Hustle Is Posting Right Now - So You Want To Write A Column, Do You?
Apr 12, 2012 - 9:40:21 PM
"Lemme tell you how it's done.."
In the last few years, I couldn't even tell you the total amount of times that people have hit me up with advice on how to become a columnist, at LoP or elsewhere. They wanted advice on what to do, how to do it, and would ask me for tips. I try my best to respond to everyone, but recently, after I posted a collaborative column I did with someone I connected with on Twitter (Hi, Brie), I started receiving more and more requests for advice, so I decided to just turn it into a column. That way, everyone gets to read my advice at the same time, and I don't have to continue repeating myself. Alright, let's go ahead and get this poppin.
Find some sort of "hook"
This is generally one of the first things people ask me about. They ask me if they need some sort of a "gimmick" when they write. My answer to that usually depends on if they provide examples of "gimmicks" they're thinking about using. You don't necessarily need a "gimmick", but you do need something to immediately catch the attention of readers. A "hook", if you will. It doesn't matter how talented you are.. if your column is "Raw Recap by John Smith", you're not going to receive a whole lot of love. That doesn't give people reason to click on your links and see what you have to say. A catchy title almost always works. I've even seen writers through the years use titles that have nothing to do with the content that lurks inside. They just throw up some title that makes the readers feel that they have to click on it to see what's going on. Of course, the roll of the dice there is that your content had better be good, because you're running the risk of getting people excited over the title, only to disappoint them with a subpar column. Let's use myself for an example. Before I started writing columns, there was a running joke at LoPForums about how often I would post things. The joke was basically.. at any given time, day or night, you could log in and see that Hustle is posting right now. When I decided to write, and it was time for me to come up with my own "hook", I decided to run with that joke. Hustle Is Posting Right Now became the original title of my column series, and each column was an "edition" (Hustle Is Posting Right Now, Volume 22 - The Crystal Ball Edition, etc). It was a simple thing, but when it started being shortened to "HIPRN", that's when it began to get marketed correctly. "HIPRN" signs were showing up on WWE programming. It was a lot easier for people to mention it. Obviously, "HIPRN" is a lot easier to type than "Hustle Is Posting Right Now". When it was time to switch to daily columns, Hustle Is Posting Everyday was a natural fit, but again, I wanted more of a "hook". I wanted something that people would remember. That's when I came up with Believe The HIPE, and created "The HIPE Train". Just because you're writing on a message board on the internet, and not writing New York Times best selling books, don't ever underestimate the marketing of your columns. If you know me, you know that my interaction with LoP's very own Tito hasn't always been positive, or even cordial, but he made great points to myself and to LoP's Super Chrisss about the way we have to market our columns so that readers care enough to click.
BE your readers
This is one that I'm actually surprised more columnists don't take into account. I don't know about you folks, but I can't stand it when people "talk down" to me. It's one of my biggest pet peeves, and it goes when I read columns, as well. I absolutely can't stand it when a columnist comes across as "talking down" to his/her readers. Look, it's great to be educated and to have a large vocabulary. However, at the end of the day, all of the big words and the college thesis writing style won't help you connect with your readers. The average reader of a column is looking to kill a bit of time during their day. Perhaps they're reading these columns while they're at work. Perhaps they're reading them at work. Maybe they're just reading them over their morning breakfast. They aren't looking for life-altering experiences with this, and you columnists that are trying way too hard to give just that to your readers.. you're the exact columnists that find this whole writing thing not to be fun after a while, and you end up not wanting to do it anymore. You have to connect with your readers like you're just having a random conversation with your friends. I get a lot of people commenting about that.. if you talk to me on Facebook, Twitter, real life, etc.. I come across as the exact same person that you read in my columns. I do that on purpose. I don't want my points getting lost in the forest of words that feature seven syllables and all of the so-thick-it-could-choke-you condescension that you see in some wrestling columns. You have to keep it simple. Some will take that as "your readers are stupid, so make your columns stupid to match it". No. That's not what I'm saying here. Not at all. I'm just saying to keep it real. I'm just saying to make your wrestling thoughts and opinions the focal point of your work. When you're condescending, your readers can see it, whether you meant to do it or not.
