How I Use Lists To Help Me Write Better And Smarter


Life happens. It always does. And when that time arrives, writing is always the first thing to go.

I myself often fall victim to the increasing demands of life. Of having to earn a living. Of preparing to have a family. Of dealing with emergencies. But that doesn’t mean I have to set my writing aside.

Which is why I’ve come up with these lists that turbocharge my writing.

Sometimes, the muse blesses me with her presence, and with whatever writerly planets being in retrograde, I magically get ample time to explore the magic of words.

Most times, however, it’s like trying to get a bunch of cats to line up—impossible even if I had professional training.

That’s where the system comes in. It allows me to hit the ground running when I’m finally able to face the blank page. So here they are, listed out for you, in hopes that you’d find use out of a couple.

1. The ideas list

We begin with the most common one. So common, in fact, that I’ll assume you already have one. My ideas list is where I list my… well… ideas.

But its utility lies not in the list itself. Instead, it’s in the ease of recording ideas. Which is why you need to create a system that has the least friction possible.

I personally use Obsidian since my phone or laptop is always within reach. It’s snappy enough to record quick thoughts, and it syncs to the cloud as well. Can’t ask for more, really.

I use pen and paper too. The only problem is that I might never see those notes again.

Oh, by the way, it’s important not to qualify your thoughts at this stage.

Saw a squirrel in your garden that inspired a new plot for a zombie-rodent flick? Write that down. The word ‘hummus’ sparked a particular scene in your mind? Write that down. The phrase ‘I wonder what a love letter from Satan looks like’ comes to mind but you don’t know why? Write it down.

You’ll find that these ideas, once on paper, will start to grow now that you’ve nestled them in your compost bin. You can always come back to them or ignore them forever.

Whatever you do, don’t overcomplicate things. So leave your colour coding or alphabetised indexes to your bujo instead.

2. The to-do list

Another no-brainer. You’ll probably have used this a lot too. It’s a great way to stay on track, especially if you’re easily distracted by tasks like seasoning your cast iron pan when you really should be writing.

Why are to-do lists important? Because as writers, we tend to underestimate the time we need to write. We assume that one hour’s all we need to draft a story, then we realise another day’s passed and we’ve barely written two sentences.

I keep a to-do list because it’s my way of cheating myself into action. I have tasks grouped by levels—tough, medium, easy—and I pick them based on my mood.

I use a perpetual rolling list. So no keeping checked boxes just to relish my past productivity. I delete my finished tasks and add new ones as they come along into one master list. Both personal and work tasks go here.

Even if it’s a 50/50 chance I’ll do something, it still goes into the list. That way, I don’t need to feel like I might’ve forgotten something important.

3. The reminder list

I like socialising on WordPress, but I can barely remember my own birthday. Which is why electronics come in real handy.

The reminder list is where I record every detail about bloggers like you, especially on this platform. So I’ll log down your real name (especially if you use a nickname for your blog), your backstories, any follow-ups, or thoughts on your posts that I like.

This is so that when I browse websites like KM Allan’s, for instance, I’ll know to call her Kate, as her name isn’t readily available on her blog.

Want me to remember something about you? Just drop a fact in the comment box below and I’ll add it to the list.

4. The shortcuts list

Building upon the above point, I also comment a lot on WordPress. I’d roughly estimate having written about 15,000–20,000 comments to date (that’s 20–30 every day for about three years).

Which naturally means I tend to repeat certain phrases over and over. The most common ones being ‘thanks for this post’ and ‘thanks for sharing’. You might’ve noticed them if we’ve traded comments.

Why do I do this? Because it’s my way of ending the conversation. I can’t just leave a comment hanging. That’s like having a phone conversation in the movies. You know how the characters always hang up without saying goodbye? Yeah, that drives me nuts.

So I make sure to avoid abrupt endings by including proper farewells. All I do is type ‘tftp’ or ‘tfs’ and the corresponding phrases show up.

I have a bunch of other shortcuts too, and they probably save me a couple of seconds each time I use them. Not a lot, right? But multiply that by 20,000 posts and you’ll probably stop scoffing at my horologic-frugality.

