Thursday, July 19, 2018

So You Want to Be a Well Read Writer

by Hassassin (writer), Los Angeles, October 20, 2006


So you want to be a well read writer? Just by reading the question, you’ll have to make a choice. Perhaps you already have—you’ll notice that the question can be read two ways. Do you want to be the page one writer that Sarah Jessica Parker will want to play on screen, or the person who suggests that Michel Foucault’s ideas on the binary model are merely regurgitations of ancient Daoist text? Either way, you’re going to be making some conscious decisions about how your ‘voice’ will be received by your soon-to-be adoring fans.

For many of you (including myself), this website is probably your first crack at any sort of journalistic/editorial writing, and the lofty aspirations of taking out Ann Coulter with one swoop of the keyboard have probably been brought back down to Earth by the time you’ve hit Shift+F7 eight or nine times. In any case, if you plan on developing a style and a following, you’re going to have to start early, and stay consistent.

The issue hit home when I thought about writing a second article for this online publication. My first splash in the Broowaha pool was one of your typical TMZish stories picking on a sloppy celebrity, which—I’ll be honest—is a good call if you’re trying to get some quick hits to up your popularity. Now this would be all great if you plan on following Paris Hilton around for the rest of your writing career, but if you plan on diversifying your content, you run the risk of messing with your credibility.

So now visions of being the next John Gardner or Khalil Gibran are bouncing in my head, and I start writing a piece that begins with

“As the pendulum of popular thought continues to oscillate through different periods in history, it would be easy to consider contemporary thought as a definitive manifestation in a linear evolution…”

And I stop myself—wait a second, what the hell is this?? Imagine seeing an article about Tara Reid’s boobs sitting next to an attempt at scholarly writing. First of all, anybody reading this masochistic stab at an essay would think ANYTHING that starts with the phrase “as the pendulum of popular thought…” is haughty and pretentious; and if they didn’t, well those five people probably are a little bit of both. Secondly, suppose you plan on doing the proverbial Andy Kaufman—try to read The Great Gatsby to a bunch of ASU kids after doing TAXI; you stand to lose most of your fans quicker than you can say “thank you very much”.

The bottom line is you’re probably going to receive a voice before you decide you’re comfortable with it, so you’d better do a couple revisions before you hit the submit button. Backspace. Backspace.

It’s also important to remember your audience. As much as some of you would like to think that everyone wants to read your daily thoughts on bubbles and unicorns, publishing your personal diary (which is only one syllable away from personal diarrhea) will get you about as far as Studio 60 is going to make it if the writing continues to be so self-indulgent and ‘pretty’ (side note: pop references help move your article along). Wide appeal is why celebrity gossip works so well, but it’s not the only way to win over your readers. Just as long as you follow a few guidelines, you’ll be sure to hold onto your burgeoning fan base:

1. Stay consistent
2. Write to an audience larger than your own personal social group
3. Avoid using parentheses (unless necessary)
4. Write what you know

With regards to #4, this is a personal pet peeve of mine. Whether it’s a drunken sorority girl trying to explain why the USC Trojans aren’t scoring as many touchdowns this year, or a twice divorced radio jockey giving advice on personal relationships, there’s nothing more annoying than feigned expertise. Keeping that in mind, be sure to stay within your realm of knowledge, especially if you start to dip into political topics or contested issues. Spending twenty minutes on Wikipedia doesn’t give you the authority to discuss the intricacies of Middle Eastern Politics or Genetic Engineering, so make sure you do your homework, and please don’t try to state opinion as fact.

Either way, whether you’re trying to denounce Bill O’Reilly’s new book or announce Jessica Simpson’s new beaux, try to be honest and interesting. And if those two things conflict, for the reader’s sake, go with interesting.

About the Writer

Hassassin is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on So You Want to Be a Well Read Writer

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By Noa on October 20, 2006 at 03:27 pm
Wow! Best article on the site yet, hands down! I like the diary-diarrhea trick... so true :)
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By rictusette on January 14, 2007 at 12:16 am
very tight but clear article. i was taken with your style. thanks for being informative too whilst restrained from self-importance.
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