List Making & The Creative Process

One of my Post-It lists

A list on my work monitor

I love making lists. Big-picture lists, daily lists, grocery lists, checklists … you name it, I list it.

I even make little list tools that sometimes other people enjoy. (For example, click here for my Weekly Goal SheetHere are specific instructions on how to use it.)

Lists are a personal thing—they speak to the ineffable in us—which is why it’s so enjoyable to look at how or what other people list. Once there was someone who found my lists so representative of me (or perhaps so neatly adorable) that he kept one as a memento.

This month’s Glimmer Train bulletin offers a thoughtful piece by Yelizaveta P. Renfro. She describes how lists play into her creative writing process. (My process is rather similar!)

My stories and essays begin with lists. On whatever is at hand—and often in the margins or endpapers of books I’m reading—I jot down fragments in the order that my mind offers them. This first step is a purging of these pieces, without structure. It’s notating in shorthand what will go in the container, whether the container is an essay or a story. 

Go read the full piece for excellent insights and inspiration.

For more celebration of lists (or voyeuristic peeks at others’ lists):

Also—I’m curious about other writers’ lists. Want to share a picture of yours, along with an explanation of how you use lists? If enough people are willing to share, I might start a feature on this blog. Drop me an e-mail or leave a comment if you’d be willing to participate.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Life Philosophy, Worksheets & Handouts.

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 publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

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. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

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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[…] List Making and the Creative Process by WD Editor Jane Friedman […]

Joel Friedlander

Jane, a great group of links, thanks. As a long-time list maker, I reflexively make lists for any project I get involved in. And I’m fascinated by other people’s lists. One of the secret pleasures of list lovers is coming upon someone else’s discarded list, it’s like a form of “found poetry” that implies the life behind the list. I even once wrote a blog post called The List of Lists, which was incredibly satisfying in a meta- sort of way. Thanks for the inspiration.

Skipper Hammond

When the greatest joy in life became ticking an item off a to-do list, I knew I needed to get a life.


I love lists! I don’t have much at the moment but I can’t wait to see how others organize a crazy life. I usually have a monthly objective list, wishlist, daily and weekly list as well as a calendar. I like to plan.


I don’t make lists because I am the kind of person that will keep managing lists until the day is over – and continue the next day.

Paul Dawn

Been making list for a very, very long time!

One of my favorite programs, is 3M’s Electronic Post-It Notes. Love being able to save them, back them up, etc.

Just wondering if you ever heard of them. They are just like the regular post it notes and ya can print them too!

Again, thanks for sharing!

aka The Mayor 🙂


I do love my to do lists…perhaps my fave of all time was one I must have written in the waning days of 2009 or the first few of 2010. I didn’t find it until sometime early this year when I was cleaning up one of those ever-growing piles of loose paper, and when I did I could not help but sit down and reminisce about what had been an amazing year. The list was titled simply “2010,” and contained only 6 words, each representative of a pretty large goal for me. Without following along and crossing off, I had… Read more »

Dawn Herring

Jane,  I can so relate to your list making; I am always making lists: grocery lists, to do lists, lists of topics and books I want to read. Plus I always list the #JournalChat Pick of the Day in my Refresh Journal. I am reading Creating Your Best Life which consists of making lists of all kinds of categories for different life lists.  One thing lists do is make life more focused; that is often my purpose for making one. Plus, if I write it down, I’m more apt to remember it.  Lots of folks like to write lists in… Read more »

Cynthia Morris

Lists save my life in the revision process. I make and plough through list after list to make sure I’ve gotten everything. 

For revisions, the list helps take out any emotional turmoil I may be feeling about writing. It gives me concrete steps to take. Without lists, I don’t think I could have written a novel.

Susan Klement

I love lists, too. I like to make lists with one color pen, then use another to make updates, like where I did something to move the item along, but there is still more yet to do, and a third color to mark things that are complete. It sounds busy, but it actually makes it easy for me to see where things stand at a glance. I might use a fourth color to add priorities after I write everything down. I find it easier to prioritize after everything is on paper. I also take the attitude that lists should contain things… Read more »

Susan Klement

True, but I like to make detailed lists so I have more things to check off, ;). Well, that and so I don’t forget some of the details. So, update project statuses might be a task that won’t take more than an hour or so, but if I enumerate all 12 project numbers, I can check that I didn’t miss any and make a more impressive looking list, making me feel all accomplished. It does mean I use a full 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper for most lists. I find the key is not stressing out about missing… Read more »

Lisa Cron

Love this post — lists are a way of giving the day context — they can make all the difference. The only thing I’d add is that I find it can help to give a time limit to each task, because it’s so easy to dive so deeply into one thing that everything else fades. Plus deadlines give a sense of urgency to what you’re doing (even if it’s only answering email). After all, nothing focuses the mind better than a rapidly approaching deadline.  And when it comes to actually acting on a list, here’s a great piece of advice… Read more »

Steven Potter

David Allen writes in “Getting Things Done” how extremely effective list making can be, especially when your group the things on your lists by context; i.e. referring to the tools or resources you need to act on them.

I use the electronic list makers, “Outliner” and “Omnifocus”. Both very useful tools.

Dave Malone

Timely post for inspiration. With some impending deadlines, I’ve had to go into list consolidation mode right now!

Patricia Gligor

Jane, I enjoyed your article. I’m a list maker too! For me, once it’s down on paper, I can free up my mind and I’m able to move on to other things. If I try to store it loosely in my head, it often gets lost and I’m left wondering, “Now what was I supposed to remember?” A serious waste of time and energy and a source of frustration. I keep a pen and paper in every room. That way, when I think of something that I want to remember, I jot it down. Sometimes, it’s as simple as “Remember… Read more »

Patricia Gligor

I enjoyed your article. I’m a list maker too; anything to simplify my life! I keep a pen and paper in every room and, when I think of something that I want to be sure I’ll remember, I jot it down. That way, I don’t have to struggle later, wondering, “What was it that I was supposed to remember?” A lot less stress and frustration!

Patricia Gligor

I wanted to mention that I enjoyed meeting you a couple of years ago at the Mad Anthony Writers Conference. In your talks, you gave us a lot of information on how to achieve an online presence and how important that presence is in these changing times in publishing.
It’s taken me awhile to “digest” the information. I may have completed writing two women’s suspense novels but I’m a novice when it comes to blogging, etc. Please excuse the “two” postings below; there should’ve only been one! Live and learn, I guess.

[…] List Making & The Creative Process | Jane Friedman If you know me well, you know I am a fiend for making lists. They help. Seriously. […]

[…] organizational tool I’ve found extremely helpful is the Weekly Goal Sheet, also created by Friedman.  It has sections for listing things you’d like to complete during […]

[…] List Making & The Creative Process | Jane Friedman […]

Lisa Schamess

I am very happy to have stumbled on your post, especially the Weekly Goal List. I just wrote about the terror of facing down all the things I have to do this morning (

I toughed it out and came out with a list of 70 things. Now all I have to do is, uh, DO them.Reading this has helped me a lot today!


Wow!! Please suggest some to-do list for my blogs as well.

[…] organizational tool I’ve found extremely helpful is the Weekly Goal Sheet, also created by Friedman.  It has sections for listing things you’d like to complete during […]

[…] of her weekly goal sheets. They’re perfect for the writing life. You’ll find it at her post on list making and the creative […]

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