Don't force a schedule
This one goes more for those of you who are looking to post in the LoPForums Columns Forum. In there, they have a "Three-Day Rule". It simply states that you can't post a column more than once every three days (post on Monday, can't post again until Thursday, etc). However, there's a catch with people who post daily columns. If you post daily columns, you have to simply continue editing your original thread and adding to it, just like we do here on the MP when we write daily columns. That's it, though. You can post as often as you like, as long as you follow that rule. If you want to post weekly columns, have at it. If you'd prefer a bi-weekly schedule, knock yourself out. If you want to post monthly, feel free to do so. Other writers, however.. distinguished CF veterans such as MissouriDragon, JoeyShinobi, and JohnnyBoomerang (three of the best pure writers that LoP has ever seen, by the way).. pretty much just write whenever the inspiration hits them, even if that means months can often pass between columns. Here on the MP, the rule is that you have to post something once every 21 days. That's it. Three entire weeks. For you, when you decide you want to start writing columns, don't force it. Raw ended two minutes ago, but you don't have to immediately fire up a column about your opinion of the show. Sometimes, there just aren't things to say. When you force a column, your readers can tell, and that goes for everyone, whether you're just starting to write, or if you've been writing for years. Don't place yourself in that situation.
If you're going to be a juggler, be good at it
This kinda sorta goes along with the previous point. If you're going to write, find some time to do it. I don't know why some of you want to take on all of this extra pressure when you have school, work, and family things to already deal with, but if you're a glutton for punishment, and you feel like you absolutely have to write columns, get your priorities ready and do it. This isn't a job. This is a hobby. Even if this is what you want to do for a living one day.. it's still a hobby at this stage. Put everything in the proper order. If you have things you need to do for school, do them. If you have family things to take care of, do them. I know this should be common sense, but you'd be surprised to know how many columnists find themselves too caught up. That's when you get lost in the amount of work you have on your plate, and at best, it affects your column quality, and at worst, it causes you to give up on writing columns altogether. Again, this is just a hobby. Treat it as such.
Bring something unique to the table
In no way, shape or form would I tell you not to write a column, but let's be real for a second.. if all you're going to do is give us your thoughts on Raw, Impact, Smackdown, and the various pay-per-view events, you'd better be prepared to "wow" everyone that reads, if you even get any readers, because LoP alone has a dozen people doing that already. We have recaps. We have running diaries. We have the listings of positives and negatives. Before the shows, we even have previews. Straightforward previews. "How I'd book it" previews. If you're going to write, bring something different to the table. Bring a different point-of-view. With a writer like Al Laiman, you have someone that, if he chooses to do so, can break things down in a different way because he's actually spent a chunk of time wrestling on the indy scene. When he watches wrestling, he might be able to see things differently than a columnist that has never come close to stepping into a ring. When I did my collabo column with Brie, I made mention of how women can sometimes bring a different point-of-view, as well, because they might be seeing wrestling differently than I do, or than guys I know do. Using myself as an example again.. when I started writing columns, I was providing a "voice" for the so-called "urban" wrestling fan. Until then, nobody was able to mix wrestling and hip-hop like I was. LoP has seen multiple people do that in the years since, which I'm pretty happy about. When you write, you have to find your own lane, so to speak. If I can read exactly what you're going to say in four other columns before you, why would I even bother reading you? I'm flattered when I see new columnists at LoP give running diaries a shot and they say they're doing it because they're fans of my running diaries. Flattered, but I need you to understand that LoP already has running diaries. I know I haven't done a written one in a while (and I might fix that sooner than later), but even without me, there are still people doing them. Perhaps they aren't following the exact same format as I used, but they're doing running diaries nonetheless. Original ideas are difficult to come by these days. Trust me.. I know this. However, you new columnists need to really dig deep and make you stand out, fresh out the box. Those unique, and even relatively unique, ideas are what will make people come back for your next column, and the one after that, and so on. Those unique, and even relatively unique, ideas are what help to hide some spelling and/or grammatical errors you might make. That reminds me..
