure at least the beginning stages of my creative endeavours.
It all starts with the list. Everything from the order of projects to tackle from one week to the next, to lists of characters and story ideas. It is a beautiful thing watching the list progressively grow, expand and mutate into whatever script, novel, article or kids book I happen to be working on. In my opinion, the act of creating a list is an organic process that requires primitive tools of pen and paper, and the thought of typing out a first draft of a list is enough to make my inner-Girl Guide start to pull frantically at her neckerchief.
The list is my lord and master and I, its humble and loyal subject (Sorry. Been watching a LOT of Game of Thrones lately) Just a quick glance at a list in my diary or on my whiteboard can prevent a stream of consciousness that usually begins with the thought, “What’s the point?” and can stop a full-blown panic attack in its tracks.
And when I am actually engrossed in the act of making, or updating, a list, a happier and more content being on this earth would be hard to find.
My husband realized early on in our relationship just how integral the list is to my overall well-being and sense of contentment, and my 8 year old daughter is growing into a keen list-maker herself these days. (See photographic evidence above). She has definitely inherited the list-obsessive gene and the obvious joy it gives her to rush for pen and paper to jot down a list has often brought a tear to my eye.
Worshipping and obeying the writing-related list is what allows me to achieve the many steps that I set for myself on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. Think of it like my very own imaginary editor who is constantly badgering me to make that deadline or “You are out on your arse, Harris!” (Yes, that is actually how she speaks to me in my tiny, warped mind – to be honest; she’s a bit of a bitch) At least 80% of the content in said lists relate to writing projects that I want to work on or am currently working on. The other 20% include the usual shopping lists, or fascinating instructions to myself like, paint the bathroom, try to use cookbooks and cancel gym membership.
Of course I’m aware that this probably isn’t a methodology that appeals to the many free-spirited and fly-by-the-seat of your pants writers out there. This theory is proven by the large percentage of extremely productive and talented pool of writers in the world, unencumbered by the tedious shackles of structure and procedure.
Again, I would like to remind you that I am a massive girly-swot nerd (see above - paragraph two, line two) and that you have every right to find my regimented approach to creative writing deplorable.
But it works✓