We gather in someone’s living room on the third Wednesday of every month. Laurel. Charlene. Kim. Lexi. Rina. The members of my writing group.

In May, Laurel hosts. I take a seat on the floor, cross-legged beside her coffee table. I’ve brought along my bag of things that make me legitimate. Two half-filled notebooks. A sharpened pencil. One old memoir that needs overhauling.

I’m eager to be seen tonight, heard by kindred spirits who know what it means to face blank pages. Nowhere else am I surrounded by people who so deeply understand this part of my interior life:

The hopes and disappointments. The thrill that accompanies a small success.

We set fresh goals and admit where we have fallen short. But look at what you have accomplished, we point out. It is something. You created something.

We commiserate. We meditate. Complete writing prompts and share the resulting pieces out loud. Each month, the topic is random. Tonight’s is the following:

“List Ten Reasons Why You Should Not Write Your Life’s Story.”

My gut twists. I’ve grown weary of list-style essays, of posts with titles featuring numbers.

Seven Secrets of a Summer Slacker.

Fourteen Clues You’re the Mother of Boys.

Twenty One Questions to Ask Your Tween Daughter.

The appeal of these posts is obvious, with their easily-digestible advice, white space, cute photos. They are short, often clever, and oh-so pinnable. But my issues are too complicated for a simple list. And I don’t have a Pinterest account.

I remain (singularly, it seems) dispinterested.

Tempted to compose Forty Two Clues You Might Be A Dinosaur, I tackle the assigned prompt. Longhand. In my notebook. With a No. 2 pencil.

Before our meeting, I receive a critique of my most recent manuscript from another friend.

“I knew while I was reading what kind of mindset you’ve been in. This story was sad. Sad sad sad,” she told me. “And then, a little more sad.”

I do not want to be sad.

But lately, when I’m excavating words (digging deep, aiming for authentic) what I dust off is dark. All around me, people are suffering and their pain takes its toll.

“How can I help?” I ask, although I feel completely helpless. What can I offer besides my love? What good does “love” do when someone is unemployed or sick or hurt beyond repair?

List Ten People You Care About Who Are Struggling. 

Ten may not be enough.


The next day, I sit at the computer in my sweatpants, a bowl of oatmeal in my lap. Jack and Karly are almost done with another school year and I must revise my sad, sad story.

Distracting me are these thoughts: Time is short. I am lucky. There are big dreams still to achieve. More sentences to write and paragraphs. Chapters. Entire manuscripts. Then query letters. Synopses. My mind races but I am paralyzed.

If I do nothing, I cannot be rejected.

Failure by default.

Eight Signs You Are Ready to Quit!

I step away and fold the laundry.

On Saturday, I attend a graduation party for the son of a lifelong friend. Soon, he’ll be off to college. It’s a time of great joy and nostalgia. Celebrating with the graduate are his proud parents, other family members and friends.

Smiles abound. Smalltalk and hugs. Reminders that life is good.

Monday, procrastinating at my computer, I’m wearing sweatpants again and eating a sandwich. On Facebook, yet more lists. I cannot find a blog post that isn’t numbered. What am I doing here?

Do I even belong?

Will I ever be worthy?

In my head, my own list now. It is brief and to the point.

Five Strategies For Julie:

Keep going.

Keep going.

Keep going.

Keep going.

Keep going.

I set down my sandwich and get to work.

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29 thoughts on “Lists

  1. I very much wish I had an in-person writing group. (That’s my first thought from this, so I wanted to be sure to mention it.)

    The rest of it? The lists and pithy titles and endless shortening of information, thoughts, ideas, stories? I struggle with it. I wonder where to find my place, because it doesn’t feel like it’s between those swatches of white space and lovely images. I don’t have answers, of course, but I will take your final list to heart: keep going, keep going, keep going.

    There are still people who want words, books, and stories not curated for a Pinterest account. I know there are.

  2. Bailey

    You have to keep going. I am an awful writer. I read often but I still cannot articulate well through writing or speech. It is difficult to not be envious of people such as yourself. You have the ability to bring light to issues your loved ones might be experiencing. So please keep writing even if it is sad.

  3. Jen

    My connection to this piece has nothing to do with writing, obviously. But I feel you. I can offer you my love. I have to believe that knowing someone out there is there for you, to love & support you, does help. It has to since sometimes it’s all we have to offer. I love you, Jules!

    And get on Pinterest already! Don’t be a hater! 🙂

  4. I think of you so much as I work on my own writing. I think of what holds us back, of what that wall is that stops us from stepping over to the other side of freedom. We need to drop the restraint. The fear of other eyes seeing our work, and to silence our own judge telling us we need to sound correct before we can write. THe superficial barely on the surface that only hints at the real depth of our words. What we need to do is run wild. Run for ourselves. Do OUR own work in OUR lives and I’m typing this more for myself than for you, dear Julie.

  5. I can barely stand to read lists. I just want to read some heaert. Maybe some haiku.

    I’d love to be in a writing group. With you preferably. Can I list 10 reasons why? xo

  6. We are the lucky ones to be in a group together with you. That’s what we all have to do, is keep going.

    Meanwhile, I love your not-lists! You know I share that loathing even as I get assignments to write the same.

  7. 40,000 reasons that I love Julie. xoxoxo

  8. First, I need to second Angela’s comment. I wish, so badly, I had an in-person writing group. While my two partners in writing crim are amazing beyond belief, I think there’s something to be gained from meeting face-to-face.

