I did something I’m not proud of doing.
I wrote an article yesterday that turned out great, and because I have been working on my headline-writing skills, I thought I would try something confrontational. When I first submitted it to Better Marketing, the headline was “It Is Your Fault No One is Reading Your Writing on Medium.”
If you know me well at all, it doesn’t sound like something I would publish. I don’t make it a habit of getting in others’ faces and telling them they suck.
It’s just not me.
Even after I submitted it, I felt uneasy in the pit of my stomach. I felt like the headline went against everything I stood for, and when it got rejected, I was relieved. I had a chance to go back and change it to something that sounds like my voice. It’s still a hard-hitting piece but I softened it around the edges.
I should know by now that, at least for me, it never pays to go against what I stand for.
What is Wrong With Trying Something New?
I’m not saying it’s terrible to go out on a limb and try something new. Writing is all about testing the boundaries and seeing what works.
But there are certain principles and fundamentals that make us a unique human. These are essential things people know about you that make up the image they have of you in their mind.
“Oh, Stuart is incorrigible. He will say anything to make you cringe!”
It also makes up the foundation of who you are to yourself, your morals, and your beliefs. I hated that headline because I care enough about others that I would never want to make them feel embarrassed about something that is clearly very important to all of us.
I would never call anyone a shitty writer, except myself, because that is part of who I am.
So there is nothing wrong with going in a different direction with your writing, but make sure you can be comfortable with this new “you” before you stick your neck out.
How Do You Know You Have Gone too Far?
For me, it’s usually a gut feeling about something I write. My writing and editing are driven by feeling. I know what sounds good when I say it, and I know when something doesn’t sound like me. I have an awareness of myself that rarely fails me.
It told me when I had to improve as a writer and when I finally found my writing voice.
I realize some people don’t have that awareness because I see so many people publish something unquestionably wrong and spend days arguing in the comments with offended readers.
You have to understand the difference between taking a stand and being insulting. Every time you publish, you have to decide if the point of the story is a hill you want to die on because if you are blatantly offensive, your writing career can die.
How many times have you seen someone trying to shock or trick people into reading by taking a stand they don’t believe in? How many writing careers have ended because they wrote something sexist, racist, or hurtful and decided they were going to defend their position no matter what?
I’ve seen many, and it bothers me every time.
So it’s about developing awareness and knowing when something is worth fighting for. For instance, when I was first starting on Medium, I was looking for ways to make something I wrote go viral. I saw a lot of other people writing about sex, and this was at a time when I was writing about my personal life, so I wrote about my lifelong aversion to intercourse.
The essay was tasteless. It was that essay when I found the line I should never cross, because I did, and although I didn’t have a lot of negative comments, I knew that I had let my audience down. I took it down after two days and sent it to the deepest file folder I could find.
The only reason I kept it was to remind myself of what never to do again.
I still write about personal subjects, but there is a line I won’t cross since I found my writing voice. I eventually realized that shocking people got clicks and reads, but it was tough to gain respect from the audience.
Being aware of who you are as a person and a writer, knowing where you draw the line you won’t cross, and listening to your gut are great ways to make sure you don’t ever write something that doesn’t fit your mythos.
Bottom line: the readers can tell when you are fake. They can spot a liar a mile away. You might think you are sly, but as soon as they come to a point in your story where they realize you are advertising something you don’t believe in, they will be gone like the wind.
Take chances and try new things, but stay true to what you believe in, and don’t always go for shock and awe when you are writing headlines. Nobody likes clickbait, and that is what you are writing when you are just doing it for the clicks and reads.
Nobody likes that person.