How to Become the Story (or The Death of the List Post)

become the story

List blogging is nothing new. In fact, it’s origins come from magazines. Go peruse the local magazine rack and you’ll find tons of helpful articles like “10 Ways to Lose 20 Pounds” all over the shelves.

People have argued that things like bullet points, breaking up text into tiny paragraphs, obligatory number in the title, and tons of other factors.

I have made (and still do to some extent) a good portion of my income writing list posts for various websites and the truth is this: lists work for grabbing attention. Always have, and always will.

The thing to remember is that lists aren’t evil; they’re only a format.

And there are other really effective ways to build traffic and community, without conforming to an unwritten standard.

Chris Guillebeau has a quietly built a massive following. People link to his articles like fiends and buy his guides like hotcakes. And I can’t think of the last time the guy wrote a list post. Seth Godin posts tiny to medium-length marketing nuggets as they come to him. Naomi curses like a sailor with tourettes, and Colleen does whatever she wants.

What these smart people have figured out is that they don’t have to write linkbait or lists to grow a community. They just have to be themselves.

There is no wool-over-the-eyes, fakey Big Smiles or blustery posturing. It’s all real, like you were sitting down and talking to them face to face.

And that’s how they draw people in. They’re not necessarily telling a story, they are the story. And they’re not trying to attract the masses either. They’re trying to attract the smallest portion of the masses that thinks exactly like they do, which means that their readers “get” them.

There is no golden rule or standard when it comes to building a community. You are the convention. You are what you create.

And that’s why people are following you.


I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. Am I the only one feeling this trend? How has it affected how you create? Oh, and thanks for following and commenting. The discussions have been fantastic lately.

Photo by ???? Th?t

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Barb Black June 22, 2010, 8:20 am

    I’m a trend?! Crap. I thought I was simply writing.

    As one who dabbles in many art forms, writing included, I’ve always felt that simply being myself produces the best results. I loathe pretentious behavior in others, so it stands to reason that I wouldn’t have any stomache for it in myself.

    Besides, maybe I’m the one person somebody is looking for or needs. If I’m trying to be other, I might just get lost in the crowd and remain unseen. That being said, I’m not trying to create an audience, I’m just trying to create.


    • glen June 22, 2010, 9:00 am

      I think authenticity is the best, and if you thrive on the list post, then go for it! Gretchen Rubin (of often does list posts, but they’re very personal and they make sense within the context. It’s all a matter of what you’re trying to do.

      I love that you’re just trying to create. Heck, you don’t even need to listen to me! Just do it, whatever it is :)

      Great thoughts!

  • Colleen Wainwright June 13, 2010, 8:59 pm

    I’m a huge fan of the list post. WHEN USED PROPERLY, where “properly” equals “of necessity, because it is the right tool for the job” or “makes me laugh.”

    And if it does both of those things? Brother, that is a *killer* list post. Hell—it’s a killer post, period.

    Thank you for your efforts to keep the web clean and douche-free!

    • glen June 13, 2010, 11:16 pm

      Thank you for your efforts to keep the web clean and douche-free!

      It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it ;)

  • Cynthia Morris June 13, 2010, 1:56 am

    I love this post. I’ve been chafing against my list posts for awhile. Last year I did a whole 24-part series of Ten Ways….posts to celebrate my ten-year anniversary as a coach. Perhaps that tipped me over the edge!

    Now I’m having a ton of fun making videos for my web TV show, Juju Infusion. It’s my way to share myself and to inspire others and has given me a way to step away from my listing style. I love it and hope to see its effects carry over to my writing. So far I’ve had great feedback, an uptick in visits and more business.

    It took awhile to get there, though. I was advised to not write or talk about myself too much. To stick to content that delivered practical information. I did that until that well felt dry and now I’m adding another layer.

    I agree with Armen, that some people are able to express their unique charisma more easily than others. And for some it may take some time to bring themselves out as the story or at least the storyteller. Perhaps using a combination of the list and the personality would be a good start.

    In any case, thanks for the post.

    • glen June 13, 2010, 5:44 pm

      Yeah, I can see how a 24-part series of lists would burn one out. Quickly.

      I’m glad to hear that the new format has been working for you.

  • Rasmus June 12, 2010, 10:27 am

    I think it really comes down to what you are trying to do with your content. If all you want is traffic and you don’t care about bounce rates or loyalty, then lists and link bait posts are fine.

    However, if you are trying to build a personal brand and attract regular readers who (gasp!) might even give back – be in the form of comments, sales or whatever – list posts simply will not do. You simply HAVE TO put yourself out there.

    • glen June 13, 2010, 5:46 pm

      Excellent points Rasmus! I think the tide might be turning into a more personal web. With Facebook blowing up and the web becoming more and more personalized, it only makes sense that personalization might be the best way to gain loyal followers.

  • Armen Shirvanian June 12, 2010, 10:15 am

    Hi Glen.

    The writer of many of these sites certainly are the main pull for them. They are the story we like to find out more about and hear from. This is often not said, but there are a certain percentage of people who are very able to draw others in, and then there is a much larger percentage of folks that don’t currently have this inward-drawing ability.

    List posts do fit well for some purposes, like for many readers who have adapted short attention spans, or those looking for the main points on a specific topic, but you are right in that they are just a format, which can be excluded or included depending on how the writer wants to be perceived.

    • glen June 13, 2010, 5:47 pm

      This is often not said, but there are a certain percentage of people who are very able to draw others in, and then there is a much larger percentage of folks that don’t currently have this inward-drawing ability.

      I love this. And it’s totally true.