For the Love of Lists

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my interest in autistic writers—and that isn’t the first time I’ve tooted the “I’m a writer” horn, either—yet I haven’t shared my writing process on this blog. So this week, I thought it might be fun to write about how I write. Then you can see if this autistic writer found a method you didn’t know about. It’ll be fun.

But before I get into it, this is the third week of weekly updates: I’m excited about that. I’ve been out of it for awhile with this blog, as well as my Wattpad projects and my poetry WordPress. I thrive on doing things on the same day, every week—or at least, publishing things on the same day, every week; my first drafts are like throwing darts at a balloon wall—so the sooner I get back to routine, the faster I’ll feel like a champ. Today I’m feeling like a champ.

…Not like a real champ.

Like an in-my-own-autistic-world champ.

It’s way better than being a real champ (whatever that looks like).

Writing First Drafts in Lists

I just love making lists, then pruning them into paragraphs.

Here’s a list I drafted after I wrote, “But before I get into it, this is the third week of weekly updates: I’m excited about that.”

(I write out-of-order a lot; like I’ll write 1000 words, scroll up 400 words, stick another 500 words in there, then go back to the beginning, add 300 words, etc.)

(Welcome to my writing process…?)

Ex. 1, Stream-of-Consciousness Stim Lists

  1. Is it a real thing once you do it three times?
  2. When does it become real?
  3. Is anything real?
  4. Is this what studying philosophy is going to do to me?
  5. Can you tell I like to make lists of questions?
  6. Would you believe it if I told you listing is one of my stims?
  7. Specifically, I find it soothing to make lists in a rhythm.
  8. Oops, the last one wasn’t a question.
  9. Well…at least the rhythm is good.
  10. The rhythm is a single-line phrase.
  11. And the rhythm lasts 4-6 seconds per turn.
  12. Every 6 seconds, another thought leaps to another.
  13. Did you know it takes 6 seconds for you process an emotion?
  14. That’s why, if you’re angry, it feels like you can’t stop being angry.
  15. You can’t just stop in 1 second.
  16. But you know what you can do?
  17. You can tell yourself, “I am safe,” on broken record, six times.
  18. This pulls me out of most rumbles.
  19. Did you know some autistic people experience rumbles before meltdown?
  20. But did you know not all autistic people experience rumbles?
  21. And did you know autistic people all experience meltdowns differently?
  22. I bet you didn’t know that meltdowns go up in frequency during autistic burnout.
  23. So I’m applying for a PhD in the Logic and Philosophy of Science, with an Emphasis in Behavioral and Biological Sciences, to finally certify myself—

That last one lasted longer than 6 seconds.

The list is broken. Normally, I would collapse the listing format, then make light edits, so that the above content fit into 1-3 paragraphs. Also, I’d work on the sentence variety, because that first draft is shitty. Anyway, here’s the thing with listing: I never have writer’s block. This method of drafting always works.

It’s not my favorite method, though. If I have a burning idea, and I know it won’t cool off before the writing session is over, then I can afford myself a cleaner, more structured first draft, so I’ll use bullet points and indents…

Ex. 2, Structured Lists

  • What is a real champ?
    • Someone who society decides is a champion.
    • This means it’s an illusion upheld by social standard.
    • But social standard doesn’t offer equality to all people.
    • Therefore, it’s best to find a safe, alternative standard.
  • What is a champ in my internal world?
    • Someone who I decide is a champion.
    • This means I have control over who to love.
    • This also means I can self-love.
    • Therefore, in my internal world, I am a champ.

The structured lists don’t collapse into paragraphs; rather, they set up a skeleton of topic sentences. I never know if a topic sentence is going to require one paragraph of exploration, or if the idea will proliferate into other, finer details; that’s the fun part of extending the organized and indented bullet-list into a fully-fleshed second draft. And that flushing is also the most creative part of pre-writing, far as I can tell.

I used to struggle with finishing chapters, until I realized that optimizing fun helped me reach end-goals. So the real lesson here isn’t that structured lists are fun; it’s that I personally find them fun—the act of building foreshadowing for my next writing session through mining topic sentences? delicious!—but if this isn’t looking very enjoyable to you, then you need to think about what optimizing fun means when it comes to writing.

Returning to the feeling of fun is the true motivator.

Other Ways to Write First Drafts

Some writers think research is where the fun happens. They’ll spend forever reading, then a tiny bit writing. Once in awhile, I become that writer. I’m especially vulnerable to falling down the rabbit hole of instructional videos on YouTube as I try to understand the doings of a character.

Other writers prefer to lean into a different hobby, like video games, until creativity comes creeping up on them. This method doesn’t work so well for me, just because I get impatient, waiting for creativity to visit. I’d rather go to creativity’s house and roll around on their living room carpet.

For me, it’s all about lists and flowcharts. Or it’s about drawing and carving woodblocks, until my fine art tells me what my words need to say. If you have an interesting way to pre-write or first draft, I’d love to hear it.



Kourtnie View All →

Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at or

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