This is a list of things things that you like, things that you appreciate, things that you think about, know about, want to know about. This is a list of things you can write or speak about as an author. I once had a teacher assign an AUTHORity list. This was a list full of things you knew about and could write about. You can call it that if you want. I’ve made hundreds of young scholars do the same.

I think the best lists are the most diverse and varied. This is an activity that I do often in my journal to start writing. It’s a quick way to mind dump, or focus on positive things. In a way, it mirrors the activity of a gratitude journal or the suggestion in Phil 4:8. I’ve written hundreds of these, and often they serve as a way of getting started on a project.

Here’s an example of a LIST #1:

1.This sentence by Johnny Cash that was used to introduce Sarah Vowell’s book Take the Cannoli : 

I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey,

courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation,

home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination,

tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God.

– Johnny Cash

2. Books by Sarah Vowell, particularly The Partly Cloudy Patriot

3. Sentences

4. Curious people

5. Used book stores

6. Jimmy Carter

7. Vinyl records

8. The Beatles

9. Trying new things

10. TED Talks

11. Ecclesiastes

12. the Chuck Klosterman essay “Me, On Shuffle” from Esquire


You get the idea. Every time you sit down to this, your list would start with something new. I am being influenced now by things on my desk. I am listening to Abbey Road on a record player while Jimmy Carter looks at me from the cover of his memoir A Full Life and I have a copy of that Klosterman essay under a mug because we just read it in our music class.

Don’t worry about ranking your items. Sarah Vowell is not my favorite writer but she is the only one on the list right now. Notice how when you start this, one idea will lead to another or remind you of another. Watch. And watch how it can vary from broad to specific.

13. Mark Twain

14. the Author’s Note to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and the book

15. Author’s Notes

16. E.B. White’s One Man’s Meat, Second Tree from the Corner, etc.

17. James Thurber’s drawings of seals

18. The last lines of Ernest Hemingway’s stories and novels, particularly “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so.” (and others that I am not going to stand up and find at the moment)

19. Walking around ghost towns

20. Coffee

21. Playing indoor soccer

22. Watching the sun go down after a 12 hour day on a tractor

23. Laughter

24. The SNL skits involving “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With At a Party”

25. Late Night Hosts: Stewart, Colbert, Oliver, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Carson, Meyers, etc.

26. Epiphanies

27. Waking up refreshed

28. Imitating sentences

29. Synonyms

30. Eye contact with someone after it is clear that you both understand what is going on

31. Lists (as prewriting, as a genre, as stories, as juxtaposition canvas)

32. John Cage’s song 4’33”

33. Frozen blueberries in cereal

34. Reading

35. Laughing with my kids

36. Dancing with my 3 year old daughter

37. Secretly taking my son somewhere with a slingshot

38. Oddly translated phrases or sayings

39. SNL skit “Taco Town” – but more particularly the tears in my wife’s eyes when she watches it.

40. Walking around antique malls

41. Good advice

42. Getting stuff done before school

43. Feeling comfortable in the clothes you are wearing

44. Art museums

45. The School of Life videos

46. This American Life

47. Paper newspapers

48. Pine cones

49. Pilot G-2 pens

50. Gravel: the object, the word, and the sound of both

There’s 50. I could keep going. As could you. I recommend it. I have assigned this list during the school year, and the last few school years. What I don’t understand is young scholars who so adamantly claim “I’ve already done that.” Or “We did that last year.” So? It makes as much sense to me as someone doing one push up and calling that exercise. Or doing one push up some time in the distant past and saying “yeah, I already did that.”

Read a book? I did that in 5th grade. Blah blah.

Write your List #1. Keep adding to it. Or write a new one every day.

Note: I am progressively explaining each list, giving examples, and then I am going to show you how to use these lists.


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