Lists, Lists Everywhere!

Hello, Katy Lee here. To begin this post in my “list fashion,” let me first start off by annoucing my guest blogger next Sunday. (9/11) Published author, Sandra Orchard, will be here to tell us about her stint at a writer’s police academy. If you write suspense, or anything that requires a police procedure, stop on by. Sandra’s newest release, DEEP COVER is now available, and to celebrate, I will be giving one lucky commenter a free copy!

Now with that checked off my list, onto the next item…

A series of names, words, or other items written, printed, or imagined one after the other makes up a list, and if you are anything like me, you love them.

When it comes to shopping lists, I don’t leave home without one. When it comes to vacation lists, no item gets left behind. When it comes to Honey-Do lists, I get to watch my man do manly things. And when it comes to lists for my new story ideas, characters are born.

The act of brainstorming for me does not begin with an outline, or with mapping, but with a list. Before I do anything, I put pen to paper, jotting down anything that comes to my mind. Interesting settings, careers for characters, personalities and values, and then obstacles. The outcome is a real messy compilation of ideas, sometimes even a little hard for me read, but let’s face it, writing isn’t pretty. So, from these lists, I am now able to take my ideas and form that story outline or character arc. Something I would not have been able to do if I hadn’t started with a list.

The trick with any brainstorming activity, whether you make lists or not, is to give yourself the freedom to write anything. We live in a world where we are graded on everything we do. Because of that, we fear failure. I once took part in a brainstorming workshop where the leader led us through various techniques to get the pen moving, and after we finished, some people raised their hands to volunteer their ideas. As much as I wanted to join them, I couldn’t. I feared mine wouldn’t be as good as everyone else’s. But after hearing so many different outcomes, I realized there wasn’t a right idea or a wrong idea. Failing grades were not handed out, because during the brainstorming process the judge was given the boot.

The Unlocked Secret: During the creative process, judgment is not allowed. Not even if you’re the judge. Write anything that comes to your mind. Enumerate; don’t evaluate. Just get your ideas down on paper. This is just the list, and lists are made for checking off and crossing out AFTER you’ve completed the task. You can let the judge back in the door later when you start the outline.

Question: How do you get your creative juices flowing? Please share your techniques with us.


19 thoughts on “Lists, Lists Everywhere!”

  1. Katy, we must have been sisters in a previous life. I’m convinced that my world would sease to exist without lists.I definitely use them as part of my brainstorming process to organize my thoughts and get them down before outlining or plotting. But I think because i live by lists so much of the time, I have to get away from pen, paper and computer to really let the creativity fly. I need to be outside in nature and just let my imagination go. That’s when the really good stuff comes along. Of course then I have to rush home and write it down.

    1. PJ, I consider you my sister in this life. 😉 But I understand about getting outside and letting nature inspire. But for me I have to take the notebook with me or I will forget what came to mind, and that just frustrates me. I have thought about getting a recorder, but you can’t cross out and narrow down. Plus, it’s just another step keeping me from actually writing.

  2. This is a great post, Katy! I think sometimes writer’s paralysis comes from being convinced that there’s the Magical Mystical Muse out there, whispering perfect scenes or plot twists into our ears. Many are the times that I’ve sat down and made out lists of ridiculous possibilities…and one way or another, even if it takes a lot of digging and dusting, the right idea comes to me–usually through finding the wrong idea and seeing why it DIDN’T work, then being able to see the clearer path. No wrong ideas…that’s great advice!

  3. Hi Katy, first thanks for the inviting me as a guest next week! Like you, I’m a list maker. I tried to streamline them on the computer, but couldn’t I get way more satisfaction adding and crossing them off a written list. LOL I have three on my desk at this very moment!

    Brainstorming is my favorite part of writing and so much more fun and productive when you can do this with a group. I’ve done this in person, on Skype, over the phone, and for the last few weeks in the comments section of my Wednesday blogs. It’s so cool to see what others come up with and play off each others ideas. Later, in my alone time I widdle out what will an won’t work.

    1. I’ve never tried a brainstorming session with a group. I just did the workshop. I may chew your ear on how one of them works.

      Looking forward to having you here next week!

  4. I am a list-o-holic. I have them everywhere – on paper, on sticky notes, computer task pad and now, with my new laptop – Windows 7 has desktop sticky notes. List heaven!

    It’s funny for someone who loves lists, I usually brainstorm in my head while walking, cooking, listening to music. When it comes time to set plot points down, I use index cards. One plot point per card. That way I can line them up and move them around, toss what doesn’t fit and add what’s missing. Like Kristan said sometimes you have to cycle through a bunch of ideas before you hit on the ones that work together as a cohesive whole.

  5. I’m the type of person who makes lists for the grocery store and then leaves them on the table, luckily I have a good memory for those kind of things. When it’s comes to writing I don’t brainstorm. I get an idea and boom I see the story from start to finish. Here is when my list making comes in. I list the scenes for my book from start to finish and as I do that all the little things that makes characters people works it way into my work.

    1. Can I just say, I envy you. I fear starting a story and getting half way through and having no idea where it’s going. And because of my neurotic behavior in having to finish everything I start I wouldn’t let it die a peaceful death.

  6. WOW – I’m a list person too! Maybe it’s a writer-trait. I like to make a list, then prioritize it using every colored highligher they make. I just put a white board in my office to list out the things I need to add to my 1st draft of The Peacock Tale. It’s soooooo fun to erase them and see the blank spots where things have been finished.

  7. My list includes: “include list for tomorrow and next week,” and “go to bed”. In terms of Magical Mystical Muse-he/she does exist: muse is the authentic and genuine creative self that is YOU. Too bad naysayers and I’ll bet the Muse likes lists. 🙂


  8. Spring for Susannah was inspired by a song. Unfortunately, lightning didn’t strike twice!
    Has anyone else tried the Writers Brainstorming Kit by Pam McCutcheon? It’s best used with a group to get the ideas flowing, but I have used it by myself to sharpen my focus.

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