Plot & Structure Exercises 8.3: Lists on Lists on Lists

Going back to the chapter on GENERATION IDEAS, we find solutions to the problem of a dry well. It reminds me of the techniques Julia Cameron talks about in her books, The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write. In them, she has loads of exercises to break through writer’s block. Making image collages of your work, for example, or bribing yourself with small pleasures, stating affirmations. Also, “drawing a miner’s cup through an emotional event in your past to find gold,” or writing lists.


Lists are bulleted bursts of important information. Cameron suggests we list things that bring us joy, or things that we are invested in emotionally.


Mr Bell, in his book, recommends writing a list of nouns! Just nouns. Apparently the writer Ray Bradbury did this early in his career. List nouns that fly from your subconscious, each with their own story or past.


I’m going to do this now, for an hour, adding notes to the nouns as I go. The idea here being any one item could produce a whole story from the heart. That anyone could do the same too.


. . .


  1. Tango (specifically the lessons my grandmother gave me)
  2. Two-tone ivy plant (which used to give me pleasure until it died one holiday I was away)
  3. Trombone (which I used to play in middle school, though I never practiced)
  4. Acne (of which I was the king in high school)
  5. Style (a word Bukowski taught me)
  6. Choripan (my favorite asado appetizer)
  7. Speedmaster (the watch my father gave me for my graduation, symbolizes maturity for me)
  8. Lyrics (how I used to obsess about songs on the bus from school, listening to songs on repeat)
  9. Rotten bananas (how it’s the butt of many jokes)
  10. Vietnam (a place that left a lasting impression in me)
  11. Trolls (how different they are, in Norway or Vietnam for example)
  12. Sayulita (a beautiful coastal city, I want to visit again and again)
  13. Page 14 (from an assignment in high school, where I wrote 30 pages, but didn’t think the teacher would reach it all, so on page 14 I asked her to draw a star — she didn’t, and gave me an 80% without reading my work)
  14. 128 (a number that follows me)
  15. Bullshit (a word that follows me)
  16. Kino (a fancy name for cinema, from Russian, that my roommates used to use for scenes of high quality in movies)
  17. Subways (how I wrote them for hours and years)
  18. Lions (my spirit animal)
  19. Pepsi (how my family in Patagonia drinks it, and there I drank it too)
  20. Montblanc pen (tragically I took my father’s which had been a gift from his grandfather, but then I took it to school where it got stolen, and I knew who stole it, but I never confronted him about it)
  21. BRV (the license plate of the car my wife and I drive, but also its metonymic name)
  22. Taos (one of the most beautiful cities, where I grew up on holidays)
  23. Apache (the kind of skis I had, but also a powerful tribe)
  24. Covrigi (Romanian pretzels, which I love, and ate two of today)
  25. Ciorba (My wife’s and my favorite dish, a soup, which symbolizes our mixture)
  26. Slim fit shirts (a compliment I got once at work, about how I look good in them)
  27. Golden year (my 26th birthday marked my golden year, since I was born on the 26th; also the year I met my wife)
  28. Ballet (a form of dance that brought tears to my eyes and the eyes of my mentor, who I saw later, when I noticed him at the same theater show)
  29. Leather flask (a gift from an ex long ago, which I can’t seem to give up)
  30. Gurneys (what I woke up on one night, and terrify me)
  31. Flags (my desktop, my hobby, my trivia)
  32. Oaie (my favorite word in Romanian, symbolizing the effort of my trying to learn it)
  33. Bookshelves (which look so sexy to me, and a dream of mine is to have a room full of bookshelves)
  34. Passports (cmon)
  35. Gaucho knives (from a poem, but also from one I have and I love to use)
  36. Crocodile head (a gift from my spiritual brother)
  37. Mate gourds (what I had to throw away on my way to Romania, and what a bummer that was)
  38. Llamas (the spirit animal of an ex of mine, who talked so much about them now I cannot help but associate it with her and our stories)
  39. The Beatles (an underrated band I really appreciate)
  40. Animal Collective (a band I used to really love, especially how I loved that some of my friends got it, others didn’t)
  41. The blunt (smoke)
  42. Mushrooms (gulp)
  43. A cold beer (sip)
  44. Ski vest (a hand-me-down from my father)
  45. Dell (my first and only laptop brand)
  46. Chalk (what I used to get on my hands and pants, and my students would point out to me all the time)
  47. Mew (my second favorite pokemon)
  48. Rainbow Yoshi (who I used to pretend to be when playing with friends)
  49. Kindle (this love-hate thing I use to read)
  50. Finger nails (how kids in middle school used to tease me for having long ones)
  51. Toe nails (how they never seem to grow, and that was mentioned in a play I like)
  52. Rouge (red lip stick just gets me)
  53. Taboo (a device for a board game that made buzzing noises, but also the name of a wild porno)
  54. Tibia (a computer game I wasted my teens on)
  55. Vans (my old most favorite kind of shoes)
  56. A blue ocarina (a instrument from my favorite video game)
  57. Rotten eggs (don’t say it!)
  58. Mustang (a kind of convertible car I drove once and would like to own)
  59. 911 (an emergency hotline I called once to prove to my mom that she was wrong about something)
  60. Movie night (a weekly event my roommates and I had)
  61. Family Meal Plan (a daily dinner rotation system my roommates and I had)
  62. Cell phone key pad (how we used to punch numbers to type letters back in the day)
  63. Babies’ language (cute talk with the Mrs . . .)
  64. Cold sores (this shit that pops up on my lip once or twice a year)
  65. Beach (my zone)
  66. Mountains (my goals)
  67. Optimist (my first boat, which I used to sail around in for hours at a time)
  68. Club sandwich (this thing I used to like a lot, and would probably order again)
  69. Collages (this hobby I really like, and chills me out)
  70. Alan Watts (synonymous with truth, humor, and mind grenades)
  71. Séance (this thing a girl I used to date said once as a joke, involving tea lights and other substances)
  72. Walkabouts (glorious mind thinking while powerful feet walking, idea generator, spirit liberator)
  73. Solar system (my goal as a writer, to write a book for each planet)
  74. Birthdays (important days for us, imbued with meaning)
  75. Handshake (something I learned how to do well in college)
  76. Eye contact (something I wasn’t good at until I decided to improve)
  77. 7s with a line through them (something I noticed a friend do so I wanted to copy him)
  78. Blue gameboy with friend’s green battery cover (something my best friend and I did to prove our friendship)
  79. Home Depot (where my father used to take my brother and I and we would complain about it)
  80. Tibetan bowl bells (something my mother decorated the house with, sometimes used)
  81. Reiki (something that puts me dead to sleep in 5 mins)
  82. Roaches (the MIB movie, but also a gross infestation)
  83. Nostalgia (something I rebelled against as a kid, but now slip into)
  84. Austin (where I became who I wanted to be the rest of my life)
  85. Studio Ghibli (an animation studio I love, but which my friends and I missed when we were in Tokyo)
  86. WordPress (this, the last 5 years of my life!)
  87. The novel (my favorite medium, for its limitless possibilities in language; also all novels should praise novels)
  88. Cinnastix (a desert from a fast food delivery company, which I used to indulge in as a child)


. . .


And that’s an hour, wow.

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