- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.