How Lists Inform Our Writing, Our World

list making

Earlier this week, at this site, I featured a post by Cyndy Etler on how list-making can help you manage the overwhelming process of trying to write a memoir, or any story about your life.

The universe is working serendipitously this week, because Yelizaveta P. Renfro just published a piece over at Glimmer Train on the magic of list making. She says:

A novel I’m working on began two and a half years ago as an eighty-four-word list divided into nineteen “items” that became chapters…. Slowly, each of the nineteen items expanded into its own list, a nesting-doll regression to smaller and smaller units, to scenes and paragraphs and sentences, until each word was in place.

Related (and nearly a decade ago), I learned about an important productivity method—perhaps the most important I’ve ever learned—and it boils down to this: Never create a to-do item that is actually a project. Instead, use to-dos that are specific action steps. In other words, you would never have the following to-do items:

  • Buy a house
  • Write my first novel
  • Build a website

Instead, you would break these enormous projects into the smallest possible components, starting with to-do items such as:

  • Research real estate agents in my area and create a list of candidates to contact
  • Visit the library and see what books are available on novel writing for beginners
  • Visit writers’ websites that I like and make notes on what I want my site to do and look like

Breaking large projects down into small steps (into lists!) makes them less intimidating, and—most importantly—helps you make progress with less anxiety. As Anne Lamott says, you tackle things “bird by bird.”

Also this month in Glimmer Train:


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Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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4 Comments on "How Lists Inform Our Writing, Our World"

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[…] it happens, there was a great post about list-making on Jane Friedman’s blog today. The key is to divide up the big stuff you want to accomplish into manageable bits. Her […]

Michael LaRocca

I won’t say I’ve never successfully tackled a major project without such a list. But when I have, they’ve been much more stressful than necessary, and rare enough for me to still remember them. Make a list!

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[…] https://janefriedman.com/lists-inform-writing/ Can to-do lists help your writing? […]

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[…] of the most important things to be successful is without doubts a to-do list. This article from Jane Friedman will help you to mark your to-dos done frequently and […]

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