1Point’s Guide to Winning Blogs: Chapter 2 – Topics

Everyone knows that some topics are just more appealing than others.  If you write about the best way to peel a rutabaga, you shouldn’t be too surprised at the lack of hits.  Juicy, sexy topics will almost certainly be more popular.  Many readers, just like actual people, are bottom-feeding gutter dwellers.  They savor scandal and yearn to laugh at the idiocy of others.

So penning a post on the “Real Housewives of Tulsa” or a similar bit of pop-culture fluff will almost guarantee hits.  Even so, you’ll inevitably get comments from people who don’t watch “those shows”.  Given half a chance, they’ll point out that while you’re watching inept goldminers sift through dirt and try to fix broken front-end loaders, they’re sitting on their intellectual buttocks watching BBC America for the higher-browed, better versions of The Office, Kitchen Nightmares and Who Wants to be a Bloody Millionaire, Eh Guv-nah?

The long-standing advice to writers has always been to “write what you know”.  This advice is quite logical, as writing about what you don’t know is damn near impossible.  If you doubt me, refer to my post titled, How the Minds of Women Work”

The trouble is that what most of us “know” is pretty boring and not even of interest to ourselves, let alone others.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started writing a post on “wheelchair seating assessments for the non-ambulatory pediatric population” only to realize that there’s just not enough sex and violence to keep most readers on the hook.  Similarly, my post “Forty Shades of Brown” on the best approaches to raking leaves in a yard littered with Labradoodle dookie, while filled with useful information, fell flat on the hits.  I’m almost certain that recounting a less successful outing in the yard, complete with slips, falls and cursing would have been better received.

The best strategy then, is this; if you have to write what you know, be sure to jazz it up with some dirty humor and fabricated violence whenever possible.  I’ll show you what I mean.  Here’s a brief paragraph I wrote up for an example;

Peeling a rutabaga doesn’t have to be difficult.  Using a sharp knife and cutting board, I start at the end where one of the flat spots is.  I chop a fairly thick slab off – maybe a 1/4 inch – parallel to the flat spot.  This gives me a nice stable root vegetable to work with – you don’t want that thing rolling around when you’re handling sharp knives!  Next, I systematically slice the waxy skin from the equator down towards the cutting board.  Don’t worry if you cut the skin off on the thick side, rutabagas are pretty big – you should still have plenty!  In my next post, I’ll describe the best way to chop, cook and prepare the rutabagas for your table!

There wasn’t much wrong with that paragraph.  It gave a fairly decent idea of how to peel a rutabaga.  My special hints on how to make the homely rutabaga a star on your Thanksgiving table will remain top secret.  I’m trying to instruct you rubes on how to write successful blogs, if you think I’m going to divulge decades of culinary knowledge in the process, then you’ve got another thing coming.  Wait..Don’t pout!  You know it pulls at my heart strings to see you that way.  Alright… I’ll give you a cooking hint, but then it’s back to writing winning blogs.  Here it is:  If you put enough butter on it, even a turd becomes appetizing.  Happy now?  Good!  Now let’s dab those tears away and get back to writing.  I’m going to take that same paragraph, but punch it up and really give it some zip.

You want to know how to peel a rutabaga?  Cut all the waxy crap off the outside of it and try not to lose any fingers.  If you’re a woman – and you should be, because this is woman’s work, after all – I suggest wearing a lacy apron and a pair of pumps while you do it.  It’d be nice if you did something with your hair too, but it’s not mandatory.  When you’re about half way done, put down the knife and go see if your man needs his martini refreshed.  When you ask him, try to smile and use a soothing tone – he’s probably had a tough day already.  If he slaps you on the fanny as you turn to return to the kitchen, be a good sport and give him a little squeal.

Did you notice the difference?  It was subtle – go back and read the two paragraphs again if you need to, I’ll wait.

To the novice author, this is a rutabaga on a window sill.  To the seasoned story-teller, this is a sexy orb of starchy desire.  Its pale orange skin and bruise-colored markings just need a little lace and maybe a sharp knife.
To the novice author, this is a rutabaga on a window sill. To the seasoned story-teller, this is a sexy orb of starchy desire. Its pale orange skin and bruise-colored markings just need a little lace and maybe a sharp knife.

Careful readers might think that the second paragraph was a tad sexist.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the more sensitive among you were even insulted by it.  The important thing is the end result; the next time I post something, no matter how inane the subject matter, readers will hopefully click on it as they mutter the words “I wonder what that idiot will say this time“.

To summarize, it doesn’t matter what your topic is, as long as you write with some style and a voice, even if the voice is that of a moron.  Here are some more helpful rules of thumb:

  • If the post is “clean” enough to send to your 12 year old niece, you need to go back and sex it up.  You also need to drop your niece off your email list.  I’m sure she has more than enough homework and only reads your blog because your sister-in-law makes her.
  • If there aren’t enough scatalogical references to keep the attention of your average 6th grade boy, then put some in there.  Refer to my “buttering a turd” reference above – that one’s a gem!
  • If no one gets slapped, pinched or threatened, you need to find a way to work that kind of stuff into your post – I’m telling you, violence is blog gold!
  • Finally – Give your blog a test-read, aloud, before you consider publishing it.  If it sounds like the audio-book adaptation for “Changing The Oil In Your Ford Taurus”, narrated by Ben Stein, you’ll need to consider an overhaul, or better yet, just trash it and start over.

