This guest post is by Enzo F. Cesario of Brandsplat.
“We were halfway to Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
It certainly wasn’t the line that Rolling Stone expected out of sports and political columnist Hunter S. Thompson. He’d been sent to Vegas to report on a motorcycle race, and instead sent back a manifesto on the hollow glories of Sin City, the assorted pleasures of half the psychoactive drugs common to the American vocabulary, the inadequacies of the journalistic lifestyle, and of course the death of the American dream. Hard up against (okay, somewhat past) his deadline, Thompson resorted to pulling out rambling entries from the pages of his notebook and mailing them in directly. It was unprofessional, it was sophomoric, it was gonzo—and it worked. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a hit.
Opinions vary on just why it worked. I believe it was because Thompson was writing uncensored. He wrote openly about topics that still horrified American sensibilities. In the same year that the phrase “war on drugs” would first be coined, he boldly declared the incompetence of the politicians and police who would be prosecuting it. He mused about the death of the ’60s-style revolutionary zeal, the illusion of a freewheeling town that Vegas maintains over an undercurrent of hard-won respectability and so much more. He wrote honestly and didn’t limit himself, even managing to comment that the original assignment, to cover the motorcycle race, confused and bored him.
Had he been writing the same stuff today, it would have made a series of fantastic blogs.
The world is full of dull, sterile writing. A blog’s strength lies in its ability to be personal, and its ability to update at any time. Get on, log in, pontificate, click submit and it’s there, ready for the reader. People read blogs for the style as much as for the content—they want to know how, as well as what, the blogger thinks. They may show up for the content, but they stay for the personality.
Personality is where Gonzo thrives. Asked about the format, Thompson said, “I don’t get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist’s view: ‘I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view,’” and “you can’t be objective about Nixon.”
Well, that sounds like political blogging to me. There’s nothing wrong with being fair, but sometimes you have to be able to say, “The leading candidate reminds me of the worst qualities of my math and science teachers—boring, dry, inaccessible and rambling about subjects I couldn’t care less about while ignoring the ones I was interested in.”
So put that style into your blog. You don’t have to turn it into a gin-soaked journey through your chosen topic—in fact, there are very few writers who can actually write well while inebriated (Thompson happened to be one of them). No, what I’m talking about is writing something unedited and uncensored.
Let your inner lion out to play, the writing part of you that says, “I absolutely do not care what people think about this piece,” and go to town. Write hard—present your worst opinions, the strongest way you feel about things. Don’t set out to shock, just set out to be absolutely honest in a way that people cannot mistake for soft-pedaling or going easy on the subject.
Second, don’t edit. This may sound like sacrilege to the profession of writing, but it’s a good tip when you’re writing. Get the content down, write in a stream and let your topic go where it wants to. Try the first-person narrative that makes Gonzo such a joy. Sink yourself into the story. What do you think, feel, want out of this piece? Get that feeling, those essences down on paper.
Writing honestly can be hard. “Is it brandable? Is it too different? Will it generate traffic?” I’m not going to lie: Asking “Is it safe?” is a deep-rooted part of our way of looking at the world, and there’s nothing wrong with it. We want security, and there are the legendary tales of a weird and wacky change causing someone to shoot a good career in the foot, never to be heard from again.
But far more common is the tale you never hear, of the person who writes two entries, gets discouraged and never puts down another word. Or the countless thousands who say “I want to be a writer, but” and allow whatever comes after but to keep them from ever picking up the pen and putting form to their thoughts.
So do it. Go nuts this one time, write something ecstatic or satirical. Skip the conventions for a bit and reinvent your writing, just to keep your readers on the edge of their seats. I’ve got news for you: You’re not going to write the next American manifesto, so now that you know that, you’re free to write a really fun, snappy piece of blogging content that will get your readers talking.
And maybe you can even do it on a road trip to Barstow.
Enzo F. Cesario is an expert on blogs and social media for business and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. For the free Brandsplat Report go to Brandsplat.com or visit our blog at http://www.ibrandcasting.com.