“I blame everything on feminism — or commies.” P.J. O’Rourke
A month ago my daily viewership was pretty high — not exceptionally high — but certainly high for someone who hates formulas. Every successful writer here talks about formula. I avoid anything that reminds me of my baby years (my mother couldn’t make formula). Seriously, I’ve been meaning to make a point of this for years now. I never got good formula…not one frickin’ bottle.
Okay, this is a bad way to start. I’m blaming my mother, and maybe you’re a mother, and you can’t imagine your kid growing up blaming you. I understand totally, but my mother isn’t off the hook yet.
She was an artist, and supposedly that crept into my genome. At some point, a loopy chromosome convinced me I’m an artist, too. I see now that was a cruel deception. I’ve been fooling myself, thinking I’m a writer, but really I’m a babbler of words (I’m still blaming my mother, but a few English teachers could have discouraged me more, right?).
All I got for my trouble was frostbitten ears and a dog wondering if he should do his business somewhere else.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a mildly illustrious career in advertising. My name is still mentioned in those once hallowed halls, usually starting with (and ending with): “Didn’t he die in a snowbank?” Well, no, I tried it. There are plenty of snowbanks around here. All I got for my trouble was frostbitten ears and a dog wondering if he should do his business somewhere else.
If you’re nodding your head, saying, “I hear you, brother,” well, no you don’t. For one thing, I don’t have a brother, and if I did, I’d blame him, too. I’m in the mood for blaming everybody, including Medium, where I’ve been a regular contributor for three years (except when my ears were the size of oranges).
In that time, I managed to reach 32,000 viewers before joining the Medium Partner Program. My numbers tumbled, grew again, then tumbled again. I’ve looked for answers (and others to blame, obviously). I talked to a few other writers and, to a man — and woman — they said one word: algorithms.
Yes, algorithms. If I’m going to point fingers, I should start with algorithms, also known as “data reasoning.” I don’t understand data reasoning — being a technical squid — but it seems formulas are like tripwires for algorithms. They reward some writers, while formula-haters like me wallow and eat enormous bags of Cheetos and stick our heads in yellow snowbanks.
Who am I, your typical snowbank dweller, to question algorithms? Or the big fat raspberry going off every time I post an article?
Okay, I get it, formula is important, even if my mother didn’t think so. Who am I, your typical snowbank dweller, to question algorithms? Or the big fat raspberry going off every time I post an article?
Seriously, though, have I upset the algorithm gods?
I didn’t mean to upset them. Despite having no formula, I do try to structure my articles. More importantly, I try to introduce subjects that aren’t pick-ups from Cosmopolitan. You can bet Cosmo isn’t writing about an Australian magpie that’s been mimicking sirens during the NSW wildfires. Get enough magpies together, and you’ve got something formidable.
I’m also writing about the growing number of tattoo misspellings. If tattoos are billboards of our culture, what does a guy sporting “Sweet Pee” on his right arm say? He could be a clever diabetic, or he’s stupid. My guess is he’s stupid, but not as stupid as the young woman with “prome queen” tattooed on her back. Nothing says “I’m relying on my looks” like a permanent misspelling.
When an Islamist holds up a sign saying, “Give head to those who would insult Islam,” he’s kind of insulting a whole bunch of people, not the least of which are hetro militant Islamists.
We have to catch culture where it fucks up the most, and certainly no culture is without its fuckups. When an Islamist holds up a sign saying, “Give head to those who would insult Islam,” he’s kind of insulting a whole bunch of people, not the least of which are hetro militant Islamists.
It also says the English language ain’t easy. Double meanings are a bitch, and the day we hold up a sign like the one above, we’re done as writers.
Which brings me to the main point of this article. What am I doing to stem this enormous decline in my viewership? My answer is: NOT FRICKIN’ FORMULA.
Just to be clear here. I’m not trying to make the algorithm gods angry. I just find formulas — and people recommending formulas — to be, well, idiotic.
For instance, here’s some advice I picked up just last week:
GIVE READERS 10 WAYS TO DO SOMETHING
Surely we must be over this by now. When someone writes “10 Ways To Masturbate,” when exactly do you actually masturbate? You’re so busy thinking, Hey, maybe I’ll try the chicken in the fridge, you’re half asleep by the time you pull your pud. Besides, your dick doesn’t want to go in a chicken. No dick does. It feels like a demotion.
GRAB THEIR ATTENTION WITH AN OPENING LINE
It’s one thing to intrigue your reader, another to embarrass yourself thoroughly by starting with, “My husband never wanted to go down on me.” That’s the sort of thing you should discuss with him, not admit to the world your vagina smells like the Lincoln Tunnel.
THROW IN PLENTY OF QUOTES
If the sum total of your research consists of quotes from famous people, why bother? Nobody’s going to think you’re well-read just because you can recite something Stephen Hawking said. We all know Stephen Hawking quotes. Check them out on Brainy Quotes or Goodreads or, here’s a thought: Buy one of his books and write something other than “Cosmologists I’d Like To Hump.”
CHOOSE TOPICS WITH THE MOST INTEREST
What ideas get shot down first in editorial meetings? Anything that’s not “mainstream” enough. Think about it. You’ve got an open forum on Medium. When I wrote “The Psychology of Nipple-Sucking,” I was sure I wouldn’t find something similar in Cosmopolitan — and definitely not The Atlantic. I’m not saying you have to get jiggy with your dog — or a chicken. I mean you can look at the human condition in ways people won’t find elsewhere.
THIS REALLY HAPPENED TO ME
Just because you had sex doesn’t make you an expert. You were a participant. If there were other participants, okay, it was an orgy. Orgies have been around longer than humans. Amoeba have orgies. We’re here because amoeba had plenty of orgies way back when. So stop trying to be the sexy version of Ann Landers. Amoeba are way ahead of you.
YOU’RE NOT THE NEXT CHARLES BUKOWSKI
Bukowski wrote about sex because he didn’t think writers were doing it justice. He also knew he’d be banned. Would you write about sex if you knew you’d be banned? You want readership, fine. Just don’t think you’re the next Bukowski. He starved for his art. You’d be lucky to go a day without wheat germ.
Algorithm gods, if you’re listening, do you want the dog? He’s out front now. I can draw him in with some chicken.
Okay, I got that off my chest. Now I have to do something about those algorithm gods. They’re obviously a cranky lot. Maybe a sacrifice of some sort. They can have the dog. All he’s doing is messing up my snowbank.
I need a sign, though.
Algorithm gods, if you’re listening, do you want the dog? He’s out front now. I can draw him in with some chicken. No, I haven’t done anything weird to the chicken. Get your minds out of the gutter. It’s just chicken.
Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Skyhorse Press or Simon and Schuster for more details.