10 Reasons Why Making a List is Not Writing
April 21, 2014 § 29 Comments
A guest post from author Jon Magidsohn:
I don’t like this trend. With the countless available web-journals, online newspapers and e-rags, there is ample opportunity for writers to have articles published. Yet more frequently what I’m seeing amounts to little more than glossy top-ten lists.
Here are examples from five different websites that all ran on one day:
- 10 things you should never say to a woman
- 5 myths about introverts and extroverts at work
- 7 floor lamps you didn’t think you needed
- 10 unique uses for vanilla
- 30 ways to make yourself miserable.
These essays come across as (A) checklists of things we should know, (B) inventories of things other people know, or (C) something we don’t want to know but because it’s been translated into a simple, comprehensive list we’ll scan through it anyway.
So after careful consideration, here are ten reasons why making a list is not writing:
- It provides an escape outlet. If anyone challenges, derides or disagrees with the list, the author can simply blame the topic rather than the composition. It’s just a list after all. It’s practically irrefutable.
- It appeases editors. It’s printable. I get that. Editors love running pieces that are graspable and have widespread appeal. These days an article is even more attractive if it guarantees comments and shares. But that doesn’t necessarily make it good writing or, for that matter, worth reading. In fact, if you have any sense at all you’ll stop reading this right now.
- It’s too easy. Writing, by its very nature, is supposed to be difficult. An author must work in isolation, fraught with doubt about every word, wringing blood from each sentence like a victorious gladiator. A list often seems like a first draft; an agenda with items ticked off.
- It discourages the reader from actually reading. It’s as simple as glancing at the NHL standings on the sports page. Readers just want to scan down to the end of the list to see if what they thought should be on the list is actually on the list.
- It’s catering to the video generation. Not that there’s anything wrong with people who grew up in arcades and rushed home to watch MTV. I’m sure they can all read books and stuff. But now that Pac Man has evolved into Call of Duty and Madonna into Miley, it may be safe to say our once vast spans of attention have been significantly depleted. We crave rapid-fire information. Newscasts have banners scrolling across the bottom of the screen with a different news story than the one being discussed. And the weather. And stocks. And the latest on A-Rod. When watching your favourite sitcom you are constantly being reminded about what’s coming up next. Patience and one-thing-at-a-time are now as archaic as the horseless carriage or spats or the Slinky.
- It’s a quick fix. Nobody seems willing, or has the tolerance, to spend time reading or writing stories with full paragraphs and some kind of narrative. If we can’t get the gist of what the author is saying in ten bullet points, then it’s probably not worth our time.
- It’s cheating. For non-fiction essays, it’s a great excuse to avoid unnecessary introspection or evidence of painstaking investigation. You might not even need to write complete sentences. As a bonus, when you’re piling up the word count, you need only make a few more additions to the list with variations on the theme. You might gain two or three hundred more words and six bullet points out of it.
- It’s lazy. It’s repeating the same things using different words. It’s saying things over and over again with a slight alteration each time. Synonyms are wonderful things. Believe me, I know. I’m lazy. Simply by admitting I’m lazy I’ve managed to add more words to this point about being lazy and extended this exciting essay about how easy it is to write things that everyone will want to read without actually saying anything original or clever.
- It’s boring. And overdone. And as a media trend it’s likely to run its course and eventually give way to something else like point-form notation or charades or Esperanto.
- It’s a nice round number. Reason enough to make a list. Any list worth its salt would be happy to have ten points. How can you have a ten point list with only nine points? That would be silly.
Jon Magidsohn is originally from Toronto, Canada. He’s written about fatherhood for dadzclub.com, the Good Men Project, Today’s Parent and Mummy and Me magazines. He’s also been featured on Chicago Literati, Mojave River Review, Full Grown People, What’s Your Story?-Memoir Anthology (Lifetales) and currently publishes three blogs. He’s been an actor, singer, waiter, upholsterer, sales representative, handyman and writer. He and his family are now in Bangalore, India, where Jon writes full time. www.jonmagidsohn.com