Proofread, proofread, proofread
Another thing that might seem like common sense to a lot of you, but you'll be amazed to see how many columns get posted that are completely full of poor spelling, awful grammar, atrocious syntax, and so on and so forth. Each and every person reading this right now knows their limits. If you're a great speller, you know that you are. If your grammar leaves a little to be desired, you know as much. If you're a grown man that comes across as a seven-year-old when you type, you unfortunately know that, too. Nobody is going to post a column, get a whole bunch of "You can't spell to save your life" feedback, and then wonder what happened. If you write your columns on Word, you have absolutely zero excuse to have any sort of errors in anything you're writing. The damn thing is checking your work for you.. as you're writing it! If you're someone like me, who uses something else.. WordPad, which is one of my strange idiosyncrasies.. then it doesn't take much to get a spell check of some sort. There are sites out there that do it for you. I use a site to check my word count for columns (WordCountTool.com), and they even check your spelling, etc, for you. You could post the most profound thoughts that would make you appear to be the love child of Gandhi and Buddha, but if you spell like you're coming off of eight straight hours of Ganja and Buddah, nobody will pay attention to you. Now, I must throw in a bit of a "catch" here. Unless your spelling and grammar are horrendous, I won't care all that much. As long as I have a general idea of what you're saying, I'll focus on that. However, I'm in the minority with that. If you step into the Columns Forum at LoP with less-than-stellar spelling and grammar, you will get called on it. Most of the time, it will be by someone who is only trying to help you and see that you improve, but occasionally, you will get the random asshole who chimes in with something along the lines "Read until the second sentence, then gave up trying because I don't know what the fuck you're saying". I'm only telling you this so that you're prepared. Some of the guys in the CF are very strict with that stuff. They'll go over your columns with a fine-toothed comb, just waiting for you to slip up and make some sort of error. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Motivation comes from all around
This is a fun one for me. At various points during my daily column streak, people would ask me how I kept coming up with ideas for new columns. I'd hear from other columnists, who would tell me they struggled to write a handful of columns in a row, and had no idea how I could go 700 consecutive days with a column, on top of the other columns I had done (and would go on to do). I tell them that motivation comes from everywhere. A lot of people.. hell, most people.. would simply look to the world of wrestling for motivation to write a wrestling column. It makes sense. However, that only goes so far. On top of that, you shouldn't go after motivation. Motivation should come to you. For me, motivation is all over the place. I don't have to watch wrestling to get that motivation. A very large number of my columns are based, directly or indirectly, around music. I'll hear a song, or even a line in a song, that will give me an idea to write a column. Other times, a scene in a movie or a television show will give me an idea. I've even had times when a non-wrestling conversation with someone will spark something in my head. If I had to venture any sort of not-so-educated guess on it, I'd say that 75% of the columns I've done were started by an idea that had nothing to do with wrestling in any way. It's that kind of "research" that will allow you to expand your mind a bit, which will probably allow you to extend your column-writing "career" a bit. If you watch enough television/movies, and listen to enough material, that could turn into years of column material for you. If so, take full advantage of that.
Love what you're writing about
I'm going to say this right here, right now.. if you're not a fan of wrestling, you have no business writing wrestling columns. You used to be a wrestling fan? Big deal. Writing about the "old days" is fine and all, and can even be a bit of a "gimmick" for some writers, but when you're doing it because you don't watch wrestling anymore, it's time for you to step aside. When you write a column, people can tell what your level of passion is, no matter what the topic of the column happens to be. If I were to write a column about John Cena, for example, it would certainly read differently than if I wrote a column about Heath Slater's best matches. Again, the readers can just tell. They can tell if you know what you're talking about. They can tell if you care about it. When it looks like all you're doing is copying and pasting entire chunks of your columns from elsewhere, and not even bothering to fix the spelling and grammatical errors while you do so, they can see right through your bullshit. When a writer like that is representing LoP on the fucking main page, it becomes an even bigger problem. There are writers in the CF that are busting their asses for an opportunity to have their work seen on the MP, and one of the spots is being blocked by someone who continues to show that he doesn't care, and I feel that's incredibly unfair. Chances are, most of you know who I'm talking about right now.