    Second, yes.

    A million times yes. I hate list posts. Hate the fact that the blogosphere – a place that was once where one could connect with people of like or different minds – is now filled with lists and “You wouldn’t believe what happened when she opened the door” click bait. Pinable pictures have replaced actual recipes and craft projects, leaving me yelling at the computer, “How MUCH baking soda??” and peering closely at beautifully posed photos hoping to catch a glimpse of the measuring cup size.

    Worse, I hate the vacuum it’s created. Rising to the top are the reality show versions of blogs, the glurge focused on numbers and page views rather than actually crafting a story that connects. And all the while, the posts, the beautiful, heartfelt, carefully crafted posts languish below the surface. I keep waiting for cream to rise. I have to think the pendulum will swing and that people do want more than cotton candy.

    In the meantime, I keep going and going and going…following your last list to the letter.

  9. I an deeply envious of your real life writing group.

    I hate the lists and soundbites, even while the pithy one I wrote about publishing my recent novel is literally the most popular post on my blog. Sigh.

    I want to read your stories, be they sad or joyous, or that brilliant blend of the two that defines your writing here. Just keep going.

  10. Courtney

    Please keep going! Love you and your words whenever I get to experience them. Your next chapter in writing will be amazing – remember, I had a dream! xoxo

  11. Now your 5 strategies is a numbered list I can get behind! I think in lists when it comes to my to-do’s. But otherwise, I tend to think more in flowing form than lists.

  12. Abby Gardner

    I know nothing about writing butI can form sentences and have them make sense. You, however, can take words and form sentences that capture moments, feelings, and countless other intangible things that most of us struggle to just articulate. We have been related for almost 20 years but we don’t know each other well. That having been said, let me assure you–you should keep writing.

    As for the being sad, you wrote something in your blog a while back. I have shared that post with countless friends and family going through various struggles. Perhaps you should look it up? I believe the operative phrase of that post was “Your bag won’t always be this heavy.” You ought to read that post again.

    Sending big hugs and lots of love! XO

  13. Ann

    Best list ever. I love this.

  14. –you know,
    there are a few people in the world who resonate and sink into my bones & soul…. who makes me feel, really feel.

    you are one of them.

    xx from Duluth.

  15. Please keep going.

  16. Oh my gawd… I LOVE your non-list list. And you. (Have I ever told you that I love you?)

    And your writing. Your wonderful, beautiful (and sometimes, but not always sad) writing.

    You’re the best. And I mean that.

    Yes, we must all KEEP GOING.

    (And I’m going to order those bumper stickers!) 🙂

  17. Okay, hell yes to everything here. And here’s what confuses me. So many of us agree. Dinosaurs, maybe? I don’t know. But if so many of us feel this way, then what happened to the blog world??? Why is everything out there a list? Or many things, at least. (Really not everything.)

    Emailing you now because I have more thoughts. Sorry for the brain dump coming your way.

  18. Diane

    “How do I love thee, let me [list] the ways.” (Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

  19. Ironically, I may have written my first list post this week.
    But it was most needed, very tongue in cheek and my mother approved.

    Write my dear, just write – the words that flow from your soul are always beautiful, and if they are sad, then they are simply sad. I feel like my writing has embodied sad for so long now, but then I am thankful that it errs on sad and not so much bitter and twisted. Why is Fl so very far away … I would ‘book group/writing group’ with you. I would love to hear you read aloud the words, clink a glass, hug you tight. Some day xxx

  20. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

    I wish I were clever enough for the listicle craze, just because, well, those are the ones that go viral, and I’d love to see my blog take off for a day. But, well, maybe that could happen if I, you know, just wrote more regularly.

    I miss having time.

    I love seeing your words.

    I’m pretty sure I’m a dinosaur. Roar.

  21. I can’t wait to read what you publish.

  22. Julie, I know this sentiment all too well: “If I do nothing, I cannot be rejected. Failure by default.”

    This used to be the way I lived for a long time, but I try not to go there (too often) anymore. It’s hard though, to write in the dark, so to speak, to know the road to possible publication is long and arduous.

    But that is why I absolutely LOVE your list. Most times, I shy away from them too, but not this one 🙂

    “Keep going.” Times forever.

  23. Sad is valid, sad is human, said is universal. Sad does not in all cases need to be revised…

    OR if it must, you will do it masterfully.

    All us writers are in this messy middle and never get out; that’s the beauty and the tragedy. Which is why we are writers – we so love that beautiful thread separating the two.

    (I have a bracelet that reads “keep going.” I’ll tell you where to get one. Because it’s everything. 🙂 )

  24. Keep going. Because we need to read your words. Selfish, I know.
    I get the sad. While we’re (I am) blessed with a life that offers relatively smooth sailing and is definitely “comfortable”, there seems to be a never ending stream of “sad” around us (me). I think we have to write our own truths, even if they are sometimes hard and sad. xoxox

  25. Eric

    Keep going cousin! You are an inspiration to so many.

  26. You make me want to be part of a writing group. What if you do a list but do not number them? 😉

    Best word in this post? “dispinterested”. HA HA HA!

  27. So much love for this post. The list fatigue, the self-doubt, those kindred writing friends who are the only ones who seem to truly understand–it all speaks to me. As does your writing generally…so yes, please, keep going…I’ll be out there doing the same. xo

  28. 3 Things Leigh Ann Hopes Happen

    1. List posts die down
    2. Julie keeps writing
    3. Julie trademarks the phrase “dispinterested.”

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