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Friday, October 23, 2015

How to be a successful writer in the online age

There are three very simple steps to becoming a successful writer online. (It helps to have a well-shared platform, but it can be done even with a small publication or a blog. You never know what's going to take off.)

If you would like to be a successful writer on the internet, follow these instructions on repeat for the rest of your life:

1) Write things people hate.

2) Don't care that people hate them.

3) Write more things people hate.

So, as simple as these steps are, they need a bit of explanation, a bit of context, a bit of background.

When I started out writing, I wanted to write things people loved. That's how it used to be done. That's how you used to define "successful." Winning prizes for beloved, well-thought-out, important pieces that spread messages and information the public really needed or wanted to hear. Expanding horizons. Educating those who did not have the time or resources to do the research themselves, but wanted to go about their day informed and aware of certain issues.

It's a lofty and great goal.

It fails on the internet.

Of all my pieces, the ones I put the most hours in on--the investigative, the scientific, the health stories that I spent my sweat and tears on--they remain the pieces I am personally most proud of. But they languished in relative obscurity. I'd get a few thousand shares, and maybe 20 supportive comments. End scene.

The only reason I still write them at all is because they remain my personal reason for writing. And don't make the mistake of thinking success on the internet is why many writers write. Not true. It's just a necessary evil to keep yourself relevant as the wheels of internet debate continue to spin.

The pieces that propel an internet writer's career (and help it get into print) are the pieces everyone hates. They're provocative. They spin facts and figures to support an opinion that's controversial. They often exist just to attack something a set group loves illogically. (That group, for me, changes with each piece. Usually I'm pissing off conservatives, but I've made exceptions for Bernie Sanders supporters and liberals in general on occasion. I've pissed off people who like a certain show, people who like a certain brand, people who like boys to be boys and girls to be girls, transphobes, homophobes, classists, racists, and more. The point is, I'm always pissing someone off.)

Those pieces are usually shorter. They don't delve into the particulars of the situation as they should to be legitimate journalism. They ignore certain arguments to concentrate on one probably off-to-the-side point. They make strong assertions that would be seen by supporters as well-conceived, but lack the evidence to back those assertions up (usually not because there is no evidence but because that evidence is not needed to further the end-goal, which is clicks and shares so editors and publications continue to acknowledge you as a force on the internet). They're fun to write, and not difficult to write. They're fairly quick. A dash of oil on a fire already burning.

I wrote a piece about the Gilmore Girls two days ago, for instance, enraging fans everywhere. 11,000 shares so far. I wrote a piece on the Ferguson Riots, enraging conservatives everywhere, 40,000 shares. Meanwhile, my piece on groundbreaking stem cell research garnered 387 shares. My piece on human trafficking within door-to-door magazine sales groups got maybe 1,500 shares.

Write things people hate.

Okay, on to the second step. Rejection, either by editors or readers has never bothered me at all. In order to really excel at this business, you have to not care what people think about you. Remember, you're the one who keeps getting published. There's got to be something to that.

I've been asked how I manage to brush off the hatred, anger and malice tossed my way every single time I'm published, and here's what I've come up with. It can be a combination of any or all of these things for each piece that goes up.

Here is my fool-proof way to not give any fucks about what people think about your writing:

1) Don't care about the topic about which you are writing.
2) Care about what you are writing so much that you automatically assume haters lack reading comprehension or common sense.
3) Think that nothing you do is important, therefore comments from strangers on things you do must be absolutely miniscule.
4) Firmly believe that no one looks at bylines but you, and that a commenter who tells you to kill yourself over a piece about network television is probably the same commenter high-fiving you over a piece you wrote about Target.
5) Be used to people thinking you are worthless, and take pleasure in proving them wrong by being more successful, ambitious, tenacious or awesome than them.

Using these five methods, you should have the mental strength to pump out a piece that's been hate-shared 50,000 times along with comments like FIRE THIS WRITER, or GO PLAY IN TRAFFIC YOU DUMB CUNT, brush it off, and pump out a piece the next day that will anger an entire other population of people.

Do I wish this wasn't the case? Absolutely. I want to write enlightening, well-researched, bullet-proof tomes on important social issues of our times.

But that's not going to cut it. Not on the internet.

Good luck, soldier. We're in this together.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

So, who REALLY won the #DemDebate? -- Guest Post

Who won the first #DemDebate? Well, it sort of depends on who you ask, and I think that is the most interesting thing to come out of last night. If you look at almost any mainstream media channel or webpage (CNN, MSNBC, ect.) then you’ll come away with a pretty clear indication that Clinton won and that it wasn’t particularly close. Sanders, most news outlets agree, had a nice showing but fell far short of Clinton’s “dominance”. And in any previous election that would be the end of the story. Clinton won running away, and barring some kind of major scandal this primary is over. The problem for Clinton is that this isn’t any previous election, and there is something of an unknown factor that overwhelmingly believes that Sanders won this debate. Sanders was the most Googled name during the debate, almost from start to finish. He gained 35k new Twitter followers, while the rest of the nominees combined gained just over 20k. The closest online poll has Sanders only winning with 68% of the vote, with that total reaching up to 85% in some polls. The real question is…does that actually matter?

