There are scads of digital organizational and writing tools floating around on the Internet, all designed to make us more efficient and hopefully, creative. To be honest, I haven’t explored many of these: Being a paper-and-pen writer, I’ve been happy to stick with the basics. That’s why a story called, “The List…A Simple but Effective Tool,” by Jan Siebold, a novelist and teacher, caught my eye.
In it, Jan describes a writing seminar which included a special tour of the Museum of Modern Art. The writers were asked to pick a work of art that “spoke” to them and to list 20 things/images/ideas that the piece of art evoked. Then they were asked to list 20 more — and then another 20.
Not surprisingly, everyone found it increasingly difficult to add new ideas to the list. At the same time, as Jan notes, “…the later additions to the list were understandably the more creative, outside-the-box ideas….When we finally wrote about the piece of art, those later additions became the ideas that made our writing less mundane and predictable. Since that exercise, I have used the listing technique to begin any piece of writing.”
What a simple, yet powerful technique for igniting a new piece of work! Jan also keeps a running list as a piece develops — jotting down new ideas as they crop up. Not every idea finds its way into a piece, but some end up on a list for a different project. According to Jan, “This seemingly simple technique has helped me to dig deeper into my writing.”
Jan also uses this technique in her writing workshops for both children and adults. Though she hears groans when she asks for another 20 entries from her students, she’s found that they have much more content to tap into when they begin to write. The results are often “rich and full of details that might not have appeared without the preliminary listing activity.”
In addition to using this technique to start a piece, it sounds like a great approach for jump starting one when you’re stalled and not sure how to keep going. Isn’t it comforting to know that sometimes the simplest strategy can be the most helpful? I’m going to try this. How about you? If you do, I’d love to hear whether it works for you. Write on!