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Episode Info: Tis the season for lists, even for those who aren't naturally checklist and to-do list types. For the holidays, people will make packing lists, shopping lists, cleaning lists, address lists, and wish lists. Lists are useful and practical, but they can serve a far more creative and powerful role in the life of a writer. You may find the humble list becomes the most used tool in your writer’s toolbox. Let's look at how lists can transform your writing...and your life. 1. A list is a quick way to generate ideas Whether you’re keeping a journal or meeting an article deadline, lists are quick ways to write during busy seasons. Make a list of the big ideas you want to cover in a nonfiction book, and you’ve formed a working Table of Contents. Lists are the basis of roundup articles—a quick and rewarding project for both writer and reader. List everything you know about a topic or scene you plan to write, and your list establishes what you already know and reveals what you have yet to find out. Thanks to the list, you can plan your research and fill in the gaps. Keep an ongoing list of article headlines or chapter titles you'd love to tackle someday and you've got an idea bank to draw from when you’re ready for something new. When you have time minutes free, add to the list. Keep a writer's notebook packed with lists that include descriptions, timelines, character notes, and snatches of dialogue. Make a list of unfortunate events you can throw at your characters and you'll have the makings of your next novel's plot. 2. A list tricks us into bypassing writer’s block Lists can help us break free from writer’s block by stripping away a lot of the elements typically expected from a creative project. And the act of list-making is so unassuming, so doable, so quick to pull off, we can bypass the things that hold us back or block us, like fear, lack of ideas, confusion, uncertainty. Start a list and you almost can’t stop your brain from producing another item and another. The brain loves lists. If you’re stuck, you may find you’re unstuck by the time you scribble the fourth or fifth entry. You might as well keep going. Next thing you know, you’ve written the draft or the outline of a poem, essay, short story, or blog post. 3. A list is flexible As you write, your list expands and contracts to match the evolution of your ideas. As you edit, you can delete or combine items as needed. 4. A list builds in limits While allowing for flexibility, lists also form natural boundaries. In “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists,” Maria Konnikova says the human brain responds to the way a list “spatially organizes the information; and it promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront.”1 If a single idea seems too convoluted, corral it. Deal with idea-sprawl by cramming it into a list. By defining and limiting our ideas, our writer-minds relax; we don’t have to say it all. 5. A list instant...
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