See what I just did there? I made you look.
I didn’t exactly pull that title out of thin air, but it probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.
I’m talking about the post I wrote last week, the one called Memorial Day Weekend Hilarity. The one that starts off with my husband prancing about in my four-year-old’s purple princess dress to get a rise out of her and ends with my daughter screaming the S-word after crapping her pants at the zoo.
You see, this thing didn’t make a huge splash right after publishing, but gained traction in the past several days. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly seeing hundreds of views. Hundreds became thousands…
And it’s still going strong. It’s quite popular in Western Europe, particularly in the U.K. I’m guessing that’s because they speak English there.
People are actually reading this thing in the Isle of Man. The ISLE OF MAN.
Never in a million years did I expect folks in the Isle of Man to be reading about my toddler’s accident at the Sacramento Zoo, about her screaming, “Sh*t, looks like I just crapped my pants!” It’s rather surreal.
For all I know, the Queen of England is checking it out too.
Okay, I’ll admit that’s highly unlikely, but it’s still a really fun idea. I picture the Queen shaking her head while clutching her gin & tonic, then wondering how these silly colonists ever won the war…
Right before she scrolls through a bunch funny Youtube videos. Really tasteless stuff, like guys jumping off of buildings and landing on their crotch.
And for that, my fellow Americans, I should probably apologize. Stories about me running out of a bathroom to laugh because my toddler started swearing about crapping her pants isn’t the best PR for American parenting. I’m prepared to take full responsibility for casting us in such a ridiculous light.
Thing is, I was nervous about posting it in the first place. On this mommy blog, I’ve walked the constant tightrope of writing about things a large segment of our society find offensive, especially in a parenting blog… things like farting and pooping and kids that insult their parents before overturning furniture in a rage. Things that don’t fit into our collective picture about the acceptable kind of mommy blog, which includes helpful tips, greater sensitivity, and an impressive mastery of crafts.
And there’s nothing wrong with that kind of mommy blog, but it’s already been well covered. That’s not who I am, not the kind of mommy I am, and I’m guessing non-parents might actually be curious to hear the real story about life after kids.
You know, in case they’ve been spooked by the idea that parenthood sucks out your soul and replaces it with a crafting automaton.
It’s a constant balancing act between boring and monocle-popping offense.
Yet this zoo post unexpectedly caught on, at least in Europe.
This baffles me. I’ve kept this blog up for roughly a year now, which makes me neither a complete beginner nor a seasoned pro. I’ve learned some tricks of the trade along the way, but there’s still so far to go.
Like the old adage about the only way of getting to Carnegie Hall being to practice, practice, practice… I’m guessing the only real way to improve your writing is to write, write, write.
Which I’ve done religiously, for better or worse. I churn this stuff out like a madwoman, hoping to bust through any barriers and build creative muscles like an Amazonian. Maybe greater forethought in editing would be prudent, yet over time I’ve improved a great deal.
And it’s been hit-or-miss in mysterious ways. Sometimes, for example, I’ve been sure I knocked posts out of the park. I stayed up until four in the morning perfecting them and was completely baffled when views barely trickled in.
Then out of nowhere, a seemingly random post will take off like lightening. Maybe I didn’t think it was anything special, but suddenly thousands of people are viewing it and I’m getting new followers every day.
Like this one, about watching preschool boys and girls. This post was incredibly popular and convinced me to explore gender issues more. Yet later posts on the topic went absolutely nowhere.
You’d think success would build on itself, right? Once thousands of people checked out my post, they should be interested in whatever I came up with next. But it didn’t work like that. Every blogging day is like a newborn phoenix that must prove itself yet again.
I’ve tried to figure out the formulas, but it’s always three steps forward, two steps back.
It seems logical that if you want to collect a bunch of views, you should write an eye-catching headline, because why would anyone read it if they’re not interested in the first place?
Still, “Memorial Day Weekend Hilarity” hardly seems like click-bait. More like an afterthought when wanting to move on. I can only assume someone read it then recommended it to their friends.
So, I carry these endless experiments on further by writing a click-bait worthy title and seeing if anyone bites. Titles are our first impression in a sea of endless data, after all.
Next, we wonder how real we should allow ourselves to be. Do we stick to social acceptability or write something that marks itself out from the pack?
According to conventional wisdom, our best bet is writing a click-bait title then following up with a numbered list of eye-catching truths. I’m sure many of us have tried this then watched our efforts dissolve into virtual death. We try and try to do the conventionally best thing, then wonder why it’s going nowhere.
Stephen King once said that to really become a writer, you have to give up respectability, and the guy must know what he’s talking about. Because whatever your feelings on King’s creative genius may be, you have to admit he’s “arrived.”
He talks about 20 rules for writers in the above link. Twenty rules that are undoubtedly extremely good advice, rules whose tenants I’m undoubtedly breaking as we speak.
But he also talked about finding your unique voice. About not being a pale imitation of anyone else.
And how can we do that unless we experiment?
I’m convinced, deep down, there are tricks of the trade that guarantee writing success. There’s a magical equation that works for anyone savvy enough to employ it. I happen upon it accidentally when something I’ve written gets popular, though I’m grasping at straws to figure out why.
I’ve already broken the rules, for example, about blogging in a very specific niche. I write a mommy blog, yet the rest of life keeps sneaking in.
Maybe that works for marketing or real estate. But writing is a different, creative animal. We worry about sounding too chipper and formulaic, about selling out our creative souls.
Or not. Maybe some folks have the formula down pat and are cranking out successful blogging week after week.
It’s still a mystery to me.
But I’m on it. Persistence is the key to success.