5. The learning list

Every once in a while, I find new interests within the subject of writing that I’d like to explore further. There was a period when I wanted to learn about all things journalling. My latest pursuit involves the Gregg shorthand system. Only natural, seeing how I always have a pen in hand.

I do learn about the subjects I write about too. So productivity lessons make it into this list. Health. Cooking. Mindfulness. Some subjects may not relate exactly to writing, but they still grow my craft nonetheless.

6. The to-consume list

This list is similar to the above, but it’s geared more towards consumption. So if someone mentions an interesting video or a great novel, then I write it down here.

It’s my way of scratching the itch of information hoarding without actually doing it. And when I’m bored, I just pull something off this list to consume.

7. The novel editing list

Last but not least is my novel editing list. For every manuscript, I keep a running list of questions and editing notes. Here, I ask myself questions like ‘how would the hacking work?’ or ‘what’s the quickest-acting anaesthetic?’

I also remind myself what edits I’ve made and why, just so that I won’t feel so lost in future revisions.

This isn’t the same as my world-building bible, though. The bible holds every detail about my characters, worlds, and behind-the-scenes elements, like currency. The novel editing list, on the other hand, is more like patch notes for myself.

It’s not the most useful for general writing, however, which is why I saved this for last.

Just put it on paper

I feel like a broken record saying this, but that’s not going to stop me from repeating how I’m in the ‘just write’ camp. That’s because no matter what your goals are as a writer, the only way you’ll ever achieve them is by having written.

But that also applies to the thoughts and problems bouncing about in your head. To process them better, it makes sense to put them on paper first and ask questions later. Literally.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s a list on your phone or a long-winded story on a letter pad. When in doubt, just write. There are worse things you can do after all.

What things, you ask? Well, I guess I’ll have to write a list for that.

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69 thoughts on “How I Use Lists To Help Me Write Better And Smarter

  1. As an avid to-do list maker, I love this post (and it’s not just because of the fun shoutout either 🤣). I definitely need to up my game, though. A Consume List would be perfect for when I can’t decide what to watch, and I love your Editing List suggestions. Great post, Stuart 😊.


    • A consume list definitely cuts down on mindless scrolling, because too often, I get bogged down with searching for new books, looking up their reviews, and finding the best prices, that I lose all steam for my reading streak. With a consume list though? It’s just pick and go! Thanks for stopping by, Kate!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post, especially about conversations on WordPress. I’m still figuring wordpress out, especially beyond using it as a platform for my own posts. You have also inspired me to pick up my notebook and pen, even when I feel like I have nothing new to write. Thank you


    • Can’t go wrong with the ol’ pen and paper! It’s the most trusty tool to date. Usable anywhere, under most circumstances, and future-proof. Hope you find your groove on WordPress!


  3. Stuart you nailed this blog post and I love your question “How I use lists to write better and smarter”? These lists here are applicable in real life as a Writer or Blogger.

    Also, I love how unique your style of writing is my friend, you use words and phrases that you don’t see from this WordPress Community. The to consume list is one I want to delve into because as someone who needs to itch a lot of content in regards to men’s fashion and do a lot of photography because fashion is a visual field and it is hard to keep up if you are cash poor and I am working on making my own money. Moreover, the reminder list , shortcut list and the ideas list are quite effective in recalling your words as a Writer and these lists lead to your article being well written and unique from the sea of writers out there probably writing about the same topic. If I had to choose a list, the ideas list is the best and the pen and paper method ensures your ideas are pinned down before editing the words on the screen and lastly publish the article🙌🙌✔


    • Yeah. As a writer, I have to say that the ideas list is one of the more common files I open up in a day. I hate that feeling of regret when I KNOW I had a good idea earlier, but just can’t recall. So now, whenever something is unique enough to stand out in my mind, I record it down first. I’ll think about its importance later, lol.

