LET INGA TELL YOU:
This is going to sound like sour grapes, but it seems more and more that online media has jettisoned articles requiring actual writing skills in favor of “listicles” or articles that begin with a number: 7 steps to better cardiac health. 5 reasons your daughter-in-law hates you. 10 ways to improve your sex life. 15 signs he’s cheating. 12 best stew recipes ever.
Even television has largely foresworn well-scripted shows for reality TV fare scraping an ever deepening barrel (Pervy Guys Who Spawn Large Families, Dancing with Forgotten Child Stars, Survivor 57: Fresno.)
For those of us in the writing world, trying to sell material that doesn’t start with a number is getting ever more problematical. While listicles are prime fodder for Internet sites, even print media has jumped on this bandwagon. This, of course, is because people read them, and therefore advertisers place ads near them.
OK, I confess that I read some of them, too. The titles are just too enticing not to. But I can’t help but notice that listicles are usually just some really basic information that is already well known, or far more dismaying, sometimes just plain wrong.
For example, I couldn’t resist a listcle titled “7 kitchen hacks that will change your life.” First of all, may I note that seven seems to be a particularly favorite number for listicles. I guess three would hardly be worth your time, and 12 might be more energy than you want to invest. Hack No. 2 of the 7 Kitchen Hacks was that if you put a wooden spoon over a pot, it will not boil over.
That was an idea that truly could change my life, and also my cleaning lady’s. So that night, I put my pasta in a pot of boiling water, set the wooden spoon across it as directed, and went to check my e-mail. I came back five minutes later to find that the pot had boiled over all over my stove (AND the wooden spoon.)
So popular are listicles, you (generic you, not me) can actually make a living writing them. All you need is a catchy title (anything involving sex and relationships is a sure winner), add recycled and/or bogus content and voila! You are now a professional listiclist.
While waiting in line at the pharmacy the other day, I was trying to think up some listicles I would write if my column gig falls through. Here are some I think would be quick sells:
• 30 surprising facts about celebrities you’ve never heard of
• 10 signs that you’re getting older (aside from the fact you just celebrated your 80th birthday)
• 3 facts about birth control you should have told your teenage son before he became a father
• 7 cat breeds most likely to cough up fur balls
• 10 ways to retire with a million dollars (that are mostly legal)
• 20 delicious recipes using ingredients not found in the Western Hemisphere but listed in New York Times Magazine recipes anyway
• 15 facts about entitlement that will serve you well as a state or federal government employee
• The 6 most annoying people you’ll ever meet, and why 5 of them are parents on your son’s soccer team
• 10 reasons relationships fail (other than that they were doomed from the start)
• 7 ways to substitute chocolate for kale in vegetarian recipes [no assertions are being made for taste]
• 6 tips for finding the best fares to Cleveland
• 15 Halloween costumes perfect for super kinky adults who are totally over the naughty nurse thing
• 8 reasons why grief makes you sad
• 9 reasons why texting and tweeting should be allowed during class time, especially if the class is like, totally lame
• 5 hot sex tips for homo sapiens, and also older people
• 12 facts about cockroach infestations that everyone who lives over a restaurant should know
• 4 myths about root canal surgery
• 11 creative uses for dust bunnies
• 15 benefits of Vitamin E recycled from questionable internet sites and not substantiated by medical science but which you will believe anyway.
• 9 hints to becoming a Nobel Laureate even if you haven’t gone to high school
• 8 health tips from your grandmother that are actually terrible
• 6 secrets only pet dentists know
• 30 ways to lose 20 pounds in 10 days
• 5 facts about topics that no one really cares about
• 7 kitchen hacks that only sorta work
Speaking of which, turns out that the wooden spoon hack does work up to a point — so long as the surface of your wooden spoon remains under 100 degrees (C). Let it get too hot (or use a metal spoon) and you’ll get what I got. A giganto mess.
As successful as I think I could be as a listiclist, I think I’m going to stick with my column job. And watching my pasta as it boils.
— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org