Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
Sell yourself on your own ideas, learn from Michael Lewis’ writing habits, think before you type, and embrace “clickbait.”
Pitching yourself: If Internet articles about writing are any indicator, the hardest parts about being a scribe is actually finding the time and motivation to write. The next hardest part, then, has to be the most important: having something to write about.
In a given week, there are probably 15–20 topics that I consider writing about but dismiss because I’m not convinced they’ll be good posts (or because there’s not time). Sifting through these ideas to find the best can be paralyzing. (“If I begin writing that, then I won’t have time to write this.”)
Blogs without Blah, a consultancy in the U.K., offers tips on pitching yourself each of your stories to determine the pieces worth publishing. If you’re already indecisive, being the writer and the editor may not be the right solution, but it might at least help you figure out some headlines.
Michael Lewis on writing: Michael Lewis released his latest book, “Flash Boys,” this week about high-frequency trading to some debate. Whatever you think of the issue, you can bet it’s a good read because above all, Lewis is a writer and storyteller. He talked with Bloomberg this week about his approach:
You’re just trying to get your particular vision down on the paper. You learn something in the world, you try to explain it to a reader and do it in your voice.
Writing is thinking: This piece from The Huffington Post is about how writers are the heroes of our time because, unlike science and technology, writing provides lasting stories with recognizable character traits. There are a lot of things writers feel at the keyboard. It’s unlikely that heroism is one of them. What struck me about this piece was something Richard Vetere mentioned on the way to making his point:
And writing never ends, meaning writers are always writing even when they are not doing it physically. Their entire being is directed toward working out in their minds and in their hearts the story they want to tell.
So much of writing happens when you’re walking around, eating lunch, reading. By the time you’re ready to type, you know how your piece is going to look, or at least how it’s going to start.
“Clickbait” is not new: This piece falls outside the seven-day window I try to stick to, but because it addresses something I highlighted last week, writers’ getting paid for clicks, it’s worth including here.
It’s not all that surprising to hear that editors have sought to entice eyeballs through headlines for a lot longer than the Internet has been around. This piece from Deadspin focuses on the negative connotation placed on “clickbait” headlines, explaining why they’re not only not bad, sometimes they’re completely necessary. Old-school journalism—say, before 1960—was very much the same as what we’re seeing now.
It’s any way of presenting a story that doesn’t follow the dreary precepts that prevailed in high-end U.S. newsrooms over the last half-century—a period, incidentally, of widespread newspaper consolidation that allowed those newsrooms to be just as self-serious as they liked in the absence of any real competition. It’s anything anyone might actually want to read.
In other words, competition breeds the necessity for strong language and imagery, and in the end, people need to read what you wrote.
Writing headlines is an art form. Measuring clicks is just technology.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He’s on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.