Building a portfolio of published work is one of the most difficult but most necessary tasks of any writer. It’s a weird catch-22: To get published, you need to be published.
As a result, you resort to finding online publications with slightly lower standards than the bigger names with the hope that a byline will bolster your portfolio.
These lower standards translate into most publications all wanting the same thing: listicles. They want “10 things you need to know about that lump on your forehead” or “5 reasons why this wrench would make a better pet than your neighbor's stupid Chihuahua.”
The writing style is contrived and oh so shallow. And I can think of hundreds of things that I would rather do than write lists for a living. (Maybe I will write a list about those things.)
So, rather than beat ‘em, I decided to join ‘em. Here’s a list of eight reasons why lists are bullshit.
1. Listicles encourage half-assed writing
Creating an outline of your thoughts is a helpful tool for writers. However, it isn’t the final product. Listicles are the IKEA furniture of writing—cheap, unassembled, and exuding an aura of Scandinavian smugness. This style of writing conveys the message, “I am an ok writer, but I really suck at creating transitions and developing a cohesive narrative.”
2. Faux-experts write them
My favorite are the listicles that itemize the “things you NEED TO KNOW about (insert topic here)”. This particular brand smacks of know-it-all hipsterism. I’m just as talented as the next guy when it comes to researching something for five minutes before writing about it. Most listicles portray the author as somebody with a unique expertise. Unfortunately, they are usually young, aspiring writers who overuse Wikipedia for “source material.”
3. Lists were designed for lame adult responsibilities
I make lists of household chores. I make lists for grocery shopping. Lists are for when you are doing adult stuff. I don’t like to adult. Also, items on lists are designed to be crossed out as a means to signify accomplishment. Listicles leave too many loose ends for me to feel truly comfortable. In fact, while creating the outline for this, I have been crossing out each bullet item as I write it. Listicles and my psychological need for closure don't mix.
4. Listicles make you a lazy reader
I am just as guilty as you are. When I first open a list, I skim the intro paragraphs. But then my mouse cursor takes me directly to the first bulleted point in bold font type, bypassing the obviously less important content. Then, I keep scrolling until I have read all of the main headers. From that point, I need to decide whether or not to go back to the top of the article and read the whole thing thoroughly. I never do: I just roll my eyes and say, “Shit, I can’t believe I clicked on that.” Then, I’m off to next article that I intend to skim.
5. They cause terrorism
Chances are that this title caught your attention. But, if you are like most online readers, you probably aren’t even reading this subtext right now. You just assumed that I made a sound, logical argument that effectively correlates listicles with terrorism. For example, I can safely say that before 9/11 there were virtually no lists published online. However, since that tragic day, the number of lists being published has grown exponentially each year and coincides with the growth in the number of acts of terror throughout the world. I won’t even bother backing that fact up, because—like I said—you’re probably not even reading this. Furthermore, if I can’t be bothered to write functional transitions between points, why would I even take the time to cite my sources? BuzzFeed is where peer review goes to die.
6. They line the pockets of annoying online advertisers
The worst kind of clickbait listicles: The ones that make you click “next” 157 times to finish reading their inane blather. The goal of this style of listicle is, of course, to encourage excessive clicks within a specific page to blast you with more advertisements and improve the site’s SEO. I can’t tell you how many online publications that I’ve completely given up that have incorporated this whorish tactic. My rule of thumb: If it takes more than two clicks to gather content, it had better be porn.
7. Anything that reminds of Letterman needs to die
Getting to stay up late to watch David Letterman’s “Top Ten” lists always seemed like a treat. Looking back it now, I think the allure was simply the act of staying up later than usual. Because, in retrospect, Letterman wasn’t actually funny. And neither were his “Top Ten” lists. To make matters worse, they got even less funny with each passing year. During his last year before retirement, Letterman almost seemed like he stopped trying to be funny. I’m not exactly certain what this has to with the topic of this list, other than a loose association with Letterman's early version of unfunny listicles. But it just bolsters my central thesis that listicles don’t have to make any sense at all. If you are still reading now, I would be amazed. In fact, I’ll buy you a gift if you are the first person to write “holy balls… that was the funniest thing I have ever read” in the comments section of this post—just to prove that you actually read most of this garbage that I’m writing.
8. 9 items or less = lazy
Have you noticed that listicles first started off with a standard amount of bullet points? It was always 10 things, right? Then, all of the sudden, the standard shifted. The numbers became arbitrary, and the chaos ensued. It became “9 household items that shouldn’t be near your rectal cavity”, “7 of the craziest things Obama said while tripping acid,” and “5 things you need to know about that wound that hasn’t healed since Oktoberfest.” I remember seeing a list that only had three items listed once. Three! You’re not even trying at that point.
And yes, I recognize the irony that my list only has 8 points. Sue me. I don't want to write in this style anymore. My head hurts.
This listicle is by no means authoritative or all-encompassing, because—well—it’s a listicle. And we have established that listicles are bullshit.
My intentions are selfish for writing this. Maybe if people are encouraged to avoid listicles, then the market value of them will diminish. Then, online readers will spend their time seeking out more interesting and better written content. Then, listicles will go the way of MySpace, Geocities, the Ally McBeal dancing baby GIF, and every other annoying trend on the interwebs. Then, online publications won’t want listicles anymore; they’ll want thoughtful, creative, and well-researched prose that accurately portrays the struggle to…
... oooo… look at that… "12 reasons why this urinal cake found in a Chuck E. Cheese restroom would be the best candidate for President." *click*