Saturday, February 26, 2011

How To Write for the Internet

Please ignore the following paragraph (I'll explain below).

The sex of any individual, that is the sex of everyone, is determined by chromosomes. Charlie Sheen's sex was determined that way. So was Sharon Stone's sex, all the Playboy models' sex and Lady Gaga's sex, too. Lindsay Lohan's sex, for instance, was determined very soon after her mother became pregnant by means of a sex act. Jennifer Aniston, all of the Kardashian girls, Justin Bieber and Kate Gosselin – all of those sexes were determined in much the same way. So if you're looking for explanations of what determines sex, that's it.


When writing for the Internet, there are two ways to be successful. One is to write entertaining, topical, well thought through articles on subjects that appeal to many people.

The other way is to cram as many of the most popular keywords that people search for into every article you write.

The instinct for a writer to get as many readers as possible is a strong one. Anyone who has studied literature knows that such luminaries as Shakespeare, Dickens and Twain were blatant self-promoters. All three were eventually regarded as celebrities, or as close to celebrity status as was possible given the meager media outlets of their primitive times.

I have no doubt that they would be keywording their wordsmithy tushes off to get their work out there if Internet technology were available in their day.

So I ask you: Who am I to put myself above them?

A few other things to remember about targeting the Internet:

-- Since search engines send so many people to your little chunk of the Web who really have no interest in being there, you might want to begin your article in a way that makes it difficult for them to know when to bail on it. For instance, if your topic is auto repair you could begin with how the term “auto” came to be, with references to automatons, automats, auto-erotic asphyxiation – subjects in as wide a range as you can imagine. This will keep the reader hoping for something that he or she likes while piling up your “time on page” stats.

-- It's very helpful if you have an exaggerated opinion of your opinion. So be sure to work on that.

-- People almost always should be doing something else while they are reading your work, so it's a great idea to make your Web page look like work material, maybe a spreadsheet or a pie chart. You must keep at it. Writing entertainingly for a pie chart is a specialized skill, developed over years. (One I'd like to see those three big literary names mentioned above try, I'll tell you.)

-- In the face of enormous competition to get eyes on your page, insinuating yourself into the mainstream news is a big advantage. If you can save someone's life, or find money and give it back, that will put natural human curiosity about “pseudo-celebrities” to work for you. However, if you're thinking of doing something heinous to get on the news, let me stop you there. We see a big spike on criminals' Web sites for a few minutes but then authorities take them down, so that ends up being lose-lose.

-- Try to keep up with current profanity and ways to show disrespect (I actually stopped at the term “dissing” someone, which is woefully outdated I know). If you don't, you'll never be able to understand the comments that readers write about your work.

So, as a veteran with weeks of Internet experience, I feel privileged to pass on my knowledge to a new generation of Internet writers. And for those of you who have made it this far down the page only to find that my article was not what you for looking for, I say this:


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Warning: Valentine's Day Is Not for the Timid

On the morning of Thursday, February 14, 1929, seven men in Chicago were lined up against a garage wall and machine-gunned to death by murderers allegedly sent by Al Capone.

For them, at least it was over quickly.

Valentine's Day has seen many massacres of the heart since then. It begins with the best of intentions. Kindergarten teachers make it a class project. “Let's make our own little Valentine's cards for our classmates.” Of course they intend to include everyone, but the awkward feet shuffling and “I thought you were checking that list” looks start when the cards are dispersed on the big day.

For some mysterious reason they find that there are no cards for Lawrence with the permanent snot drip or “Cootie Connie,” the girl with five identical school outfits. Last-minute, store-bought cards signed by the teachers are the kindergarten precursor of years and years of super-sized kitty litter and Campbell's Microwaveable Soup-for-One.

Middle school, high school, college, the working world … each has its own little traps of love, lust and infatuation.

For every heart-warming Valentine story of true love, I believe I can show you one of discomfort (at best) or despair (at worst). Something like these from the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine:

You Don't Look Dutch
A new guy surprised me by planning the perfect Valentine's Day date: a romantic dinner followed by fireworks show on the beach. Everything was great until the check arrived. He asked me, “Should we split it or do you just want to pay for your meal?” After dinner we took a walk on the pier. He bumped into a girl, who was obviously his ex-girlfriend, and after talking and laughing for about 20 minutes without including me he finally said, “Oh sorry, this is my friend, Kat.” We broke up the next day. - Katrina

Come On, I Mean He Saved the Union!
After a long dry spell, I was psyched to finally have a new guy in my life so we could spend Valentine's Day together. Call me corny, but I was hoping I'd get flowers or chocolate — you know, what every girl wants! Instead, he gave me an old Abe Lincoln bobblehead that looked like it came from the bottom of his closet. I honestly didn't even know what to say, so I just mumbled “thank you.” After a few more bad dates, I pulled off Abe's head, and kicked that boy to the curb. - Adrienne

Naturally, it's easy to find stories of stupid men in these situations. It's part of our basic DNA to give dumb gifts. (I kind of like the Abe Lincoln gift that Adrienne got, for instance.) But that street goes two ways.

