Why "Listicles" Are Bad for Your Development as a Writer

One of my goals this year has been to get published on Thought Catalog — not because I love what they’re doing, but because it’s one of the most widely read sites on the Internet right now. Whether you like their content or not, you have to acknowledge that TC is a huge platform for writers looking to get noticed.

Browsing their front page right now, I see articles like “10 Signs Your Best Friend is a Badass”, “9 Brutal Truths No One Tells You about the Business World”, and “The 5 Biggest Snapchat Offenses”. If you want to get published on sites like Thought Catalog, EliteDaily, or the like, writing a list (or listicle) is probably your best bet.

And I totally get why. We’re living in the age of “snackable” content — everything needs to be bite-sized, easily consumable, smaller, and faster. Most people don’t read the full contents of long form pieces anymore. People don’t read source material — they read blurbs and video recaps on Upworthy and other curation sites. Lists grab people and give them quick, easy entertainment so they can get to what really matters — sharing on Facebook or bickering in the comments section.

I’ve been trying to write something in this style for the past couple of weeks. But I just can’t do it. It feels forced. Unnatural. Awkward. And I finally realized why.

Writing a list takes every skill I’ve worked to develop over the past ten years and throws it out the window.

Lists are just ideas — anyone can have ideas. What makes being a writer challenging, and rewarding, is being one of the people who can take a pile of ideas and weave each of them into a greater narrative. Being a writer means being someone who can make sense of different pieces of information and use them to tell a story.

Lists have no story. Reading and writing listicles teaches you to think it’s okay for thoughts to be scattershot, to be completely unrelated to each other. Well, it’s not okay. Not if you want to become a better writer. Not if you want to eventually write something bigger and better than “17 Crazy Facts About Toenails”.

Storytelling is an intricate process where each thought or beat builds on what came before, ultimately working up to some sort of climax and, eventually, some sort of resolution. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They’re purposeful. They’re carefully architected. They can’t be brain-vomited onto the page in ten minutes.

At some point, you have to decide what type of writer you want to be. Do you want to be someone who can throw words together? Or do you want to be a great storyteller?

There is a huge audience for lists and there are people that are really good at writing them. But I don’t think I’m going to be one of them.

Are you?

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About Evan

Evan is a copywriter, content marketer, freelance writer, blogger, husband, and new Dad.

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