One surprising secret genius hack the experts swear by for writing buzzy internet list stories

Spoiler alert: Know what to leave out

Jeffrey Denny

For writers desperately seeking readers, internet list stories are the way to go.

“Ten Signs Your Wife Will Knife You Tonight” gets way more views, reads and ad revenue than the 2017 National Magazine Award winners that worked for a year with long days, nights and weekends on their groundbreaking journalism, including top awardee Mother Jones and its gripping investigative story, “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard.”

A Washington PR firm quotes Jack Shepherd, self-styled “Editorial Director, God King of BuzzFeed,” which dubs itself “the best place to post, find and share the hottest content on the web,” offering this timeless insight:

“The Odyssey is 24 chapters. You could call that 24 Chapters About Odysseus. That’s, like, a really great list. Really top notch. Really, really viral. Super viral.”

This is no joke. Shepherd, apparently lacking rudimentary human shame, self-awareness or respect for legacy — or maybe just being buzzy — was happy to be quoted denigrating Homer (the epic poet, not the Simpson). Shepherd is now my new favorite Millennial.

Best of all, Shepherd captures my “Seven Most Eye-Rolling Internet Writing Superlatives”:

1. Like

2. Really

3. Great

4. Top notch

5. Really, really

6. Viral

7. Super viral

But don’t assume these buzzy list pieces are a cinch to write. It’s easy to make the lists. The challenge is what to leave off.

Consider the “Four Best Lists Ever” and what the writers had to cut:

1. The Ten Commandments

Thou shalt not blame one’s own flatulence at Sabbath worship services on one’s neighbor.

Thou shalt not fail after using a host’s commode to look back to ensure a clean flush, or rummage his medicine cabinet for his prescription anxiety relievers, or clear sinuses into his decorative guest towels.

Thou shalt not call others stupid on social media in posts that evidence ignorance of basic grammar, spelling, syntax, usage and logic.

Thou shalt not avoid Chick-fil-A just because of its religious anti-LGBTQ stuff, for its sandwiches are tasty.

Thou shalt not “take it out” even if thou shalt be a movie or financial mogul, politician or entertainer who is so powerful or hilarious as to feel comfortable or entitled to do so.

2. The Seven Deadly Sins



Open-mouth chewing

Failure to use turn signals

Audible public flatulence

Screaming with laughter at quiet restaurants

Unilaterally switching a dating situation to “just friends”

Still paying for groceries with a check

GOP tax reform

Discarding your dog’s poop baggie in a neighbor’s trash can

Uber app saying Hyundai driver is 3 minutes away and after 20 minutes saying he’s 30 minutes away

Taking it out unless explicitly invited — optimally in writing — to do so

3. Disney’s Seven Dwarfs


Sewer Breath

Rude Dude



Trump Cabinet

Manute Bol

Happy Due To Obamacare-Covered Xanax

Doc Denying Medicare Patients

Sneezy But It’s Just Autumn Leaf Mold

Bashful Who Is Just ENFP So Just Deal With Me Being Me

4. U.S. Constitutional Bill of Rights

The right to use your gas-powered leaf blower at 7 am

The right to insult, outrage or tell people off without repercussions

The right to complain about government while depending on it

The right to complain about taxes while clueless about the benefits from other people’s taxes

The right to choose your own facts to argue a preconceived view and reject the facts of those who disagree

The right to arm everyone with semiautomatic weapons and then send thoughts and prayers when whack-jobs get them and mass-kill children

The right to wallow in super viral BuzzFeed list pieces, Fox bloviators who feed our fears and Russia-corrupted Facebook feeds instead of doing the work our Founders asked to be well-informed citizens so that our democratic republic could survive and thrive.


Sorry, I just violated the first rule of writing buzzy list stories: Don’t get political.

Stick with fun and useful stuff, like, “Ten Ways To Avoid Being Knifed By Your Wife.”

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer

A Pullet Surprise-winning writer who always appreciates free chicken.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

I Tripled My Income in a Mere 7,300 Days

Death Be Not…

My Top Ten Posts On Medium

Accessorize in Style this Spring Season

Don’t you hate it when you leave ice cream in the freezer for a certain amount of time, and it…

RHAS: S2 • E7 — “Meet Ups & Blow Ups"

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jeffrey Denny

Jeffrey Denny

A Pullet Surprise-winning writer who always appreciates free chicken.

More from Medium

Ten reuses for Covid masks

Know Your Audience

Can Christians Lose Their Reward for Their Labors as unto the Lord?

Opinion — Churches Paying Taxes