Saturday, March 29, 2014

How to make an Internet list

Sometimes, right here on clerkmanifesto, I make a list, an Internet list. Because I have now made rather a few of these lists people have begun to ask me "Hey, how do you make an Internet list?", or they would ask me if it ever came up. But sometimes things only come up when they want to come up, and then they really, really take their time about it and only finally come up when no one appropriate is around to be asked about it. So that is why I thought it would be a good idea if I set down, in a conveniently accessible spot, my guide to:

How to make an Internet list

1. Pick a number for your list. This is single most important element of your list and must go first. Ten is very popular, but a number like six can indicate seriousness and a commitment to the weightiness of each list item. I picked eight before I had the faintest whiff of an idea of this.

2. Pick a subject. You have to match this to your number. If you chose twenty, for instance, you don't want a subject like "Fundamental concepts of Lao-Tzu" as you will quickly get stretched way too thin. You would be better off here with "The twenty ways of spelling Lao-Tzu's name". But beyond this issue of matching, the subject itself is as inconsequential as a blank canvas.

3. Always begin with your most important point. Don't hold back for later. If your list is "Five things I love about the color green" you may start with  "1. My God! It's green! What else could anyone ask for?"  This throws down the gauntlet. Your readers are on the one hand dazzled, thinking "The whole list has already been justified and completed in the first point!" and tantalized "What could possibly be number two now?"

4. Throw in a short, curt one.

5. Somewhere around the middle of your list, open out your subject. This isn't just about green, or Lao-Tzu, it's about us spinning in all the vastness of space, doomed and magical. It's about how lists themselves are avenues to spiritual awakening even when they're about "My eight favorite pairs of shoes I ever had".

6. If you go too weighty it's a good idea to get a little bit self deprecatingly humorous  to break things up a bit, as in "16. Loua tsee, which is a spelling variation no one has used before, but I was so overwhelmed by my list I went and got drunk."

7. Make sure you haven't left anything out. You want to get that kind of thing in before the end. "4. Almost every plant in the world is green!" This adds a burst of urgency and life to your list.

8. Ending your list is more straightforward than with a piece of prose. In fact, you kind of don't want to draw too much attention to the ending. It's not a story or a conclusion, merely the last item. Pick something that might have worked well enough at any other location in your list.

And now you are fully prepared to make an Internet list of your own! I mean, should it come up. Which it could, I mean, it keeps doing so for me.

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