5 Rules for Writing 5 Rules

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

It seems these days there are rules, tips, and advice everywhere. Well, I’m here to share the universal five rules that always apply when creating five rules. I must caution you, though, for if you attempt to use these rules for more than five rules you leave yourself open to criticism, ridicule, and even angry mobs outside your home carrying torches because carrying torches is what angry mobs do.

Note that my five rules don’t use measly bullets that are easily skimmed. Oh no. My numbers are actual headers that command respect and create breaks between points that allow for a moment of reflection or make it easy to slip away for a bathroom break. If it takes so long to read 5 rules that you require a bathroom break then those 5 rules must be colossal. In other words, those 5 rules rule. My 5 rules:

Always start with the first in your series or you risk losing your audience at the outset. Start with #5 and they may believe you’re already finished (having forgotten they’ve not read four other rules). Too, there’s a good chance they’ll believe that having read #5 that your list has nowhere to go but down. But what about the belief that counting down to #1 builds expectation and suspense? Okay, you’re confusing me now and are obviously a troublemaker. Anyway, if you’re listing the best reasons for writing with a cat on your head you’d want to lead with a fact no one has thought about before. For instance, like how it increases your ability to multitask. Yeah…see? You never thought about that!

First of all, have some sympathy for #2 because it has to live up to the expectations that #1 created (unless you’re starting with #5, in which case you’re still a troublemaker). This spot is actually a holding action, a pause before the tipping point. Unless you have a truly powerful list you want to slip something in here that makes people feel good before you move on. For instance, if you’re discussing the virtues of writing with a cat on your head this is where you’d talk about how your head is warm on winter nights. People will think, “Ahhh…that’s so cute.” They’ll smile and think about cute kitties or they’ll remember that they’re dog people and wonder how they’re supposed to maneuver their St. Bernard onto their head.

Okay, the mid point, the tipping point, that moment when you either suck them in and continue the list or you lose them. And for the troublemakers out there this is still #3 even if you’re counting in the other direction (I really don’t understand you people). Believe it or not, this has to be bigger than #4 (we’ll get to that). This is the second best reason because this makes or breaks your list. This number must change perceptions and generate an OMG moment, an “oh wow, I’d have never thought of that” and “that’s invaluable” moment.

Therefore, if you’re still listing the reasons to write with a cat on your head you’d inform your audience that the ability to write with ten claws in either side of your neck provides the suffering and, yes, focus that the writers of old could only achieve via excessive drink. Given his attraction to cats its likely Hemingway long ago discovered this was true. In fact, Hemingway was such a man’s man he had polydactyl toed cats so he could achieve additional pain. That’s impressive. He also drank…beat that!

If you’re going to have a throwaway item on the list this is where you place it. Why here and not at #2? Because once they accepted #3 they were hooked and with #5 so close they can’t stop now no matter what you place here. Of course, at least with a traditional list this place has a decent number going for it unlike those lists the troublemakers make that only have a measly #2 in this spot. Also, when you count down to #1 you’re implying this position really is second best. Okay, deal with THAT pressure!

So, getting back to the throwaway position…if you’re discussing the benefits of having a cat on your head while you write this is where you’d mention that having a cat on your head is easier than having a bear on your head. Stupid, right? Of course it is! At this point, though, you’ve already hooked them so they won’t think about it. Instead, because they’re anxious to reach #5 they’ll simply skim the entry and think, “Oh, yeah, okay, that makes sense,” and “yeah, no way would I want a bear on my head,” and move on.

All right, this is where there must be payoff if you want anyone to ever read one of your lists again (unless you’re only making one of these lists and then it doesn’t matter…put down whatever you want and make sure you close down your blog). For those of you counting in the correct direction, five fingers are now fully extended, which looks more impressive and friendly than an angry closed fist. But, hey, don’t listen to me. Sure, go ahead, do whatever you want. Troublemakers.

This is that moment when they’re leaning in close to their monitors in anticipation, or holding their phones close to their face. This is when you not only share your best piece of advice, but you alter everything they thought they knew, you alter their perceptions so profoundly they won’t come out of their stupor for days, possibly weeks, and by then they’ll need a great 5-point list because they haven’t blogged in awhile.

Once again, we’ll use the cat-on-your-head-while-you-write example. For this position on the list you’d want to share that writing with a cat enables you to more directly tap into the cat’s purr, which massages the brain. In other words, you meditate while you write, thus increasing the peace within and increasing your ability to access a greater percentage of your brain function. Your brilliance will leave readers believing they’ve read 500 great rules, for no lower number could alter their consciousness to a greater degree.

There you have it, the 5 Rules for Writing 5 Rules. You are now armed with a powerful tool that even Plato didn’t possess (instead, he spouted wisdom left and right and failed to realize the advantage that limiting himself to 5 provided). For those of you who believe my cat points in #3 and #5 contradict, go talk to those who count the other direction. Troublemakers. For my part, it’s time to change cats.

2 Replies to “5 Rules for Writing 5 Rules”

  1. Christina I don’t have a cat on my head but he walks all over my keyboard. I get a bit overwhelmed with all the information out there. The best tips for me came from Stephen Kings book on writing. He reminds us its all about the story and never forget that. I guess the same applies for blog posts too and I love your take on it.

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