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment as always. I’m sure you have much different set of challenges with your niche. And it’s great to hear about your journey!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I used to browse the Reader to comment on random blogs (on posts that catch my eye), but lately it’s been mostly to network with my current readers. So I only check out the websites of commenters, and that alone takes up hours in a day. Interesting how much time blogging can eat up, eh? And there’s still the writing to do. I wonder how the high performers do it! Always great to see you here, Cindy!


  4. I’m a list-lover, too. My to-do list is always on paper, and I always bring a “Rite in the Rain” all-weather notebook on my travels (separate from my actual travel journal) to record any blog or podcast ideas from the trip. Purchasing lists are on my phone, and blogging ideas – if I’m at home – are kept in the drafts file on WP. I should probably keep a list of comments I’ve made on people’s blogs, because I’m pretty sure I’ve accidentally repeated anecdotes in comments to the same person, but I don’t. Ah well, it shows my fallibility, and that’s ok.

    I don’t mind if people don’t sign off on their comments, but clearly it bugs you, so I’ll try to end my comments with “TA out” a la Jean Luc Picard. (But I’ll probably forget.)

    TA out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually do the ‘same comments’ thing a lot too, lol. Sometimes with the blogs I visit less frequently, it’s hard to remember that I’ve been there before, and so I make the same observations about how nice-looking their blogs are, or how I love their niche. Then I realise that the comment isn’t pending approval and learn that I’ve been there before, and that I’ve said the same thing in a previous post, lol.

      I’ve been meaning to try Rite in the Rain type of notebooks! Would probably work well with a pencil too.

      And yeah, the sign-off thing only bugs me when I don’t do it, lol. I don’t behold that responsibility over others.

      SD out!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting… I’m extraordinarily bad at lists. Or even my calendar. I usually do everything from the top of my head… I sometimes write a to-do for the day, if my head is really full. I sometimes feel like lists become another thing on the list, if that makes sense. It also means I forget ideas, but I don’t care. Too many ideas to be able to execute them anyway.

    Do you think that in the hypothetical case of you quitting lists cold turkey, you would be less efficient?


    • Yes I would. When it comes to ideas, I definitely would lose 90% of what I’ve written on there had I not written them down.

      When it comes to to-dos, I’ve found that it’s not the listing of tasks that help, but the freeing of the mind. There’s always this nagging feeling that I’m forgetting to do something, and keeping a to-do helps with that. The items on that list don’t get done as efficiently as I’d hope, to be honest, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post as usual. I have my list too and some of them are the same as yours. The idea list and the things to do list are the ones I go to often. I also have a research list and list of publications to pitch to. I am not sure how I would be successful as a writer otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, being a writer is so much more about admin duties than the actual writing itself. Then there’s the marketing, and that needs its own list too, lol. I’m actually pretty agnostic when it comes to tools like lists, but I too sometimes wonder how I can remember things without them.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. #1 puts it into motion for me. Ideas lists goad me to write about the ideas. For example, I nab an idea for a blog post and immediately record the title in my backoffice. From there I tend to write the post quickly solely because the idea stares back at me and I feel guilty for not acting on it LOL….or I feel inspired to ship it.



  8. Great post! I love the idea of the “reminder list”, it is very sweet that you actively try to remember some random facts about your blogging friends, and it is very appreciated! I love making lists too, especially nice to-do lists where I can see excatly what I achieved – there’s nothing really like the satisfaction of ticking off a task that’s been hanging there for some time ahah! I have a list of ideas for my blog on Notion but I’m considering starting a notebook of blog post ideas, as I somehow feel more creative when I write things down on paper – and it will force me to “just write it down” instead of thinking about my colour coding and categories!


    • I’m a sucker for pen and paper too, but gosh is it frustrating sometimes to have an idea and not be close to my journal or a piece of scrap paper. That’s why I prefer digital for this use case. At least my phone’s always around somewhere.

