Writing jigs – The Cut List

In woodworking, a jig is a device that, most often, you create yourself to assist in the work. Think of it as an extra hand or two, or twelve, that give you the freedom to work safely and accurately. It might be a hold down to keep work steady while you cut, or a bracing device to keep work in alignment while you drill. Writers use jigs, too, I think. I know I do anyway, and one of my favorites is the cut list.

A cut list is what it sounds like. A list of the pieces you need to cut for whichever project you’re working on. It’s a pretty intuitive idea when you think about it, right? Still took me at least four woodworking projects before I hit upon the notion of marking down each piece I needed, whether it had been cut, dimensioned, milled for fasteners, or finish sanded.

Cut lists – they’re everwhere

If you look around at different projects, professions, what have you, I’m sure you’ll find other examples of cut lists. One of my favorites, which I employ every time I set foot in the kitchen, is the chef’s practice of mise en place.

It means to put things in place so you’re ready to work. For procedures like woodworking, writing, cooking, crafting of any kind really, the process benefits from a cut list because of the freedom it allows the crafter. Without a cut list holding all the information about measurements, sanding versus planing, dimensioned or not…the woodworker’s brain gets to focus on things like, well, table saw safety for one.

For writing, a cut list lets me focus on precious writing hours on important tasks, like finishing this critical scene where the protagonist hurtles past the point of no return. Instead of worrying if I’ve got all the necessary elements for a good scene, I spend some time imagining the scene playing itself out in my mind. Then I mark down short notes:

  • Point A – scene opens, where, what time of day
  • Who is involved – characters and cues: when do they first appear in the scene
  • Do any major transition points occur during the scene? If so, who is involved, cues again
  • Any lines of dialogue that suggest themselves to me as I’m envisioning the scene
  • Point B – scene ends, where, what time of day

That’s my cut list. It’s how I go about knowing what I’m going to write before I write it. Karen Woodward gives another example in her blog here.

Do you write with a cut list? If you’ve got a favorite tip from another writer/blogger, please share in the comments. Thanks!




About ajsikes

I am a freelance editor and author of speculative fiction in the dark/weird vein. My editing style is best described as nurturing. I treat each customer with the same respect and consideration regardless of the quality of their writing, and always aim my comments at helping writers improve and strengthen their work. For more information, please visit me at my website.
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2 Responses to Writing jigs – The Cut List

  1. As a fellow lumber jockey and scribbler, this is a great analogy. For me, my cut list is my grand outline. Although more accurately, it’d be my plans and various elevations. From the outline I can also bring my head up from the project and see what’s left and where I need to go. The editing stage of course is very much like the finishing stage of a woodworking project. Going through the grits (or like me the smoothing and finishing planes) until the wood/writing gleams.

    • ajsikes says:

      Colin, thanks much for stopping by the shop 🙂 You make a great point about coming up out of the project, and that’s so apt for writing. Funny you should mention the grits. Another good analogy there, for starters, but I’ve just come in from my shop after running from 60 to 320 on the edges of a worktable I’m putting together. >.<

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