Tasks, Resistance, Pick Up Sticks, Prerequisites.

Many of the tasks we do actually require prerequisite tasks (or, to make that a little more street, and you gotta do thing one before you do thing two, cabron).

I was talking to a client about her process, and we talked about the importance of her desk being clean (thematic upshot, your desk is a focusing tool, not for storing papers – if you’re blocked creatively, clean your desk).  I thought the topic might make for a good blog, so I took some notes and put them in my trusted system.  Later, when I sat down to write,  I recalled that there was a cool quote from Anthony Bourdain’s kitchen confidential that I wanted to use, but which I didn’t have readily available.  The blog would have to wait.

Then I remembered that I had started this same blog three times and each time I’d hit the same stumbling block. I had an emotional attachment to the quote but I didn’t have the book.  As past events are an indicator of future performance, the desk Blog won’t get written until I get that book.  So I have to schedule time to get to a library or bookstore or find a way to immediately bring up tasks relevant to a location when I’m at that location.

I decided to turn this example of a bad process into a teachable moment and/badly needed content for my anemic blog.  Tasks are like pickup sticks.  The lesson I take is that tasks are like pickup sticks ***, and and often the task you want to do is buried under three more tasks that you’re barely aware of.


So when you’re stuck, in a scene, in a process, or in life, reflect on all the steps the task requires, past present and future. Odds are, the psychology/reluctance that makes you stuck is based on a subconscious knowledge that your past self screwed your present self by skipping a step. So identity the next step and do that instead.

* This blog is set in a hypothetical, better, world where pirating books isn’t an option. 

** The lack of a desk Blog is holding up a grander idea I have for making a cool flow chart of how to start writing. Procrastination begets procrastination.

***I asked a bunch of 20 something at a mall if they’d heard of pickup sticks. They were all vaguely aware of them. I’m happy for their cultural literacy, but genuinely curious as to how they all had pickup sticks as kids.   They had Nintendo 64’s. Why were they playing with colored wood? ****

**** I’m a little footnote happy this week because I’ve been reading/inspired by Bill Simmons.  That dude loves footnotes.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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