Cover image for how Lists help tell stories with a laptop with post-it notes

My scattered brain loves lists. They calm and organize my distractible why-did-I-come-into-this-room brain. When my brain isn’t preoccupied with finding my glasses or coffee cup, lists feed my creativity.

Lists can be the memory-collector’s best friend. To illustrate this point, I found myself making a list about making lists.

Lists help you remember

Lists, if you don’t forget where you put them, are more permanent than memory. They can become an Idea Bank to store your ideas. (Hmmm… That’s a section of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life).

Lists are not just for Santa

Lists aren’t just for the big guy with presents. Start making your own.

Lists help you share.

As Dr. Deborah A. Abbott recently pointed out during her speech at the Detroit Public Library, The Gift of Legacy: Who’s Telling Your Story?, lists can help others get to know you. You can write about the technology you’ve seen in your lifetime, people you met, history you witnessed, or even TV shows from your childhood. (Hint: Pinterest is a great way to do this too!)

Lists can be short and sweet.

We’re not always in the mood to write deep, revealing stories about ourselves and our past. Writing and sharing a simple list allows us to keep things light-hearted (for instance, “My all-time favorite books,” “Things most likely to catch fire in my kitchen” or “Major appliances that broke in 2013”). In addition, list can help us articulate things we’re not ready to delve into, such as “Friends I’ve outlived” or “The worst five days of my life.”

Lists help you organize your thoughts.

Lists not only lend organization to chaotic thought processes. They can also give voice to your stifled subconscious. As you make lists, categories and themes emerge—and sometimes what emerges will surprise you.

Lists themselves can be meaningful.

Census LIst

Census lists give us a snap shot into our ancestors’ lives

Linton Weeks makes this point in 10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists. Perhaps you could make a list of people that have made a difference in your life or teachers that you’d like to go back in time and thank.

Think how indispensable census lists are to family historians. Although we crave more information, these lists give us a snap shot into a relative or ancestors past.

Lists can become writing prompts

This isn’t surprising. It’s basically what we do when we brainstorm a topic. It’s especially true when we limit the scope of our list to a “meaningful” subject matter. Our lists morph into stories, journal entries, and scrapbooking themes.

For instance, I was recently working on a simple list of “Things I Didn’t Know.” The list on its own is mildly interesting and revealing. However, I found myself adding details under each point. A total investment of twenty minutes of list making provided me with the raw material for six stories to write about.

Your Turn

Before you start making lists of your own, here’s an idea: Sign up for my mailing list (see the left panel). You’ll get monthly memory sharing tips and resources.

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