I’ll start by saying this loudly, clearly: Me, too.
Fingernails blackened, marked by satan, and no different than any other freelanced article.
It doesn’t come naturally, writing this way. My childhood journals cut straight to the point.
“Today sucked. Mom put cheese on my sandwich. I hate cheese because it’s slimy. But I love Joe and he loves me too, so that was really good. Karleen skinned her knee. I told her she is brave.”
What it lacked in clickability, it made up for in raw honesty. I mean, something in that still tempted my sister to sneak into my room and read. It wasn’t the one line hook. It was the fact that it was honest. Something I miss, as a writer. I’ll accept that the narrative arc was lacking, but I like to think that’s something I’d have developed with time.
But, I didn’t.
Instead, I learned to open with a quote.
Fourth grade. Mrs Lutz. She was the most kind human- the Mrs Honey of Immaculate Conception School. I still remember the day we discussed in class: ways to start an essay. There was some sort of list, though the points blur because I narrowly focused in on one: start with a relevant quote.
Bam. Fast track to creating a feeling in a reader- use the words of another, back them into that sentimental corner, warm them up, and then they’re primed for the buttery smear of your words. Never mind whether or not they’re truly buttery. The reader will never know. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr will carry you through.
And so it went, searching out sentimental quotes to begin each paper. What a system. Until undergrad. As it turns out, an English professor squawks at any essay begun with a quote. I’d say you’d get it ripped up and thrown back at you, except this is the digital age and so you just have to imagine the torn papers breezing by your face as your professor’s curtly disgusted yet polite feedback arrives: “To begin with a quote is easy. It can come off as insincere. Why not instead just start by saying what you’d like to say?”
Start by saying what you’d like to say.
It was novel, obvious, and freeing. I fell in love with Professor Alan Watts. For many reasons, not excluding the chambered nautilus tattooed on his forearm. (This led to a love affair that is ongoing between me and Oliver Wendell Holmes. And so, Professor Watts was effective in more ways than one).
My undergrad writing was free and naive. I didn’t concern myself with form so much as just “saying the damn thing.” I falsely believed that good marks would translate to freelance saleability.
I had little success. I told myself that maybe my writing was the type of the greats, not appreciated until a tragedy has befallen me and I’m no longer around to collect my accolades. Painful, yet poetic. Until, of course, editors corrected me.
“People like lists. Can you summarize this into a list of bullet points?”
“Start with a hook. A one-line sentence that really grabs them. Then double space, and begin your article.”
“The photo should imply a mystery. People click to learn more about the photo. Selfies sell.”
“Please stick to the topics of health and wellness. It is in these areas that you are an expert. People want expert advice.”
Overnight, the automated hand of internet freelancing chiseled me out. My bio devolved from something honest and creative into an expert flipping advice like pancakes, packaged by numbered sentences (no more than eight points, as then readability is lost). These editors knew their trade. My articles got clicks- tens of thousands. Some even went viral.
The 7 benefits of Kombucha
Benefits of Coffee according to Ayurveda
Tips to Maintain Youthful Energy
When workplace harassment touched me deeply, I wanted to write about it.
I was asked to stick with my area of expertise.
As if somehow I am not also an expert
At being a woman.
I resigned from that contract.
Maybe I am an expert in health and wellness,
But that is what I do for my 9–5.
It is not why I write.
I write as a human,
Five lifetimes removed from expert.
Surely some humans prefer to read essays by other humans, and not experts?
I don’t want a guru.
I just want to know your heart.
And, here is mine.
To hell with the clicks.