      Oh yeah, it’s always great to bring up a fact that my blogging friends mentioned a few months back just because. Makes me feel like I’m putting out more positivity into the world. Speaking of which, I guess I better start stalking you for info I can bring up in the future! :P

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I wish I was so organized in my listing styles; I basically have a to do list on my physical planner and a reminder list on my phone. And then more reminders on post-its that I later find in my laptop case, my dresser drawer, my car, or spilling from my bag when I’m about to teach my class. I’d work to abandon my post-it notes but now I think they kind of add to the quirky writing professor vibe I’ve established lol. Thanks for sharing :D


  10. Stuart I feel you need a list to manage your lists and BTW I still have not clicked it. (LOL) I considered Obsidian but I cannot get my head around it. If you know of any good example sites let me know.


  11. Great post, thanks for sharing. Ha! No really, great post. It makes me think I need to develop a system for writing. Since I’ve slowly come back to writing it’s been a challenge to gain any consistency.

    I just need to do BISAW (Butt In Seat And Write)!


  12. Thanks, Stuart! I loved learning a new word — horologic! I actually looked it up! Left to my own waywardness, if I hadn’t slowed down…my brain would’ve linked your thought – odd as it sounds – to horoscopes? 😂 Oh my. Well, maybe the root word origins are the same – time/space – big, big picture? My other silly aside is this…when I read “lists that turbocharge my writing” do you know what my (again) wayward brain decoded? “lists that SABOTAGE my writing”. I think I need some extra self-reflective time today…some horologic tweaking…to reset my wild cerebellum. So many good nuggets from your post. Appreciate you! 😎


    • I wouldn’t have known that word either had it not been for my passing interest in watches lol. It sounds like your brain is a rebel for sure. You know what lists sabotage my writing? Grocery lists :p. Because then I’ll be thinking what dishes to cook and how to make sure I use up any rare ingredients I get from that run, lol. I appreciate you too!


  13. Funny about the shortcut lists. I don’t feel you’re commenting on my posts from some cookie-cutter list at all. You sound authentic every time, which is why I always look forward to your posts and comments. And o ya, don’t think I didn’t see that bit. The one that went “…preparing to have a family.” So can I be the first to congratulate you here pal?! LOL!!


    • That’s great to know, since my shortcuts mainly function as a goodbye. The original messages themselves need to be written from scratch. Lol keen eye on the family thing! Still lotsa planning to do though. A lot of unknowns. Great to have you here always!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Loved this post! I started making a running to do list too but I constantly keep forgetting to update it. I guess I’ll have to write a note to remember to update said list in the to-do list lol

    Liked by 1 person

  15. One of my favorite lists I’ve ever written, because I am a person with functional disabilities, is my to-done list. I had a hard time recognizing how much I accomplished every day with my limited energy because I was instead focusing on what wasn’t getting done. So I started keeping a list of what got done each day.
    Wrote 10 words? Went on the list. Took a shower? Definitely went on the list. I still keep a to-do list of sorts, but it’s become more of a priority list. A list of what’s the most important things that need to get done during the week.
    Some of your lists are intriguing. I’ll have to explore whether they work for me. Thank you for posting this.


    • Ooo, that’s a unique perspective indeed. I have heard of to-done lists a lot, but have never once tried it, lol. But I do sometimes write the tasks I’ve just finished (that’s not on the to-do list) just so I can check them off, lol. Do let me know how your exploration goes!


  16. As a list maker, I greatly appreciated this post, though I was looking for specific foods on your to-consume list. Of course, who would need a list for that?

    Jeez! I’ve never thought of how many comments I’ve left in the close to four years I’ve been blogging, though I’m a person who typically comments if I take the time to read someone’s post. I’m being far more selective in reading blog posts these days, so take it as a compliment that I’m still here, Stuart.


    • Lol, the comments sure do add up, don’t they? I was surprised at the amount myself, after doing the mental calculations. I’m sure it’s in the statistics somewhere but I don’t know how to track the number of comments I’ve left on other blogs.

      And for sure, I’m super thankful you’d stop by even though you’re letting off the blogging throttle!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Well that is a lot of lists, Stuart! I have a work to do list, a blogging to do list, an around-the-house and errand to do list, a reading list, plus an idea list for blog posts. I probably have some others, but I can’t think what they are at this moment. Maybe I need a lists of lists!


