The Greatest Creative Thinking & Writing Tool Ever: The List
I’d like to go out on a limb here and declare the List to be the greatest creative thinking tool at any writers’ command.
It is simple, elegant and efficient. All you need is a few minutes and a blank sheet of paper and you are good to go. But the biggest reason why the List is great for creativity is that we seem to be hard-wired to create and read them. Which explains their popularity in both the print and online mediums.
Why Lists Are Great for Thinking Creatively
I love lists and so does most of the rest of the world. We are obsessed with them. We want to know where things rank in the overall scheme of things. What book is number one on the New York Times Bestseller List? What songs are up and coming in America’s Top 40? Where does your favorite NFL team place in the weekly Power Ranking on ESPN? Which TV show is at the top of this week’s Nielsen ratings?
Even when we aren’t using lists to rank things, we use them to organize information:
- Grocery list
- To-Do list
- Bucket list
- Books You’ve Read/Want to Read list
- Food log
The list is a popular format for not only blogs and online publications but for most print publications as well. Here is a list of articles appearing in mainstream magazines:
- 8 Surprising Psychological Facts About Vegetarians (Psychology Today)
- 50 Things You Won’t Believe Are Banned in the U.S. (Reader’s Digest)
- 14 Small Indoor House Plants That Even the Worst Among Us Can’t Kill (Cosmopolitan)
- 10 World Soccer Predictions for 2020 (Sports Illustrated)
- These 6 Leaders Shaped the World in 2019 (Time)
So generating lists is a great skill that all writers must take advantage of to enhance creativity.
Using Lists as Story Idea Generators
Lists are natural story idea generators. They can be used for brainstorming new ideas for stories or articles, just thinking and organizing info on the page, or mapping out specific details for a project.
These are a few of my go-to-never-fail idea lists that you can generate anywhere at any time. Each of the items you generate on these lists can be a story or article unto itself or be used as inspiration for another creative project:
- Things that you are afraid of — Fear is a powerful influence on our thoughts and actions and is a great way to dig down into things that you might not otherwise want to admit to. Fears also can be used as a motivation or obstacle for a character in fiction. Be sure to include irrational fears on your list. The more irrational the fear, the more interesting the story might be.
- Things that make you angry — Anger inspires passion and passion can serve as an anchor point for non-fiction and fiction alike. Anger is a natural reaction to being treated poorly or unfairly and makes you seek resolution (or revenge).
- Things that irritate you — These are often the genesis of the helpful hint or how-to article or perhaps a savagely witty essay about something that just annoys you to no end.
- Chapters of your life — If you were to write an autobiography of your life right now, what would be the major events within your life that could serve as a title of a chapter for the book? This is especially helpful for anyone writing a memoir, but an interesting exercise in self-discovery as well.
- Jeopardy Dream Categories – Inspired by Douglas Coupland’s book Microserfs, what are the Jeopardy categories that if they appeared on the board when you are on the show as a contestant would guarantee a victory?
Here are a few other lists you can pull from your memory alone:
- Things that embarrass me
- Memorable people in your life
- Joyous moments
- Lies that I’ve told
- Places I’ve lived
- Lovers or roommates I’ve had
- Dumb things I’ve done
- Important lessons I’ve learned
- People who guided or mentored me (Family members, teachers, bosses, etc.)
- Things I believe (What I believe:)
- Proudest moments
- Places I have visited
- Most memorable news events of my lifetime
- Songs that get stuck in your head
- Names and nicknames that I’ve had
- Roles that I play
- Appointments on my calendar
Sometimes you simply need to take time to think about the things in your life that make you unique. Any of the details from any of these lists can potentially be part of a story, article, or project idea:
- Favorite books
- Favorite films
- Favorite foods
- Famous people (Living or Dead) who you’d like to have dinner with
- Favorite people
- People I hate
- Things I cannot live without
- Favorite words
- Words that are fun to say
- Words I hate
- Favorite quotes
- What I love to do
- Things that disgust me
Want lists are especially good for project ideas, as well as personal growth so here are a few more lists along with the types of writing projects they might be useful for:
- Things you want to do before you die (Bucket List) – How-to articles, personal experience essays, travel articles, specific details to include in fiction
- Places you want to visit – Travel articles, personal experience essays, details for settings in fiction
- Questions I want to know the answers to – General articles, how-to articles, personal experience essays, specific details to include in fiction
- Subjects I want to know more about – General articles, how-to articles, personal experience essays, specific details to include in fiction
- What I want (to own) – Personal experience essays, self-help articles, gift guides, specific details to include in fiction
These are just a few examples of my secret superweapon for coming up with great creative content in a hurry for either fiction or non-fiction. This isn’t all I have to say about the subject. There are many other types of lists to explore–which we will do in upcoming blog posts…
DO IT! – Creative Thinking Exercises
Do you really need some additional creative thinking exercises? I mean I just gave you over 40 in the article body alone. So, select a couple of the list ideas about and create content… or try one of these:
- Create your own list of lists. What are some of your list ideas that you can share with us?
- What are some of the lists you use regularly in your life?
- Next time you are in a store’s magazine section, at the library or just browsing online, jot down examples of the list articles you see on the magazine covers or front pages of the web site.
- Generate a list of your Jeopardy dream categories (6 Jeopardy; 6 Double Jeopardy categories and 1 Final Jeopardy category).