According to Umberto Eco, “We like lists because we don't want to die.” He says lists create culture:
“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.
It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity?
How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.
There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte.
We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.”
We like lists because we want to matter.
Lists are also signal. We make lists to remember and get things done. The lists we share indicate what we pay attention to, what resonates, the things we appreciate even though we may not necessarily agree with them wholeheartedly.
And so we should save those writings for the dual purpose of enjoying them and disagreeing intelligently.
On the practical side, I have been keeping a list of verbs to refer to for inspiration. Maybe it's something you can use.
An incomplete list of verbs
Accelerate, accept, access, accomplish, achieve, act, adapt, add, address, adjust, admire, admit, adopt, advance, advise, affect, afford, aim, alter, allow, amplify, analyze, answer, appear, applaud, apply, appreciate, approve, argue, arrange, arrive, assume, ask, assist, attach, attract, attack, avoid
Bake, balance, ban, battle, be, become, behave, behold, begin, believe, belong, bless, blink, boast, book, bore, borrow, bounce, bow, box, bake, brand, break, breathe, bridge, bring, build, burn, bury, buy
Calculate, call, capture, carry, care, cast, carve, catch, cause, celebrate, center, circle, challenge, change, chase, charge, check, choose, claim, clean, clear, climb, close, collaborate, collect, come, combine, command, commit, communicate, compare, compete, complain, complete, compress, conceive, concern, confirm, confuse, connect, consider, consist, construct, consult, contact, contain, continue, counsel, contribute, control, converse, converge, convey, copy, correct, count, cover, craft, create, cross, crowdsource, culminate, cure, cut
Damage, dare, deal, decide, define, delay, delegate, deliberate, deliver, demand, deny, depend, describe, design, destroy, detect, develop, direct, disagree, disappear, discover, discuss, distill, diversify, divide, do, double, doubt, draft, drag, drain, draw, dream, drip, drive, drop, drum
Earn, educate, embarrass, embrace, embody, employ, empower, empty, enable, enact, encourage, end, enhance, energize, enjoy, enroll, enter, entertain, escape, examine, exchange, excite, excuse, execute, exercise, exist, expand, expect, experience, explain, explore, express, extend
Face, fade, fail, fall, fasten, fashion, fear, feast, feed, feel, fence, fight, file, fill, film, find, finish, fire, fit, fix, flood, flow, fly, focus, fold, follow, fool, force, forge, forget, forgive, form, formulate, frame, fuel, fulfill, function
Gain, gather, generate, give, glue, go, govern, grab, greet, grow, guarantee, guard, guess, guide
Hack, hand, handle, happen, harm, hatch, hate, haunt, have, head, heal, heap, hear, help, herd, hide, hit, hold, hook, hope, hover, hug, hunt, hurry, hurt
Identify, ignite, ignore, imagine, implement, impress, improve, include, increase, indicate, influence, inform, inject, initiate, innovate, inspire, instruct, intend, interact, interest, interfere, interrupt, introduce, invent, invite, invest, involve, irritate, itch
Jog, join, joke, judge, juggle, jump
Keep, kill, knock, knot, know
Label, land, last, laugh, launch, lead, learn, leave, lend, let, level, leverage, license, lighten, lie, like, limit, link, list, listen, live, load, lock, look, love
Make, manage, mark, match, master, matter, mean, measure, meddle, meet, melt, memorize, mention, miss, mix, model, mold, motivate, move, multiply
Nail, name, narrate, navigate, need, nod, note, notice, number
Obey, object, observe, obtain, occur, offer, open, operate, order, organize, orient, oversee, overcome, owe, own
Package, paint, park, pass, pause, pay, personalize, perform, permit, pick, pitch, pivot, place, plan, play, point, polish, position, possess, pose, power, practice, preach, precede, prefer, present, preserve, press, pretend, prevent, price, prioritize, proceed, produce, program, progress, promise, protect, prototype, provide, prove, publish, pull, pursue, push, put
Qualify, quantify, query, question
Race, radiate, rain, raise, rarefy, reach, react, read, realize, reboot, receive, recognize, record, redefine, reduce, refer, reflect, refrain, refuse, regard, regret, reject, relate, relax, release, rely, remain, remember, remind, remove, renew, repair, repeat, replace, reply, report, represent, reproduce, request, require, rescue, research, resonate, respect, respond, rest, restore, result, retain, rethink, retire, return, reveal, reverberate, revive, ride, ring, rise, risk, rob, rock, roll, ruin, rule, run, rush
Sail, satisfy, save, say, scale, scare, scream, screen, scrub, seal, search, segment, see, seek, seem, sell, send, sense, separate, serve, set, settle, sever, shake, shape, share, shave, shelter, shift, shoot, shop, show, shut, sigh, signal, simplify, sing, sit, sketch, skip, sleep, slip, slow, smile, snack, solve, sort, sound, spare, spark, speak, spell, spoil, spot, spread, spray, squeeze, stamp, stand, start, state, stay, steer, step, stick, stir, stop, store, strategize, strengthen, stretch, strip, study, subtract, succeed, suffer, suggest, suit, supply, support, suppose, surpass, surprise, surround, survive, suspect, suspend, switch
Take, talk, tailor, tap, taste, teach, tease, tell, tempt, tend, test, thank, think, thrive, throw, tie, tip, touch, tour, trace, track, trade, train, transform, transport, travel, treasure, treat, trick, trigger, trot, trouble, trust, try, turn, twist, type
Uncover, understand, unify, unlock, unpack, upload, usher, use
Value, vanish, verify, venture, visit, voice, vote
Wait, walk, wander, want, warn, wash, waste, watch, wave, wear, weigh, welcome, whisper, will, win, wink, wish, wonder, work, worry, wrap, wrestle, write
Zap, zip, zoom
The first step in learning to diversify our writing is to read more. Some things that work for me are reading comparatively, for sheer enjoyment, to exercise the mind, and to discover something new. The second is to write a lot, experimenting with finding words that get closer to what we want to say, to the truth we want to transmit.