I’ve Got A Little List

Whenever I find myself staring at a blank page (or screen) unable to write I resort to listing – no not to port or starboard but writing lists.

I am an inveterate list-maker at the best of times. The house is littered with discarded shopping lists and to-do lists and major events such as Christmas and holidays bring on a rash of lists making but for writing listing is a great way to channel the thought processes and ease the brain into writing mode.

If you are just starting out and not sure what to write consider the oft-quoted advice to write about what you know. Most of us wear many hats throughout our lives. First and foremost we are sons/daughters, brothers/sisters and later become husbands/wives, mothers/fathers and so on.

We will attend schools, maybe college or university and become members of various groups – church groups, Scouts/Guides or sporting clubs. Our careers and other adult occupations will give us yet more experiences and the way we travel and spend our leisure time will add further dimensions.

Try writing a list of fifty things that you have been or have done. You will probably falter around the forty mark but persevere and you may find even fifty is insufficient. Choose five of these items and try writing a paragraph – just a few sentences – about each. Finally choose one to expand further. If you feel ready to write after just completing the list keep it on file and go ahead. You can return to your lists another day. I do so and add to them all the time.

A list of fifty experiences you have had may include going to school, getting married, learning to drive, your first flight, becoming a grandparent and so on. Maybe you have met someone famous or suffered a major trauma. Not all the experiences need be good ones to inspire your writing. Choose one good and one bad experience and write a paragraph about each.

It may be that you have lots of ideas that you could write about but they are all clamouring for attention. Write down the topics at the left hand side of a page. Alongside write down possible markets or competitions these may suit. Don’t forget that one idea can be written up in different ways for different markets so your outlets may include both national and local publications or general and specialist titles if appropriate.

I have written on Village Signs for the Village Sign Society newsletter but also for various local and county magazines, too. Now you can prioritise your topics. If a competition is involved there will no doubt be a deadline. Similarly, if the topic is time sensitive, perhaps linked to an anniversary or annual event such as Christmas, this may take precedence.

A list of twenty places you have been on holiday may spark ideas for travel features but consider also food and drink, customs or problems with the journey or accommodation (or the joys of either). Although I mostly write non-fiction listing can be helpful in other areas too.

If fiction is your forte your holiday memories can add colour and depth to your story settings. Think of somewhere you are familiar with at home or on holiday and try describing it using all your senses in just a hundred words. (I once won a competition by writing about a local market in just fifty words whilst making reference to all the senses stimulated.)

Maybe now you can imagine a character from your story in that setting. How would they react? How does it affect their actions? Listing can help bring structure to your writing. When planning an article the twenty questions idea is helpful. I write down twenty questions I think people may ask about the topic and aim to answer them in the text. When writing about Village Signs for a general audience, for example, the first question might be, “What is a village sign?” If the publication is a local one I need to answer the question, “Where can I find examples nearby?”

Your original list is unlikely to be in any particular order but rearranging the questions can show how they can be linked and help to bring the structure to your piece. Listing works for poetry, too. Some poems are presented as lists of course but listing ideas, circling and linking words and phrases can all help to bring a poem together.

Most of us are accomplished procrastinators and if you find that daily life keeps intruding lists can be employed as reminders of things to do – but later (unless of course it is to let out the cat or retrieve the washing from a sudden storm!)

Still not sure where to start? Try writing just twenty statements for each of these ideas and see where they take you. I can…(ride a bike, bake a cake, etc) I am… (a driver, teacher, etc) I have… (been to school, taken photographs, etc)

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Article by wordsmith

A contributor of largely illustrated articles to a range of national and local magazines on topics ranging from parentcraft and lifestyle matters to nostalgia and social history.
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One Comments

  1. wordsmith says:

    Glad you found this helpful, Patricia. Once you start listing you will be amazed how wide a pool of inspiration and experience you have to draw upon.

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