My last blog post was in October. As with most of us, 2020 got in the way of my productivity. The pandemic, politics, riots, wildfires . . . each day, it seemed, there was something new to think about. Add to that a steady stream of freelance writing assignments, and blogging slipped to the bottom of my to-do list—
Did you know there’s a web site that features nothing but lists? Listverse will keep you occupied for hours. And check out Paula Rizzo’s book, Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You, where she’ll teach you how to tap into your own productivity style to get things done. Lists help us remember and to stay organized. Authors use lists. They keep journals in which they list new or unusual words, potential character names, mental images, sensory descriptions . . . Lists are like sticky post-it notes used to remind a writer of little things she or he might otherwise forget.
As we transition from 2020 to a new year, I have two writing exercises for you. Will you take the challenge?
First, think about 2020 (I know, you don’t want to!) and make some lists. Think about your strongest mental images and jot them down. What new words come to mind? Write those down, too. See if you can come up with ten lists about this past year. Then save those lists. Twenty-twenty was a year like no other in recent history. What you felt and observed in 2020, those strong emotions and images, will, one day, find their ways into your works of fiction. You’ll be glad you jotted them down.
Some of the world’s best authors use lists when writing descriptive prose. Here’s an example from an essay by John Updike:
Henry’s Variety StoreSelf-Consciousness, Updike, John, (Knopf, 1989), “A Soft Spring Night in Shillington”
A few housefronts farther on, what had been Henry’s Variety Store in the 1940s was still a variety store, with the same narrow flight of cement steps going up to the door beside a big display window. Did children still marvel within as the holidays wheeled past in a slow pinwheel galaxy of altering candies, cards and artifacts, of back-to-school tablets, footballs, Halloween masks, pumpkins, turkeys, pine trees, tinsel, wrappings reindeer, Santas, and stars, and then the noisemakers and conical hats of New Year’s celebration, and Valentines and cherries as the days of short February brightened, and then shamrocks, painted eggs, baseballs, flags and firecrackers? There were cases of such bygone candy as coconut strips striped like bacon and belts of licorice with punch-out animals and imitation watermelon slices and chewy gumdrop sombreros. I loved the orderliness with which these things for sale were all arranged. Stacked squarish things excited me—magazines, and Big Little Books tucked in, fat spines up, beneath the skinny paper-doll coloring books, and box-shaped art erasers with a faint silky powder on them almost like Turkish delight. I was a devotee of packaging, and bought for the four grownups of my family (my parents, my mother’s parents) one Depression or wartime Christmas a little squarish silver-papered book of Life Savers, ten flavors packaged in two thick pages of cylinders labeled Butter Rum, Wild Cherry, Wint-O-Green . . . a book you could suck and eat! A fat book for all to share, like the Bible. In Henry’s Variety Store life’s full promise and extent were indicated: a single omnipresent manufacturer—God seemed to be showing us a fraction of His face, His plenty, leading us with our little purchases up the spiral staircase of years.
Your second challenge is to create one descriptive paragraph using lists. You can describe a place, an event, a group of people, an experience, an object, a memory . . . the list of themes is almost endless! Work on that paragraph, edit it, refine it, polish it until it represents your very best writing. Then save it. You might need it as a writing sample someday.
These two exercises are a fantastic way to give your writing skills a workout and getting your creative juices flowing as you enter 2021.
Happy new year!
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