You may have noticed that there is brilliant, nuanced writing of depth and insight available online. These pieces epitomize the Internet’s lofty ideals of exchanging information and spreading knowledge throughout the world.
The area of overlap is surprisingly small.
As a writer, you naturally want your words to reach a wide audience. All writers understand that the need for creative expression, the desire to reach out to others, the self-satisfaction of recording your thoughts for posterity…those things are crap. We want eyeballs, baby. Without the validation of strangers, those hours spent typing away are nothing. NOTHING.
*drinks coffee mug full of vodka, sobs*
As I was saying, it’s not enough to create compelling online content. You have to draw readers in, pique their interest, encourage them to “like” and “share.” If a tree falls in an empty forest, not only does it not make a sound, but its blog stats suck. On the other hand, if a tree squashes a random dude’s nuts and you catch it on video, you make the goddamn front page of Tumblr.
So what’s the secret to clickable content? What’s the subtle appeal of the piece that goes viral versus the sad pile of words that nobody reads except your best friend because she’s always got your back, even when you write shit?
I’ve broken it down for you. Based on minutes of actual research, I present: How to Improve Your Writing for the Internet.
Don’t Worry If Your Writing Is Shit
Shit goes viral all the time. The one variable we can confidently remove from the success in writing equation is quality. Instead, channel all the energy you might otherwise spend on research and proofreading into unjustified self-righteous anger. It will energize your output, regardless of topic. Even if you’re writing about how to choose a bamboo cutting board, be sure to denounce fracking and the War on Christmas. In fact, you should worry if your writing isn’t shit, because…
Grammar Is For The 1%
As a writer, every day you probably read something and say to yourself, “I write way better than this guy/lady/Buzzfeed listicle generator!” Of course you do, baby. Most people don’t write well, just as most people don’t sing well or tie cherry stems in a knot with their tongues well. That’s why it’s called a talent (from the Latin for “neener neener, look what I can do”). And if you’re writing for the New York Times, good grammar is really important to you and to your audience. But we’re talking about the Internet. If you want the greatest number of people to relate to your writing, you should treat the rules of language the way Donald Trump treats the Constitution: with callous disregard and a healthy dose of ignorance. You don’t want to come off as some kind of elitist, do you? On the same topic…
Keep Things Simple
I don’t mean dumb down your writing; that would be insulting. But you have to understand that people are busy; they want to get to what’s important, quickly. Over time, the people of the Internet have come to embrace a unique efficiency of language. For example, they know there’s no need for so many different ways to spell “to.” Pick one and stick with it. Also, feel free to streamline verb tenses: I see, I seen, I should of seen. Simple and elegant. Of course, acronyms are de rigueur: LOL, JK, OMG. Pro tip: When offering a sophisticated rebuttal to an online argument, make liberal use of the acronym for “Friend, utilizing comprehensive knowledge yields optimal understanding.” Try it!
Make ‘em Look
Don’t forget that popular Internet writing depends on more than simply content. The right title can drive loads of traffic to your piece. Look at the title of this article. It’s OK, right? But it’s not what I would have gone with. I lobbied for:
I Never Realized This One Simple Technique Could Get More Readers.
Did You Ever Dream It Could Work? I Sure Didn’t! I’m Trying this!
See how much more compelling that is? That’s the kind of headline that works. You know it does; don’t pretend it doesn’t. The best part is, your content doesn’t have to have anything to do with it. At all. In the fact, the more misleading, the better! SHOCKING.
Key Words Are Key
Even if you’re not up to clickbait artistry like the above, be sure to craft your headlines carefully. They should give readers just enough information to make them want to know more and then feel sad and ashamed about wanting to know more. That delicate balance between morbid curiosity and self-loathing can be enhanced by including proven key words and phrases, such as “How To,” “Secret,” “Never Fail,” “Girth,” “Iguana Pornography,” and “Fetty Wap.” If you can’t work any of those in, try “[Your subject] Just Broke the Internet,” and see how many readers to flock to find out what those wacky bamboo cutting boards are up to now.
I hope you found these tips helpful and informative, now get out there and write, FFS.
Read more of Chuck’s work.