The Therapy of List Writing

I love a list. I will write a list any damn day of the week. A shopping list, a To Do list, a packing list.

When I was a kid on summer holidays, and the days were wearing out, long and endless, I used to write lists of all the things I had to look forward to, all the things I loved and was excited about. I could fill up pages.

I write myself a mini-goals list every year or so, and have done since I was about 16. I keep them in a box my grandfather bought me, and occasionally I pick them out, carefully stacked in order, and watch on paper as my dreams changed and developed. I wanted to get a car, I wanted to work, I wanted to write novels, I wanted to find love, I wanted to go back to school.

Watching the lists change, and how my wants adapted as I either achieved things or left them behind, was fascinating. Some items were ones of whimsy (‘learn Greek so I can pass it on to my kids’ – seriously, I’m gonna learn a language I never spoke so I can teach other people who will probably never use it?) and some were consistent (write another book, write a series, get an agent, get a publisher, get book turned into movie/tv) and remind me that everything’s a stepping stone, and when you look back, you’re further along than you thought.

In my Writing for Wellbeing classes, I often encourage the use of lists. Structure can be both freeing and comfortable – it can hold you. You can’t run off on a ten page rant if you’ve got a list, it’s simple, straightforward, short.

I often encourage participants to write a list of things they’re grateful for, or things that make them happy. Doing this in a group can be a really affirming and positive experience, because everyone else’s list will remind you of things you’d never considered. It’s also a really lovely way to learn about other people, through the things that they love.

If you think you might want to write a list, or explore list writing as therapeutic, I’d encourage listing the positive over the negative. And one that can sometimes be hard, and feel a little uncomfortable, but has endless benefits, is to write a list of things that are wonderful about you.

Have a go, be aware of how you feel when you write it. Are you embarrassed? Did you struggle to come up with things? Did you feel conceited or arrogant? Did you look around for things other people have complimented you on to justify your choices? We so often dismiss the good things about ourselves and focus on the bad. It may feel hard and uncomfortable, but this kind of list can really change your perspective and your mood.

Let me know if you try list writing, and what you think!



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