The Writing Snowball

I organize my day with a To-Do List. Projects. People I’m supposed to call. Chores and appointments. But the mildly guilty secret about my to-do list is that I pad it.

The top item, every day, is Make To-Do List. When I finish writing the list, I go right back to the top and cross that item off. The little ping of satisfaction this gives me is perverse but real.

Only ten minutes into the day, but already I feel productive.


In their excellent book, Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard, the brother authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath write about a financial adviser named Dave Ramsey. For clients who come to him because they’re deeply in debt, Ramsey uses a technique that’s anathema to most of his peers: he calls it the Debt Snowball.

He has his clients make a list of all their debts.

Then, instead of having these clients pay off their highest interest debts first, which is the conventional advice, he advocates paying the minimum payment on every debt, and then working at paying off the smallest debt.

Relatively soon, that small debt gets paid off, and then they move on to the next smallest debt.

What Ramsey recognizes is that a mountain of debt can so demoralize one that it’s overwhelming, paralyzing. By paying off a small bill and then increasingly larger bills, his clients get a sense of progress, of momentum.

I’m not a financial adviser, and so I’m agnostic on whether or not this is good advice for people in debt.

But it’s excellent advice for writers.

Faced with all the decisions that accompany the writing of a play, it’s easy to become frozen. And when you’re frozen, the humble to-do list is your friend.

Begin your writing session by making a list of things you’ll eventually need to accomplish. Your list will include large tasks (plot out the first third of the play), medium-sized tasks (decide how to introduce the protagonist) and small ones (read for typos.)

Then, instead of worrying about the large tasks, start by checking off the small ones. Even accomplishing something tiny will motivate you to keep going. And doing small script tasks eases your mind out of the concerns of your life and into the world of the play.

You’re trying to create a Writing Snowball.

And if the first item on your list is: Make Writing To Do List, you’re guaranteed to get something done every day.


2 thoughts on “The Writing Snowball

    • Okay, it’s taken me this long to get my brain back online, but I’m back.

      I love the to-do list trick, because I love anything that psyches me up in a productive way.

      I’m also a big fan of incremental gain.

      “Even accomplishing something tiny will motivate you to keep going.”

      Yes! This is 100% true of my own writing experience.

      Great advice. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

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