Beating Writer’s Block: Write a List

Write a List

An amazingly simple way of getting your mind focused on both ideas and words is to write a list. The task requires you to concentrate on a topic, or on observations, and to put words to everything you sense or imagine. You can surprise yourself with what you can come up with when you write a list. In my case, while struggling to make myself write a novella, I wrote out a list of all the different areas in writing I have some experience in; this set of articles jumped out from the list of topics I had written down on the page.

Now, it’s your turn.

Action Time! Take a sheet of paper and a pen, and some sort of stop watch or timer.

Most phones come with a timer on them, or can download an app to give you one. Sit comfortably, set your timer for five minutes, and start your list. That’s the basic gist of it. Keep reading, and I’ll give you some suggestions on how to focus your list to deal with your specific work in progress.

For fiction or descriptive poetry, you have a simple tool at your disposal: a window. Wherever you are – in an office, at home, on a bus – I want you to look out the window. Your list will consist of everything you can see from your vantage point. Other people, birds, grass, cars; write it all in your list, down to the very fine details.

If you need to focus on a person – a character in a story, the object of a poem, maybe the person you see as fitting your target audience – there’s your focus for your list. In key words, describe how they look, their personality, their physical and mental attributes, their social standing, their income, their job, their dreams and fears, hobbies, passions, everything. In five minutes, write it all down, as much as you can, and see how deep you can go. You might not need it all, but you’ll have it.

What about those who are focusing on writing an essay or a book of non-fiction? What use are descriptions or people in this case? While the exercises previous to this can be of some benefit – they’ll get you to think and to write – a way for you to focus more fully on your work is to simply do as I did: list everything you know about your topic. Give yourself five minutes, as before, and write down in key words everything you know. If you know you need to do research, ask questions in your list. Write down what you need to know. Make a list of it, and you have something to use to guide you.

That last one can also be applied to plot points in stories, when the author just can’t see a way past it. List the events leading up to that point in the story, and list what you know you happen next. List the finer details that you wrote because you knew they would be necessary for the plot – a character’s secret, an object, anything. You’re just doing as the others have done. You’re just writing what you know.

As simple an idea as it might be, writing a list is probably the easiest way to turn your thoughts into a useful resource for writing. Your descriptions are endowed with key words, your characters and audience can be identified by a tiniest detail, and the problems you have with something you don’t know will become obsolete when compared with everything you do know.

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About Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a writer, born, raised and still living in Dublin. By day he's a student and bookseller, by night he writes fiction and uses social media.
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