      • Ha ha. The funny thing is they’re all in different places but I keep them in a consistent place. My work to do list, for example is at the back of a notebook that is always on my desk. My blogging to do list is in a folder that I keep with the journal I use to write notes for blog posts I’m working on. My home/errand to do list is in another notebook. Notebooks everywhere! LOL


  18. I do have an idea list. multiple of them in fact. my articles to write list, the story idea list, where I note the ideas which I would like to turn into full-fledged stories at some point (there are 83 ideas there as of this comment), and game idea list where I note the games I want to develop, if my programming skills ever get good enough.

    I also have consume lists as well, one for anime, one for books, one for films, and two are for animated films and animated things in general, outside of anime.

    I want to know though, how do I create shortcuts like you? I do think they would be really handy for me as well.

    I don’t use cloud for my lists. all of them are txt files. Perhaps it is not safe to keep them like this, but I just can’t seem to give up the convenience of simple text files.

    Thanks for this article, Stuart.


    • I’m not too sure how you’d do it in other operating systems, but for Mac, there’s the menu in Keyboard > Text. They work well for me because these shortcuts carry over to my phone too. I also use shortcuts for my email addresses so I don’t need to type the full email every time I need it.

      This is why I’ve fallen in love with Obsidian. They’re both .txt files AND on the cloud.

      Thank you for sharing your list of lists too!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I wouldn’t be able to function without all my lists! I was going to make you a list of all the things I like about lists, but… I so agree about making it as easy as possible, with no color coding or anything complicated, but there is a great sense of satisfaction in crossing things off. My favorite list is my Recommendations…from books, websites, blogs, movies, etc that I get from others. Thanks for sharing! (Lol)


    • Lol at that last sentence. Touche! The thing about the Recommendations list is that it only continues to grow. There’s only so much time yet so much to consume, amirite? Love your thoughtful comment!


  20. Love this post! Razz and I both love lists though I’ll admit he’s better at it than I am. I always have a running list of tasks that need doing around the house – repairs, cleaning, organizing etc. Now that I’m back into bujo again I have all kinds of lists in there.
    Btw it drives me nuts when they hang up without saying goodbye too! 😂 I also hate that you rarely hear a please or thank you in movies! I could make a list of things done in movies that I hate but that might be going too far.
    I’ll stick to the useful lists. Have a great day and thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Another one to add to the list: people who order full courses of food only to not take one bite. It’s interesting the liberties taken by movies to take care of the ‘logistics’, lol.

      I’m starting to learn the differences between digital and analogue, and some people require the minimalism to focus better. I think I’m one of them. While I use both, I feel more focused when using pen and paper.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing :P

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree about please and thank you. I had a class of teenagers (about 16). They didn’t think they needed to say please because they were talking to their friends- but also thought please and thank you meant the same thing 😳🤦‍♀️

      Liked by 1 person

  21. We have a to do list for things that need to be done around the house. Actually, it’s my wife’s list of stuff she wants me to get done around the house. I have a love-hate relationship with the list. But do you know what she really hates, when I go off the list. I do a task that was never on the list, then write it on the list and cross it off immediately. 😂
    But seriously, I do find a list very helpful in coming up with writing ideas.
    Thanks Stuart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lolol. That’s how I treat my to-do list too, sometimes (pen and paper version only). I get sidetracked and complete an entire task that I didn’t plan to. Well, I’ll just add it to my list and cross it off. Satisfying :P

      An ideas list is necessary for me, because I tend to forget said ideas very soon after.


  22. A list of lists, Stuart. There is something Dali-esque about the thought. I like to create one first thing in the morning to keep track of my day. By lunchtime I’m trying to line-up cats (I love that analogy). My wife has lists to an art form. I ,on the other hand, need some training. 😎

    Liked by 2 people

      • I think you are, Stuart. There was recently something in the press, here in the UK, about a women who collected discarded lists. These were usually ones she found in car parks near shops, or on walks. She was creating an exhibition as she felt they moved beyond lists and were part of a social history.

        Liked by 1 person

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