It’s something we’ve all heard a hundred times and which we accept without hesitation: readers love lists. From DIY pieces such as ‘Holy trinity: Spiritual perfection in three short steps’ to top-pick posts like ‘Best of the worst: Thirteen unlucky numbers to die for’, lists are hailed universally as the answer to online anonymity.
Simply set out your points on the screen like rungs in a ladder and you’ll soon find yourself climbing the stairway to stardom – so the story goes.
Guess what? It ain’t necessarily so. Lists suck, despite all the hype. Keen on dots and dashes? Don’t be. Morse code went out with the printing press. Hooked on bullets? Their impact can be deadening, so aim a little higher. Headed for headings? Think again: titles are liable to trip readers up.
And that’s just for starters. Here, then, are seven ripping reasons why you should wipe lists from your writing repertoire.
1. Lists are sneaky
Since when is anything in life as simple as one, two, three? Hardly ever, mostly never. And yet lists slyly suggest just this: that every little thing can be reduced to a series of points or pointers. Nobody ever wrote a novel or lost weight simply by following a series of steps, so do yourself a favour and stop treating readers like the idiots they probably are.
2. Lists aren’t sneaky enough
There’s sneaky and then there’s sneaky. Proper dinky-di personal essays, for example, can’t help making life more intelligible, if only because they speak a universal language: the rhetoric of experience rather than mere sensation. Sure, essays reduce reality, too, but they do so in ways that seem to magnify meaning. It’s called art, and it’s artful – unlike most lists.
3. Lists are easy
Do you really want to dash-off a list when you could send yourself half-crazy penning an essay instead? Fact is, no-one ever got writer’s block while writing out a shopping list or scribbling down a list of things to do. Doesn’t that tell you something? Yes, that lists are too damn glib for their own good, otherwise a literary sub-genre would have congealed around them long ago, as it did with the Personal Essay (hallowed be its name).
4. Lists aren’t easy enough
In other ways, though, lists are bloody hard. To number a list you have to be able to count, and writers aren’t renowned for their numerical nous. I mean, some scribblers claim to write 300 words a day, and yet, when the dross is discarded, the total usually amounts to no more than twenty-six. Go figure! To get a list right in Microsoft Word is also a drag, especially if Autocorrect keeps automatically getting things wrong. Grrr.
5. Lists are everywhere
This point is self-evident, surely, given that you’re staring at a list – this list – right now. And even if you’re not, you’re no doubt staring at a list somewhere else online, only you don’t know it. Well, you probably do know it, but what I mean is that you don’t know that I know it. Yikes! What’s Google, anyway, if not one big list.
6. Lists aren’t everywhere enough
So, okay, lists litter the internet. When it comes to the real world, though, they’re nowhere that counts. Ever come across any classic lists? Nope. Ever study lists at school? Nope. Where’s the great tradition of list-writing? Nope – totally missing, I mean. Forget kudos, too, because writing a list ain’t going to win you a literary prize or grant you the grudging respect of any envious authors. All you’ll get from writing a list is, well, a list. Say no more.
7. Six reasons are enough
Studies have shown that six reasons are sufficient. Full stop. Apparently, the human brain is incapable of marshalling more than one or two thoughts at a time – unless they involve food or sex, of course – so why burden and enrage your readers with unnecessary information. Most of them tune out during reason number seven, anyway – hello?
Clearly, lists suck. This one sure does.
If you’re itching to read more about writing and blogging, I suggest you look elsewhere. Too lazy to leave my blog? Why not try these thrilling posts: Novelists Write Novels, On Being a Back-to-Front Writer and Hanging on Every Word. Lots of words, some good enough to read.