Spruce it up
Perhaps I'm not the best person to be discussing this, because I don't use colored text, pictures and all of the fancy accoutrements as often as others do, but the fact of the matter is that an all white/gray wall of text, with nothing to make things "pop", is going to get boring and get boring fast. I occasionally have columns that are a wall of single-colored text, but I try not to do them very often. In case you couldn't tell, my favorite color is red. I like to throw a little red into my columns, but not too much, to where it's overbearing. I put just enough to break up the monotony, and to shake things up a bit. I'll use the colored text to show "headlines", like I am in this particular column. Other times, I'll use the colored text to indicate when a different person is speaking, like the collabo with Brie, where I threw in a dash of purple text to let everyone know when she was "speaking". That's about it. That's all you really need. When you throw down too much colored text, all you're doing is taking the focus away from your words themselves, and you're allowing people to have something to complain about from the start. Pictures are fine, and often add a lot of flavor to a column, but again, you don't want the focus to be taken away from your words too much. Use them at your own discretion, basically. I guess, to a lesser extent, the same can be said about including videos (YouTube, DailyMotion, etc), whether you're just linking them or full-on embedding them in your column. Sometimes they can play a pivotal role in your column. Other times, they're all anyone is going to pay attention to, and your words will go unnoticed. Just find the line between "boring" and "gaudy", and work somewhere in that vicinity.
Learn the difference between "constructive criticism" and "criticism"
When you write, you need to know that not everyone is going to like every single thing you put out. It happens. However, you need to learn the difference between the types of criticism, if you don't already know. There are a lot of people in the CF that will critique your columns perfectly. Even if you posted an asstastic piece of work, they won't respond with "ZOMG U SUX". They'll respond with what they think you can improve on, and give ways on how you can get those improvements in motion. Some guys will even spend multiple paragraphs giving you advice.. how to format your column better, tips on using the colored text and/or pictures to your advantage, using spell check, etc. They'll even tell you not to get discouraged, and that they hope to see you bounce back with another, more improved column. That's exactly the type of "constructive criticism" that every columnist wants. However, not every columnist sees that as "constructive". I've seen numerous people get that type of feedback, and still lash out at everyone. They'll mention how they just wanted to be welcomed in a new "community", but now they realize LoP is just full of assholes, and on and on and on. Look, if you get attacked on a personal level, that's one thing. If someone chimes in with nothing more than "This sucked", that's one thing. Those types of things can bring out a certain response from a columnist, but again, you have to go into this knowing that you're going to receive some sort of negative feedback. You respond to one kind in a certain way, and you respond to one kind in another way. Some don't respond to negative feedback at all. Do as you see fit, but again, be prepared for that negative feedback. Even the most beautifully written columns in LoP history received some sort of "negative" comments.. "I didn't really get what you were trying to do here", "I guess I don't have the same sense of humor as everyone else, because I just didn't find this as funny as the previous comments", etc. It happens. You can't avoid it.
I wanted to end this with a nice, even number of ten tips, but this last one might be the most important one of all, so I couldn't ignore it. You really need to go out there and have fun. Writing columns is an amazing therapeutic experience. It enables you to get things off your chest. If you've had a bad day.. fights with the significant other, boss overworked you, you failed an exam, etc.. you can take that emotion and pour it into your writing. It's a lot healthier/safer option than shoving your wife down a flight of stairs or going on a cocaine bender, that's for sure. When you put real emotions and real focus into your work, not only can it help you to get all of that energy out, but it helps your work to shine. Relax. Take deep breaths. Find a spot in your house where you won't be surrounded by numerous distractions. Don't overthink things too much. If you're one of those people, like me, who need music playing, then throw on some tunes and get to work. When those fingers get to typing, and your ideas are flowing, it can be a beautiful thing. Honestly, writing columns is something I would recommend for every wrestling fan, even if it's just a one-time thing.
That's it, really. Like I said, I know some of these seem really easy to figure out, but not everyone "gets" it right away. If you've made the decision to write columns, and if you follow my advice, you should do just fine. If anyone still has questions, even after reading all of this, feel free to ask away. I'm always down to help people when it comes to this, and it's fun to see people I've helped or given tips to show up at LoP to post their work. So, yeah, if you have questions, holla at ya boy.
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