Being Engaging, Yet Never Really Standing on Dangerous Ground: My First 30,000 Hits on WordPress

Thanks for 30,000 hits.

I think it should be a sin to bore people.  But it’s an insult to art when an artist has to resort to shock value to get a person’s attention.  Somewhere in between Stale Familiarity and Offensive Toxicity is a place called Spunky Creativity.  Off-beat and optimistic.  That’s the place I try to write from.

Writers, by nature, put themselves in a vulnerable position.  Anytime I publish a post that I know has potential to be popular, I usually am suppressing at least a little bit of anxiousness for it.  Because I am implementing (yet testing the limits of) #6 of The Code:  “Be edgy but not controversial.”

Will it be controversial instead of just edgy?  Will I somehow offend a reader unknowingly?  Will I expose too much of myself in the writing, seeming like a know-it-all, a jerk, or douche?

My favorite author, Michael Chabon, referenced this thought process in his newest nonfiction book, Manhood for Amateurs: “Anything good that I have written has, at some point during its composition, left me feeling uneasy and afraid.  It has seemed, for a moment, to put me at risk.”

As it tends to be the case, the edgiest posts I write end up becoming my personal favorites and the ones I am proudest of.  Because they have the most substance.  The most creativity.  And are hopefully the most engaging.

Here are several examples: The Cannabis Conspiracy, Introduction; Modern Day Scarlet Letters: R&B; Free Marriage Advice; Singleness; The Gift No One Really Wants; The Funny Thing about Jews; Emotionally Charged Words; Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ; Water into Wine; BS Detector; What is a Christian Nation, Anyway?; Religious Views on Facebook Profiles

Grabbing a reader’s attention is one thing.  But having what I wrote stay in their head for a day or two, having them ponder about it, having them share that same idea to others either through conversation or by my forwarding my link, having them save my website in their favorites, well, that’s another thing.

It’s important to me that my website is not a gimmick, a trend, or anything that can be described as “cute”.  But I also have to make sure I’m not sparking a political or religious debate.  Because if what I write is in deed controversial (as opposed to just being edgy), I could wind up in a situation where my post gets attention just because of the long trail of comments of people arguing with each other, themselves, and me over the open-ended content I wrote about.

That’s not for me.  Let other people argue. (Often, controversial topics aren’t new and fresh anyway.)

That’s one of the reasons that my current #2 post of all time, Capital Punishment, In Theory, remains popular.  In it, I don’t question whether or not capital punishment is wrong or right.  I question those who support capital punishment with “could you be the one to pull the trigger if it was up to you?”  That’s not controversial, that’s deep.  And edgy.

If nothing else, when I write, I am simply trying to entertain myself.  So if I’m not intrigued by the material I write about, I figure no one else will be either.

Other posts of this “10,000 Hits” series:

Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the Ground (posted April 11, 2010)

Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground (posted May 18, 2010)

Advertisements

The Edge of “Me Too” Culture: What Makes People Famous

My sister is my editor. She is the first to read what I write, typically two days before it’s published. If I am working on a piece that I feel may be pushing the envelope/over the top/too forceful, I let her proofread it for me. And most of the time, she tells me to keep it the way it is.

Just last week she labeled one of my drafts as “edgy”. Then later that day as I read a chapter in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles on my lunch break, it stressed the importance of each article I write needing to be short, informative, and edgy. There that word is again. Edgy.

Thanks to WordPress I am finally able to track the number of daily readers along with knowing which things I write are the most popular posts. So far, it has consistenty been those “edgy” ones that I ran by my sister before posting. People like edgy stuff. It has now been statistically proven.

We live in a world of “me too” culture. “Anything you can do, I can do better” has become “anything you can do, I can do, but it will probably be a crappier version, but still, I can do it too.” Anyone can sing, dance, record music, make a computer app, do a video series on YouTube, and write blogs. The more crowded a venue, the more mediocre and blandized the general talent becomes. That’s why people are drawn to the edge. The edge of what’s normal. The edge of what’s familiar. The salt of the earth.

People tend to talk about how crazy life is. (Instantly the intro to Jon and Kate Plus 8 comes to mind, along with Michael Buble’s song “Everything”). Yes, life is crazy. And it’s also pretty mundane. So when people look for entertainment and/or enlightenment, they tend to venture off the main trail to find it.

Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty would most likely not have won American Idol in their days. But their uniqueness and off-beat perspective found a way to draw people in through their odd lyrics and quirky personas.

It’s pretty obvious in any episode of Howie Mandel’s “Deal or No Deal”. The contestants always have some sort of stupid gimmick. An annoying catch phrase or weird favorite color. It becomes the theme of that episode.

From Seinfeld to Super Mario Bros.  Things that are both weird and common attract people.

For me it all goes back to Junior High when I realized the irony of the phrase “everyone is special and unique”. Yes. Yes, they are. But if everyone is special and unique, then they’re all the same. Standing in the in-between of what’s familiar and what is off-beat is often where audiences form.  Nothin’ draws a crowd like a crowd.