Before Tom Scocca crapped all over it, I read Adam Mordecai’s Quora post about why they write 25 headlines at Upworthy. I’ve included the entire passage further down, but the most relevant bit is this:
The reason it’s always 25, no less, is that it forces you to think waaaay outside the box when writing. You get desperate around headline 21, and do something so out of left field that it’s not the typical headline.
I found myself immediately agreeing with this, because I have experienced something similar. Maybe not 25 headlines, but there have been a couple of times over the past year where I’ve written at least 10. And even at that point I found myself forced to think beyond the obvious.
The problem is that 85% of people who read Adam’s post will a) think it’s a good idea but b) never bother to try it. A good suggestion requires a modest amount of personal experience for it to be meaningful. And I’m willing to bet that most people reading his post have never had to write more than a handful of headlines.
Adam goes on to note that he can write 25 headlines in 15 minutes, now that he’s practiced enough. That’s the other barrier to adoption – if you’ve never written 10 headlines, then writing 25 is probably going to be a near impossible task. I’m not saying that good advice is impossible to transmit to those without any prior experience in the topic area, but it does make it more difficult. It’s worth keeping in mind the next time you sling around one of those LinkedIn productivity listicles. Inbox Zero zealots are born from people who once had 2,649 unread emails.
The reason we write 25 headlines is that it’s an old strategy from my boss’s old gig, The Onion. At the Onion, they would “crap out 25 headlines” as fast as possible. Then in the pitch room, they’d assume that 20 were crap, and the remaining 5 had an opportunity to be an article. Then once they had their headline, they’d finish their piece.
The reason it’s always 25, no less, is that it forces you to think waaaay outside the box when writing. You get desperate around headline 21, and do something so out of left field that it’s not the typical headline. The key is to not overthink your headlines and make every sentence perfect. Remember 20 will be crap. So just get them all out.