I've Got a Little List

I've Got a Little List

Busy people make “to-do” lists when what they need is to reflect and create “stop-doing” lists.
-Francis Shenstone

List-making gets a bad rap. We tend to associate list-making with a tedious type A activity instead of as a potentially creative exercise. After all, the first lists started as mark-making on rocks or cave walls. What started as a visual inventory of the surrounding world then flowed into a narrative of daily life.

rock wall with petroglyph art drawings

My lists include the obligatory to-dos but I also take notations of the world around me, of things I do not want to lose track of like colors or garden ideas or people I’ve met or potential painting titles, or a bit of prose. I keep one master list filled with everything from calling the plumber to noting the pigments for my next color study to a book I should read.

Most Sundays I put the creative list-making in my sketchbook and consolidate the undone tedious errands onto a fresh page. This simple system works well for me, but everyone has their own method.

colorful stack of narrow notebooks used for list-making and some apples

The writer Ray Bradbury on the power of lists in his own creative process:

 I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds. Glancing over the list, I discovered my old love and fright having to do with circuses and carnivals. I remembered and then forgot, and then remembered again, how terrified I had been when my mother took me for my first ride on a merry-go-round. With the calliope screaming and the world spinning and the terrible horses leaping, I added my shrieks to the din. I did not go near the carousel again for years. When I really did, decades later, it rode me into the midst of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

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