The Master List is based on a pyramid scheme. At the top of the pyramid
are only a few Main Categories. They can be subdivided into
Subcategories. At the lowest level are your Ideas and Topics. You should
have lots of these.
For example, a main topic could be Parenting. Subcategories include
Safety, Infant, Toddler, and Discipline. Ideas and Topics under Infant
include Feeding Formula, Bathing, and Bonding.
You can see how easy it is to work your way up or down the pyramid
when sorting your information. Did you find a newspaper clipping which
describes bonding between an infant and his father? You instantly know
it should be in the Subcategory of "Infant." Did you find a
guideline for a new parenting magazine? Under Parenting, select the
subcategory called "Guidelines."
The beauty of this system is that the categories and subcategories
are predefined for you, and stored on your handy Master List Cheat
Sheet. What could be a thirty second (or longer!) decision about where
to file has just been reduced to a couple seconds. You will be using
these categories everywhere—in your filing cabinet, on your computer,
in your notebooks—so make sure you like your choices and they do not
Grab a piece of scrap paper, and draw three columns. List six or seven
Main Categories you actively pursue in the first column. Sure, you may
have written brilliant articles on Horse Racing, but if you no longer
write or sell them, select a more current category (remember Rule 6,
Work Forward). The second column is for Subcategories, and the third
column is for Ideas and Topics.
Take your time with this exercise since it will be the basis for the
remainder of your organizing tasks. Think carefully about where you
focus your writing. Use short nouns, and avoid adjectives and
adverbs. Use the list below to inspire you.
Here is a list from which to choose:
You can also review the categories in Writer’s Market.
Listed below are some additional main categories every writer should
Other – contains a few unusual ideas that won't fit into your Main
Accounting – contains all your financial records.
Queries – on Day 22 you’ll see how to use this category to easily
track the status of your queries.
Manuscripts – on Day 23 you’ll see how to use this category to track
your completed manuscripts
How To – contains instructions like “How to Write a Query” or “How
to Create a Mail Merge.”
Reference – contains reference material such as statistics, grammar,
punctuation, or online dictionaries.
Cheat Sheets – store your pre-made forms and templates in this
Your subcategories should be short and should be nouns. Make sure they
subdivide your Main Category into logical areas. Spend some time with
this. The more accurate you can be now, the more time you'll save going
You need enough subcategories to address all your ideas and topics,
but not so many you fill an entire page. In our Parenting example,
"Infant" is a short and sweet subcategory, but it may not be
detailed enough. If you've written fifty articles on parenting infants,
you may need "Infant" to be a main category.
Include a subcategory called "Guidelines" for market
information you accumulate.
Ideas and Topics
The subcategory for an idea or topic should be obvious. If not, rethink
your subcategories. Make them clean and simple. Scratch out, rethink,
and pull out your thesaurus. You want the shortest words you can find
since they will be on your file folder labels and in your computer
More than Seven Categories
If you have more than seven Main Categories, you may be a packrat of
ideas (see the description of a packrat on Day One). Try to focus more.
Play a game with yourself to see how few words give you the same
meaning. Or instead of using three columns, group your thoughts inside
circles like a Venn diagram.
Start with your seven favorite categories to keep your tasks
manageable during the next 30 days. Then, once you are an expert, expand
your Cheat Sheet.
Ten or Less Ideas and Topics
If you have more than ten ideas or topics under a Subcategory, try to
create a new subcategory.
Once you’ve completed your Master List, use the cheat sheet on the
next page to make a nice copy or print it on your computer. To keep the
Master List from becoming too cluttered, only the Main Categories and
Subcategories are listed. However, if it will work better for you,
create your own three column list with Ideas and Topics. Put it onto
brightly colored sheets of paper and insert them into page protectors.
Then place a copy everywhere you work. Until you memorize the list, you
want to keep it handy.
Two days down...and only 28 to go. Stay with
Tomorrow we will learn the one secret tool every writer needs to stay