Tag Archives: list

X reasons why writing stuff for the Internet is all about lists

  1. I feel like I’m forgetting how to write anything that’s not in list form

A lot of these web sites that I submit material to, it’s not like anybody’s telling me, Rob, you’d better write us a list. But all of the popular pieces are always lists, and even though I want to tell myself that I’m better than that, that I can’t be bound by any format, I know that I’m not better. And I want to have popular stuff too. And so I figured I’d just start small, a few lists here, a bunch of indented numbers there.


But now I can’t stop. I open up a new Word document and my wrist automatically directs the mouse to the bullet point button. Before I even know what I’m doing, I’m writing out the beginnings of a numbered headline, and I’m off. It’s just part of what I’m doing now, I’m writing out things in numbers.

  1. And I look back at all of the other stuff that I’ve written

And it wasn’t always this way. I think I made it like a whole year and a half without ever having written something in list form. But, now that I’ve taken the art of list writing and incorporated it into my writing style, I can’t imagine how I’d ever written any differently. Because list writing is so easy. If the idea of filling up a whole page of text is too intimidating, don’t worry about it. Just write a sentence. Add a number before that sentence. Then write a paragraph or two.

When those paragraphs start to get stale, seriously, who cares? Just hit the return key, and start all over again. The form is so simple, but very addictive. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get back to basics, that I’m going to write stories, something with a beginning and an end. But here I am again, just another list.

  1. It’s got to be the Internet’s fault, right?

I mean, before the Internet, did anybody else ever write stuff in lists? I can’t remember ever seeing any lists outside of a computer screen. Lists were always for notes, right, like if you were writing out a list, the idea was that it was just an outline, something that would eventually form the basis of an actual piece of writing. If I had any of my old high school notebooks around, I’m sure it would be full of lists.

But somewhere along the way, it’s like we cut out that last step. Why bother going any further? We’ve already got this. No need for a finished piece. This is good enough, right? Yeah sure, whatever.

  1. And you just need some really loose sort of title to kind of bind all of these numbers together

Like for this piece that I’m writing right now, I have no idea where I’m going, there’s no sort of plan guiding any of these words that are coming out of my fingertips. But it’s fine, because I can just make up some ridiculous numbered title, like “X reasons why writing stuff for the Internet is all about lists.”

That’s total nonsense, but whatever, they’re words. I’m getting words down. And if this particular paragraph isn’t going anywhere, well, I only need like two or three sentences, and then I can start all over again with a new number.

  1. How many numbers do I even need?

It doesn’t matter. I always just start out writing “X reasons why …” and then whenever I’ve completely exhausted everything that I have to say, I just go back and count up however many bullet points I’ve made, and bingo, there’s the number. More often than not, for me anyway, that number usually happens to be five. But sometimes it’s six.

One time early on, when I just started list writing, I committed myself to ten. And it was just way too much. Like I got to number three and I started panicking, what did I get myself into? So now I never commit to anything in advance. And that way when I run out of words streaming through my head, I can just stop abruptly. And it won’t be a shock. Like by itself, sure, maybe it won’t feel like an ending. But to the reader, you already knew that it’s only going up to number five. After that, it’s done. So I don’t have to worry about wrapping anything up. You’ve already checked out just by reading the title. No surprises. No endings. It doesn’t matter.

32 and a half signs that you’re on the Internet/using a computer/or your cell phone


