Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Letterman's top 10 list as blogging advice

Late Show with David Letterman executive producer Rob Burnett, in a recent interview on NPR's Fresh Air, shared an insight about the show's famous Top 10 lists that rang in my ears as good blogging advice. From the transcript:
BURNETT:....But, yes, I was around when the Top 10 began. And I think, like most things, no one ever really thought it would become what it would become. It was just a silly parody idea to make fun of other top 10 lists. 
GROSS: So how did it catch on? How did you know this was going to be a thing? 
BURNETT: Well, people responded to it, and it actually became kind of an interesting way to write topical jokes every day. It was an interesting forum. Originally, you know, the first one was very silly - Top 10 Things That Kind Of Rhyme With Peas (laughter) - very Letterman-esque. I remember when I was a writer, just a staff writer, Gerry Mulligan and I were pushing for a long time and finally got through a list that was Top 10 Ways The World Would Be Different If Everyone Were Named Phil, which was one of my favorites. It was so dumb. It was things like, you know, Ben & Jerry's now called Phil & Phil's, you know? It couldn't have been a stupider, you know? Favorite Beatle? Phil. It was just (laughter) it was just 10 of the stupidest things possible, and some of those were, ultimately, my favorites.
Blog-wise, this doesn't mean you need to write top 10 lists...unless that's a format that works for you and your readers. But it suggests that a format helps with the writing.

I see bloggers, time and again, deride formats as "listicles" or worse, and yet have trouble coming up with content. Format gives your ideas shape and structure for the reader, and helps you develop strong content. A regular format helps you anticipate and recognize relevant topics when they arise, and gives you a set of assumptions about how they'll fit into the blog...both timesavers. Formats mean you don't need to reinvent the wheel, over and over again. The same thing happens with storytelling. We have ancient and well-established forms for telling stories, but the modern-day storyteller rarely uses them, and the stories suffer.

You may find a durable format in the same way the Letterman show writers did, through your audience. Or you can try out a variety of formats to see which get the best response or make the most of your content stream. Over time, using a strong format again and again lends your blog an overall structure. Readers come to know what to expect, and come back for it. In this case, it builds familiarity while preserving originality--a good format, like a good Letterman top 10 list, seems at once regular and surprising. And isn't that what a blog should be?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by yoppy)

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