A List of Lists

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I am not one of those organized people who makes lists in order to feel good about their day. I hear them talking about writing a task on a list so they feel happy crossing it off, but I can’t identify with that.

However, I’ve discovered a way making lists that is enormously satisfying. I’m taking a 10-week writing course with the inimitable Rachel Devenish Ford. Twice a week, we meet over zoom, a dozen ladies across as many time zones, and Rachel, in Thailand’s sunshine, coaches us in writing from the heart. One way to write is to make lists, and then craft paragraphs from those lists.

The exercise reminded me of several years ago when I had an overwhelming decision to make, and I was paralyzed with fears. My pastor said I should list those fears. When I did, the fears suddenly didn’t feel so big or so many. Since then, I’ve often handed the same advice to someone who was overwhelmed. When they have too much on their mind and their nervous system is overloaded, writing a list is something they can manage.

It also reminds me of how I’ve kept a Thanks Journal for years, which is a daily list of something to be thankful for, some points of light to remember. It’s not eloquent or poetic. It’s quick and minimal but enough.

The beauty about lists is that they can be spare, ragged, choppy, and incomplete, but they carry the essence of what we want to express. In our writing course with Rachel, we’ve made lists about these subjects:

  • Who I am
  • What I notice in a favorite photo
  • The kinds of writing I feel the most drawn to
  • What I notice where I’m sitting (I had never noticed that I have green dolphins at my desk until I made a list of what I noticed.)
  • Impactful moments
  • What we want
  • What we have (I noticed that my want list included only one thing that costs money. Right afterward, Rachel coached us to list what we have, and I choked up because I have. So. Much.)
  • What we’ve learned

Some days, I amuse myself by thinking about all the fun lists I could make. Here is a list I could list:

  • Beautiful things
  • What I noticed in church today (includes many colors because that’s what I notice)
  • Things to do with one arm in a cast
  • Distractions
  • Cool things about living in America (could include interstate highways and pancakes the size of dinnerplates)
  • Uncool things about America (could include synthetically fragranced fabric softeners)
  • What I love about my people
  • Reasons to cry
  • Topics I could write about
  • Why I can’t write
  • Favorite parts of favorite books
  • Memorable meals
  • Heavenly fragrances (would not include fabric softener)
  • What I like about my age
  • Ways people have helped me
  • Lovely sounds (would include rain on a metal roof)

You might try this yourself. If writing a blog post or a poem or a letter feels like too much investment, or too weighty, try making a list and see where it takes you.

At the very least, you might surprise yourself at what you notice and what you have.

4 thoughts on “A List of Lists

  1. I was literally googling “journal list ideas” this morning. And unfortunately, many of the ideas I find are not really what I’m looking for. These suggestions are so much better! Thank you!

  2. You should fill out the “Things I could do with one arm in a cast” list and send it to me. I know someone who I could share it with right now. Well, actually this person is using a sling, not a cast. So I guess you could modify it to that, 🙂

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