I have heard many secret stories from guy friends regarding the horrors they have experienced on this day for celebrating love. You never hear of those stories because Valentine's Day is widely regarded as one for the girls. The flowers, the chocolate, the diamonds, the heart-shaped-anything-you-can-imagine. It feels vaguely unmanly to complain about getting the smelly end of the day.

But it happens all the time.

There was Mary Lou, who promised to meet three different guys for Valentine's dinner only to decide, after the reservations had been confirmed, to go with the four-star restaurant and the two-star guy.

Angeline was famous for ordering lobster and a splitting headache, requiring her to leave immediately after her dessert truffles.

Stefanie tried to wrangle four meals from four guys and take all the food home in those swan-shaped aluminum foil things.

Donna required a limo.

Every year, Lorraine had a boyfriend for a limited time only … from just before Christmas to just after Valentine's Day.

Paula … well, Paula was a sweetie.

Which brings me to my unexpected conclusion. (Unexpected to me, at least.)

Even though I started out to warn those of you who have not yet been struck by that little twerp's arrow, I realize that I'm still a believer. Kind of. Some of the time. More or less.

It only takes one really great Valentine's Day to almost erase all of the terrible ones. Just like it only takes one great love to make us forget all the mistakes we met along the way.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Think Inside the Box

I can't draw. However, if there were a Museum of Masterfully Finished Coloring Books I would be very well represented there.

As a child, my crayon-rendered portfolios were filled with blue skies, green grass and perfectly aligned red brick walls. There was never a speck of color outside the lines. That's what we all thought we were supposed to do.

One day, as we concentrated so diligently on our work, the purple-grass/orange-clouds people took over. The “creative” types who saw the world not as it was, but as their fertile minds could create it. Suddenly there was poetry that didn't rhyme and those oddly shaped Michelob bottles.

They were thinking outside the box.

The Star-Spangled Banner now took twice as long to sing because the singers kept adding wild notes between the melody.

New age baseball managers started inventing positions. Now they had fifth starters, spot starters, long-relievers, left-handed specialists, short men, middle relievers, set-up men and closers.

Budweiser came up 36 different flavors of beer.

Call it “The Picasso Principle.” It goes something like this: The farther away from the norm that a person can think, the closer to genius he or she is. People who, in a less tolerant age, would have been institutionalized in madhouses were now writing, directing, legislating and designing football uniforms for the University of Oregon.

And I'll admit that those of us who liked to stay inside the lines started to feel a little left out.

But here's a little secret. Not all of those outside-the-box ideas are genius ideas – even when geniuses think of them:

- Thomas Edison built a machine to hunt down ghosts.

- Alexander Graham Bell spent the last 30 years of his life (and a small fortune) attempting to create sheep with six nipples instead of the sheep-standard two.

- Leonardo DaVinci invented shoes that would theoretically allow a person to walk on water. (Seen any water-walkers lately?)

- The Japanese inventor who had a hand in bringing us the floppy disk, CDs, DVDs, digital watches and karaoke machines has a new invention – a spray for a woman's most delicate regions that makes her irresistible to men.

But if some of our great minds have hit a few foul balls, these inventions by lesser lights ought to earn their creators a permanent home in The Out-of-the-Box Thinking Hall of Fame:

- A well-known U.S. company has “a serious product” ready for release (so to speak): Underpants that hide the smell of farts. (No word on its sound-muffling capabilities.)

- Fake breasts that contain milk. Dad wears them so that he may enjoy the bonding experience (but not the tugging experience) of breastfeeding his child.

- The baby mop, which is a wider version of the standard mop, but with no handle. You gently place it under your not-yet-walking toddler, and he or she begins to earn his or her keep as each movement mops the floor.

- Umbrella shoes. Yes, they're tiny umbrellas on the toe of each shoe to keep your feet (but sadly not your ankles) dry.

- The banana guard, which is a plastic receptacle shaped exactly like a banana (but available in designer colors) that can hold the uneaten portion of your peeled banana when it's just too much for you to finish all at once.

- The nose-shaped pencil sharpener. I'll say no more on that one.

- The safety coffin, which offers an escape hatch in case you wake up after a huge mistake has been made.

Actually, that last one makes a lot of sense to me.

So, okay – I will acknowledge the great advances that some of these forward-thinking ideas have brought us. Microwave popcorn is far superior to the old-fashioned Jiffy Pop shake-it-over-a-flame method, for instance. And Velcro … well, you just gotta love that.

But we worker bees deserve some respect, too. How would these magnificent minds know where the box they want to think outside was if we weren't already in there plugging away? And after all, we're the ones who basically serve as the ultimate judges for all of these great ideas, right?

You don't agree? Ask the outside-the-box thinkers who came up with Ben Gay Aspirin, Bic Underwear or New Coke.