  1. You clicked on this link. It was blue and then you clicked on it, and when you hit the back button, it turned purple. Unless you’re in incognito mode, in which case it’ll probably stay blue. Or unless you’re on a phone, in which case you didn’t click on anything, you just tapped.
  2. You’re wearing a shirt. If it’s cold outside, you might even be wearing a sweater. If you’re on the subway and it’s raining out and you’re reading this on your phone, a parka isn’t totally out of the question either.
  3. Your leg is tapping on the floor. Isn’t that crazy that you don’t even notice it anymore? Tap, tap, tap, tap, your roommate used to say stuff like, “Stop tapping! Seriously, what’s wrong with you, everything’s falling off the desk, I can’t concentrate! Are you listening to me?” But you weren’t listening, not really, not enough to give a response, and he moved out months ago.
  4. Your cell phone is constantly less than thirty percent charged.
  5. And you’re at a restaurant and you ask the waiter, “Hey man, do you guys have an iPhone 4S charger?” and the waiter looks at you for a second, he can’t outright tell you to go fuck off, so he just kind of stares at you for a while, hoping that through his nonverbal response, you’ll get the hint, like stop wasting my time, of course we don’t keep chargers around for the guests. But you don’t get the hint, so you try, “Can you ask anybody in the back if they have a charger? Any of the other waiters?”
  6. Everything that you read is in numbered bullet points. Like this one right here, number six.
  7. And number seven too. It’s like, there really isn’t any difference between number six and number seven, it’s only by me, the writer, pressing the enter key that
  8. I arbitrarily decide to make a completely new “sign” or “reason.” And that’s how we got from six to eight without having changed topics at all, not really.
  9. But man, when I started writing, 32 and half signs didn’t seem like that big of a challenge. But here I am, I’m only nine deep, I can’t let the readers down, but I’m beginning to suspect that they’re seeing right through me, that I hadn’t really thought out this list, that, sure, three or four of these might be somewhat entertaining, but the rest?
  10. Pure filler. You’re reading pure filler right here.
  11. You’re in an airport terminal waiting for your flight, and that guy’s been hogging the wall outlet for the past twelve minutes, so you ask him, “Hey man, are you going to be done with that outlet soon? My phone’s at six percent.” But he says, “Sorry, my laptop’s at five percent, they take a lot longer to charge than phones do. If you want, you can watch me surf the Internet. I’m reading this list on BuzzFeed right now, “17 Things You’re Doing While You’re Waiting For Your Flight To Start Boarding.”
  12. You’re wearing a shirt. Wait, I said that already. You’re wearing pants.
  13. You’re probably not wearing pants.
  14. Pull up your pants, man, or at least lock the door.
  15. You’re out to dinner, and you don’t want to keep taking your phone out to finish reading this list, but you can’t pay attention to anything else, so you excuse yourself to use the bathroom, and you step outside the restaurant to finish it up, and you look up to see if everything’s OK back at the table, but nobody’s at the table, everyone’s outside with you, they’re on the Internet too.
  16. You’re sitting shotgun in your parents’ new Ford Explorer, your phone is totally out of battery, the giant computer center console clearly advertises its ability to seamlessly integrate your phone’s browser with the car’s navigation system, but does that mean that it’ll be able to charge everything up? Mom? Do you know how to use this? You’ve never looked at the manual? OK, mom? Mom, can I use your phone? Because mine’s out of battery. Eleven percent? I’ll just use three percent, I promise. No, I won’t touch your Candy Crush, seriously, I stopped playing that game weeks ago.
  17. You’re reading this and you’re thinking, “Oh my God, that is so true.”
  18. You’re reading this and you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t really relate to this one.”
  19. You’re reading this and you’re not even concerned that I’m saying one thing and then I’m saying the exact opposite right below.
  20. You’re not reading this at all, someone linked to it on Facebook and you clicked, “Open in new tab,” but you already have so many tabs open, so many other Internet articles and lists that you saw on your news feed, there isn’t enough screen space to fit all of the tabs, and so you can’t even tell what the tabs are, there’s no room for labels, but still, you look at the browser, you think, I’ll read all of those, I’ll get to them eventually, and then months later your computer will freeze or you’ll be forced to reboot for an update, you’ll look at the fresh browser screen and think, wow, that was a relief, a new start, no old links to weigh me down, but just as you resolve to only open links that you’ll actually read, the browser flashes, “Restoring last session,” and there they are, all of them, tons of lists, this list, you’ll finish reading it eventually, you’ll get to it soon.
  21. You’re saying to yourself, “We’re only at number 21? This whole list could have been condensed to two, maybe even one. Why did he decide 32 and a half? What a bunch of nonsense, and we’re barely halfway through. What the hell, man, why do I keep clicking on these lists, seriously, does anybody proofread these things? Why are they so popular? Is somebody actually making money off of content like this?”
  22. You’re scrolling all the way down without reading, just to get a sense of how long this thing is going to go.
  23. But even the writer is getting bored here, so it’s a relief to find the next few numbers to be nothing but short, filler sentences.
  24. More filler.
  25. If I had time, I’d look up some animated gifs.
  26. Like a picture of a TV actress making a face, with the subtitle, “Gurl …” across the bottom.
  27. Or a different TV actress making a different face, like a confused face, and this caption say, “Say what?”
  28. This isn’t so bad. 28 already? 32 and a half doesn’t seem that far out of reach now. Maybe it’s not too late to make it 42 and a half. But that would involve scrolling back up and editing and more typing, no, I guess 32 and a half is fine.
  29. Your phone is really, really hot.
  30. It says something like, “Your phone is overheating. Stop using it for a minute and let it cool down.”
  31. You just got an icepack out of the freezer and, it’s probably not a good idea for thing to be frozen either, so you just kind of alternate, fifteen seconds on ice, fifteen seconds off, fifteen more on ice, and over and over again until that warning goes away.
  32. You could have sworn you read this same exact list sometime a few months ago, but this clearly says that it was written today, so you search Google to see if maybe it wasn’t posted somewhere else a while ago, but you get to Google and they have one of those flash games in place of their home screen, so twenty minutes go by, and you beat it, but you forget what you came there to look up in the first place, and all of the tabs are blurred together, you can’t even find Facebook, so you just open up a new tab and commit to not losing your place this time.

32.5 You finish, you get to the end and you’re like, I did it, I read that whole thing. But where’s that sense of accomplishment you get from reading a newspaper or a book, of having done something? This feels like the mental equivalent of having just scarfed down a twenty-piece McNuggets as a midafternoon snack. And yeah, don’t forget about that that “and a half” punch line that wasn’t really that funny when you read it back in the title. Here it is. 32 and a half signs that you did it, you read the whole thing.