Headlines Are Hard But Paragraphs Are Horrifying (& Here's Why)


This is an unfiltered, unedited morning brain-drain. If you enjoy it, you can follow me on the Twitternet here.

Headlines aren’t scary.

Everyone hammers home the fact that you need to create amazing headlines to drive traffic. It's true, but we understand (roughly) how to construct headlines. There are "best practices" and "thought leaders" (and some actual leaders with great thoughts) telling us what to do.

Headlines are straightforward -- they're the ad for your content, and the purpose they serve is easily defined: get clicks. As editor Gabriel Snyder says, headlines are “naked little creatures that have to go out into the world and stand and fight on their own.” You can test them, create a formula for them, and generally boil them down to science over sentiment.

Assignments aren’t scary.

Everyone who’s ever gone to school, listened to their parents, or had a boss/coach/camp counselor/girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/child/pet has carried out something more or less ordered of them.

Grammar’s not scary.

I just used an Oxford comma in the previous paragraph. I know what an Oxford comma is, for crying out loud. And even if I didn’t, you could teach me the rules of grammar, either by definition or by sight, sound, and feel. (Hey, there’s another Oxford comma! You’re learning now too. Sorry, that’s my fault -- you're not here to learn. You're here for snark. Patience, my friend. Patience for glory...)

Even creativity isn’t scary.

It’s not hard to create something. Better said, it’s not hard to create a thing. If it doesn’t have to be good, or coherent, or purposeful, then I’d wager most folks could create something.

But paragraphs?

Paragraphs are scary.

Paragraphs are really freaking scary.

Writing paragraphs, you suddenly enter the uncharted, undocumented, overly cluttered, and under-explored reaches of your mind and your emotions. You’re tasked with taking that headline which so adeptly got you clicks…that assignment, which was so swiftly delivered to you with a goal in mind from your boss or client…that grammar and creativity, which somehow both work in tandem to produce a thing into the world…you’re tasked with taking allllll of that, and bringing it to life.

You're done with the wrapper and the foundation. You're not yet to the pseudo-science of distribution and marketing.

You're up, whether you want to be or not. If you want that thing you create to be great, then it has to resonate in the minds and hearts of those who will consume your paragraphs. And you won’t ever meet those people, for the most part. But you still better create paragraphs that resonate with them.

Oh, and it better be good the next time too, and the next time, and then -- well, okay, you can break for the weekend, but the time after that? Yep, it’s gotta be good. 

No pressure.

We all take risks in our jobs and in our lives. You take a risk when you write code that creates an app that nobody has ever downloaded before. Will it work?

You take a risk when you ask someone out for the first time. Will s/he say yes?

But for a writer or a creator, whether for business or for fun, our lives revolve around the daily risks we take. Each thing we do is a risk. You're telling others to hold on for a few hours, or few days, or few weeks, or few months, because somewhere deep down, you firmly, fiercely believe that the time it takes to turn information into content -- all that time you spend to make something quality and creative -- will matter. You believe it will yield not just results, but better results; not just readers, but fans; not just moments of consumption, but moments they'll actually, somehow, against all odds remember.   

This is scary and draining.

That’s because, if we’re doing it right, we’re constantly defending our work while simultaneously giving of ourselves. That's not cheesy or cliche. It’s the Damn Truth. (You know it must be -- it’s capitalized). Your investment in your work and the way you mold a concept into words is entirely based on YOU. 

Your experiences of the world, your humor or lack thereof, your energy or attitude that day, the moments that make up your life — all of this provides the lens through which your paragraphs flow.

No two writers would produce the same exact assignment the same exact way. That’s because no one is the same. (There’s a reason you can never get an A+ on a college essay, by the way - you can always do something differently, or better, or more aligned with the reader...but it's largely subjective.)

So it’s all up to you.

And that’s scary!

Luckily, risks are what move things forward, whether in personal or professional things. And you, my fellow writer, take risks. Every day. And better than most, I'm sure.

Anyone can figure out headlines. Anyone can field assignments. Anyone can learn grammar, fake creativity, and pretend to be creative by producing some “stuff.”

But you? You operate where it’s risky: in the paragraphs, where things truly resonate with an audience, where they actually feel something emotional, and where they're moved enough to convert, share, and remember you despite all the millions and millions of things sent spinning out onto the internet every single day. 

Breathe -- you can do it. And the more risks you take, the more you focus on creating wonderful paragraphs, the more your work succeeds.

Writing well is hard. But the hard is what gives us meaning.

Posted on May 23, 2014 and filed under writing, creativity.