It’s easy to dismiss “The Internet” out of hand, partially because it’s never really mattered before. There’s an argument to be made that The Internet is partially the reason that Obama got nominated over Clinton eight years ago, and I do think there is some merit to that, but for the most part Obama won through conventional, grass roots support. While The Internet was generally in favor of Obama, I don’t think it actually swung the election in any meaningful way. With Sanders, it’s different, but it’s easy to miss the distinction. Sanders has been garnering huge turnouts to his speeches, a lot like Obama did eight years ago. The difference is that when Obama was doing it his staffers were on the street, getting the word out. With Sanders, they have spent very little money on getting the word out, relying mostly on word of mouth. And by “word of mouth”, I really mean “The Internet”. And it’s clearly been working, gaining him audiences as large as 25k at a time.

Does having your name Googled and gaining Twitter followers translate to the polls? Recent events suggest that it might. After Carly Fiorina’s performance in the first Republican Kids Table Debate, she was the most Googled name of the night, and gained the most Twitter followers. Her poll numbers increased enough to get her moved to the real debate a few months later, although they had to change the rules to get her there. In this case, I think the power of The Internet had little to actually do with the change, but the correlation is interesting enough to note. If Sanders sees a five to ten percent increase in poll numbers we might have to pay closer attention to Google and Twitter trends, but I think his numbers are unlikely to change any more than three percent. And that’s because I believe traditional polls are becoming increasingly inaccurate.

In my opinion, the most important thing that any candidate said last night was when Sanders claimed that in order for any Democratic nominee to enact any of their policy changes, it would take a political revolution. Considering the number of Republicans in the House and Senate, he’s absolutely correct. That revolution needs to come from younger voters, a demographic that has, historically, very low voter turnout. But if you look at the crowds Sanders has been drawing, it’s been mostly younger voters. If you look at where he’s most popular, The Internet, you can start to understand why his polling numbers don’t match up to his seemingly fervent support. The most astounding thing I’ve learned all year is that traditional pollsters only call landline phones, never cell phones. In a day and age where more and more people, specifically younger people, are never even setting up a landline, this practice seems woefully outdated. If the people who are likely to say they’re willing to vote for Sanders are never being asked the question, it’s no surprise Sanders isn’t polling in a way that matches his apparent support.

There is one other major reason I believe the fact that Sanders name was Googled more than anyone else last night matters. If you look at the traditional polls, Sanders “Unfamiliarity” rating was around 40% prior to last night. Despite the crowds he’s been drawing, and despite The Internet being on his side, he’s almost never talked about on traditional news outlets, and he doesn’t spend much money on advertising. After last night, I fully expect that number to drop significantly. That may or may not translate to increased poll numbers for him, but it’s very unlikely to make them drop in any meaningful way. While I think that traditional polls are becoming less accurate, that doesn’t make them irrelevant or even unimportant, especially considering the impact of younger voters is a huge mystery.

Which brings me back to the question of who won the debate last night. Clinton had a good showing, and did everything her supporters wanted her to do, including the traditional media. She didn’t commit any major gaffe, and she attacked her opponents in areas where she had a clear advantage over them. She was smart, poised, and articulate in her points. It was clear that she had practiced and was ready for everything that came at her. Sanders, on the other hand, was passionate, genuine, and, in what most people are calling the moment of the night, willing to throw politics aside to defend a fellow candidate against what he perceives as an absurd assault. This defense of Clinton and her email scandal seems to generally be perceived as a sign of his integrity and interest in what’s right over what’s political. In a climate where people seem to be tired of “politics as usual” and are increasingly interested in a candidate who’s willing to speak from the heart, even if what they have to say isn’t popular, this is important.

Clinton did exactly what she walked onto that stage to do, but did she convince anyone who’s on the fence to vote for her over Sanders? I don’t believe she did. To be honest, I don’t believe there are a lot of people on the fence when it comes to Clinton, although I do believe that she may have convinced people that don’t like her that, if she does win the nomination, things won’t be as bleak as they thought it would be a week ago. In other words, I don’t think she helped herself in the primary, but I do think she helped herself in the general election, and that seems to be the reason the traditional news outlets believe she won the debate.

The problem is that Sanders also did exactly what he walked onto that stage to do. His two biggest limitations were people not knowing who he was and his problem with non-white voters, particularly black voters. Gaining almost twice as many Twitter followers as the other four candidates on stage combined as well as being the most Googled name of the night may have taken care of the first problem. And the fact that he was only one of two candidates to actually say the words #BlackLivesMatter (the other being O’Malley), and was the only candidate to not only bring up the example of Sandra Bland, but to actually #SayHerName, will likely help with the second problem. No matter what the traditional polls and media outlets say, Sanders seems to have likely helped himself both in the primary AND in the general election, and for that reason I give the edge to him over Clinton.


Mike Provencher is a writer and father living in Connecticut.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to make a watermelon brain -- Fail Kitchen

"We're lobotomizing the watermelon right now. That's okay. It can just join the Republican Party."



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