How to make a Top 10 List in 10 easy steps!
They’re all the rage these days: the lists, the numbers, the numbered lists, and all the advice given out in the form of lists of 10 or 7 or 5 or 3 things you need to know about anything, absolutely anything at all!
Here are the 10 steps to making a Top 10 List:
1. Type the number 1.
2. Type one example of your idea, or whatever you want to make a list about.
3. Add more numbers and more items until you have compiled ten of them.
4. Arrange in order of most important to least important, or, if you wish, put them in reverse order.
5. Go have lunch, or, in the alternative, a drink of your favorite beverage.
6. Review the list; edit, proofread as necessary.
7. Take a nap. In the alternative, daydream.
8. Practice reading your list aloud; if bored, use a voice with a foreign accent or as a beloved cartoon character.
9. Run spellchecker; or, if you choose, start the entire project over from scratch.
10. Sit back and admire your list. If flexible enough, pat yourself on the back.
Seems easy, right? Anyone can do it. The beauty of such lists, of course, is their flexibility. Say it with me: Flex-I-Bil-I-Ty! Stay flexible. Practice flexibilizing. Anticipate changes. Embrace alternatives. Reward yourself for absolutely anything you can. And always count to 10 before and after making such a list.
Lists of 10 are useful for many different things. For example, steps to do something.
To demonstrate (etymology: “to strut like a demon”) the process, I shall construct a list of the 10 steps I go through when I am writing a novel. I choose this topic because it’s one of the few things I actually know how to do.
1. Get idea, write for fun, see where it goes.
Usually it’s something I read, hear about, or a life experience that gives me the idea that something may make a good story, hence I should write a novel about it. For example, AFTER ILIUM began in a Classical Rhetoric class where we studied the Encomium of Helen, a speech in support of Helen being a victim and not a co-conspirator in that Trojan War mess. So I thought: Wouldn’t it be weird (i.e., cool) if a guy named Parris met a woman named Helen today on the way to see the ruins of Troy?
2. If it goes somewhere, keep going, form longer idea.
Like the step states, I write and see if it goes anywhere. A fruitful idea will go and go and never stop until I just plain get tired of typing. A weak idea will usually run out of steam rather quickly; then I’ll dismiss it and get on with my day.
3. Pause to research, write a little.
Eventually I’ll get to a point where I cannot write further without checking some facts, doing some research, making sure I’m on the right track. So I’ll pause in my writing to do that research. I’ll continue writing, of course, but usually in smaller portions and with longer intervals between the writing sessions.
4. Repeat step 3.
Yes, I do repeat that step. Because it’s an important step. I cannot write if I do not know what I’m writing about, so in this stage I am switching back and forth often between the researching and the writing. While writing THE DREAM LAND Book III, which involved a comet’s approach and a planet-wide evacuation plan, I researched spacecraft requirements, life-support systems, astronomy and inhabitable planets, and comets, all rather extensively…and continued to write pages while researching.
5. Write longer portions using research.
After sufficient research has been done and the relevant knowledge incorporated, I’m able to writing in more extended sessions because I now know the details. I still might pause to check some facts. When I wrote A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, my vampire novel, I researched skin diseases and then wrote a scene set in a doctor’s office where the doctor tells my hero what is wrong with him…using the long list of diseases and their symptoms I got from medical texts.
6. Keep going until done.
Now comes the long haul of writing. Writing sprints are helpful. Also helpful is no distractions or disturbances or poor health. On a good day I can write forever. It’s fun and I am reading a new story as quickly as I am typing it out. What happens next? No, don’t tell me, Brain; I want to find out on my own….
Yes, I usually edit a bit as I go. In fact, each writing session I begin by editing the previous portion of text as a warm-up to the fresh composition. But here, in this step, I do a serious deep edit from start to finish. Much rewriting may occur, including cuts to some “darlings” and additional text added.
8. Research, check everything for technical correctness.
In this step I tend to get a little paranoid, worried that some expert somewhere may read my book and shake his/her head at the facts I present. So I recheck crucial data, facts, and information–just to be sure. Also, sometimes new questions arise in the writing and so I return to research late in the process. This is also where I check for technical consistency. (If the spacecraft is designated V-77 in chapter 23, I need to also call it V-77 in chapter 29, not V-75.)
9. Edit for style.
I check for the voice of characters, vocal quirks, grammar, and so on. I make sure the voice of the narrator is consistent. I play with the wording of key phrases and sentences, choosing the best word(s) for the effect I want. This is a long step involving repeated readings of the same passages.
Beyond spellchecker. I read everything with my own eyes several times…and yet I still miss things and, embarrassingly, find them at the last moment while reading a proof copy of the book. A few tips to catch such errors: 1) read aloud; you will hear what your eyes do not see; and 2) read from the last sentence forward to the first sentence, at least within each chapter; forced isolation of the sentence, taken out of the flow, helps pinpoint any flaws in syntax or grammar, as well as checking spelling and punctuation.
Then I am finished–at least with the writing! There is certainly another 10 List for publishing a book. Perhaps it has 20 items. I lose count after a while, anyway.
Oh! I almost forgot to give you the Top 10 reasons for making a Top 10 List. Sorry for that slip. That’s probably worthy of a list itself. Well, here they are–but I’m sure you’ll find them quite mundane.
1. People like Top 10 lists.
2. Compartmentalizes information in an easily digestible form.
3. People can count to 10.
4. Counting creates excitement.
5. People are often bored.
6. Counting prevents boredom.
7. People hate boredom.
8. Counting gives people a sense of progression.
9. People like the word ‘top’!
10. At the conclusion of a Top 10 List, people are likely to debate whether the items should be on the list or not.
Stephen is the author of AFTER ILIUM, THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY, A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, AIKO, and a forthcoming novel, A GIRL CALLED WOLF.
He also blogs at DeConstruction of the Sekuatean Empire