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5 ways to get more people to read your shit

February 24, 2010

Steven Pressfield wrote a great blog post a while back on a profound idea – nobody wants to read your shit.  Don’t take it personally.  It’s just that we’ve got other shit to do…important shit.  It isn’t just the shit you write either.  We’re also not interested in that dream you had last night (unless we’re in it) or in seeing pictures of your kids.

Once you come to terms with this fact of life, it actually improves your creative process.  It pushes you out of your default setting where as David Foster Wallace put it, you are the center of your own universe.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the blogging medium recently, and here are five ideas that have helped me so far.  These are broad and could be applied to film, music, a powerpoint for work, or whatever you’re trying to sell.

1. Keep it short. The internet is crowded with information, so we have to make snap decisions all the time on what’s worth reading – usually based on title and length of the article.  You probably came across some article or blog yesterday that you didn’t read because it was too long.  It was probably eloquent, A+, top-shelf material.  For me, it was Michael Kinsler’s article in The Atlantic about how people are abandoning newspapers because the articles are too long.  I’m sure it would have been worth my time.  It probably would have offered many more insights around the virtues of brevity.  But at 1,800 words, I didn’t want to read his shit.  I found the time to copy-paste it into Microsoft Word and run a word count on it, but that was about it.

2. Empathize with your audience.  Your shit is inherently more  interesting to you than it is to anyone else.  Think about things you skip over when you read other people’s shit.  Don’t put those things in your writing.  On a related point, if you want people to read your shit, return the favor and be a consumer of others’ work.  You can’t be a good writer unless you’re a reader – how  else are you supposed to find ideas worth stealing? It’s the same reason that musicians go to concerts, filmmakers watch movies, and competitive barbecue cooks sample each others’ food.

3. Controversy is interesting.  “Nobody wants to read your shit” is a more provocative title than “Nobody wants to read your creative product.”  Be willing to push buttons, but convey meaning when you do.

4. Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.  There’s a professional and an amateur method for recycling glass. The professional method is fairly involved.  First, you separate out the contaminants, including the metal lids.  Then you crush the glass into cullet in a furnace that burns off all the labels.  Finally, the cullet is melted and reformed into new bottles and jars for labelling and resale.  The amateur method of recycling is to take a bottle from the trash and rinse it out.  Which one could you sell to a brewer?  Spend the time to thoroughly rework stolen ideas, crush them down to the basics, and rebuild them so they look new.

5. Format matters.  Numbered lists are a blogging cliche, but they’re effective because they create suspense, as does leading with a question.  Did you read all the way to number 5 in this post?  My point exactly.

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