Tune in next time, when I provide more tips for writing winning blogs!

Here's 1point in happier times, before the cardboard dwelling, before fighting a bum named "Lefty" for the rights to the steam grate.
Here’s 1point in happier times, before the cardboard dwelling, before fighting a bum named “Ostrich” for the rights to the steam grate.

About the author:  Ironically, despite his massive following and several “likes” of most of his posts, 1pointperspective has yet to be Freshly Pressed.  He’s been blogging about the goings on in his head for 10 months or so, and he doesn’t seem to heed his own advice, except for the stuff about poop references.  He lives in a cardboard box just adjacent to a steam grate, just south of City Hall in Philadelphia.  When not giving free blog advice, he pan-handles and screams at tourists. 

If I Titled This Accurately, You’d Never Read It

The “lab” part may have been in question, but not the retriever. Tia was well known for dunking her head and even swimming to the bottom of a diving well to fetch things. One could argue that rather than retrieving, she is hiding her face in shame in preparation for the following story.

A thousand years ago, my wife of countless decades and I were in the delicate dance of courtship.  We were already crazy about each other, but getting to know one another’s parents was still a work in progress.  Her parents first met me on a trip to our college campus, and had been under-impressed with my story of my roomate’s cat.  Ray – the cat not the roomate – was known to bury his turds so thoroughly in the litter box, that he would end up exhuming them by accident.  Not aware of what he had found, Ray would start juggling the litter-coated nugget back and forth, eventually batting it across the floor in a spirited display of feline soccer prowess.

Her parents, polite people who didn’t want to hurt their daughter’s feelings, stood there nodding and  saying things like “Oh my!” and “What a talented little cat that must be!”  My girlfriend stood off to the side, wringing her hands and hoping that I would shut the hell up before I made them think I was any more of an idiot than I had already proven myself to be.  Finally, when I was at last out of things to say that didn’t involve cat doo doo, we all went out for a nice dinner.  The meal was uneventful, and my girlfriend was thrilled at the relative silence of all of us chewing and talking about how nice the salad bar was.  I can only imagine the stoney silence as her parents drove home that night, each quietly hoping their daughter would wake up and drop that oddball before she got too serious about him.

The weeks flew by and my girlfriend’s parents got used to me to a point.  The relationship was plugging along, and everyone was relatively comfortable.  Certainly we wished to keep it that way.

During those years, my girlfriend and I had a dog.  Technically, I had the dog, since she had graduated by then and was living at home and actually working, while I was still at college living in an off-campus student ghetto.  The dog was a sort-of black lab.  Her nose was a little too pointy, and she wasn’t quite the right proportions to be an actual lab, but she was closer to being a lab than anything else.  We named her Tia, not after the Spanish word for “aunt”, but after the Jamaican coffee liqueur, Tia Maria.  The people who owned brown and black dogs around campus had already stolen the good booze-related dog names, including Guinness and Kahlua.  Anyway, the dog lived with me off-campus with my roomates and neighbors along with their various dogs, including Timber, Buddy, Buzz and Ziggy (those were the dogs, not the roomates).

Our living arrangements were typical of the era.   The dogs lived as barely-domesticated in the neighborhood, scavenging the yards and alleys, eating like cartoon goats.  Dogs and roomates lived in a constant state of flea bombings and unexpected vet bills.  One dog had eaten an entire bag of garbage and needed surgery to extract the Hefty Two-Ply from its lower G.I. system.  Another had chipped his tooth chasing a thrown brick which took an unfortunate hop.  Still another needed a capful of peroxide to induce vomiting to help his owner recover a quarter ounce of a prized product, which he then sold to unsuspecting customers, as if it had never been in the stomach of a spaniel-mix.   Dogs, huh?

On one particular visit to my future in-laws, my girlfriend and I were walking Tia out on her parent’s lawn.  Her parents were not out there, but were likely to come strolling out of the house at any time.  My future sister-in-law was there, making small talk with us, while Tia sniffed around the yard, looking for a good place to drop a deuce.  Always trying to maintain my future son-in-law status, I was prepared to scoop up any nuggets that Tia was going to drop on the fescue.  She assumed the position, and I scurried over to have the load off the grass as quickly as possible.  As I crouched near her, I was not entirely surprised to see that her dump appeared to be composed of something other than 100% processed kibble.  Upon further inspection, it appeared to be some sort of translucent plastic or latex.  Just as the light bulb of recognition flickered on, Tia decided she was done and trotted off to another part of the yard, her tail happily wagging.  An undigested condom hung out of her butt and was wagging in the opposite sequence of her tail.

Petrified that my future in-laws would come out of the house at any minute, I chased the oblivious Tia trying in vain to catch the dog-dootie covered rubber.  My girlfriend and her sister proved their worth by watching from another part of the lawn and laughing as I crouch-ran across the grass, trying to time my grasps with the conflicting swings of the tail and the rubber.  Tia, ever playful despite an obvious eating disorder, decided that she enjoyed the game and managed to keep herself just out of reach.

I was finally able to get her coralled and pull the offending Trojan out of her dumper before my future in-laws could come out of the house.  I stood there for a brief moment of victory until I realized what I was holding, then quickly dropped it in the bag I held.   I was more than a little eager to get myself to the nearest sink for 30 minutes of scalding handwashing.

Taken years after the infamous condom-passing incident, this pic shows Tia diving off the bulkhead into the Barnegat Bay. Later that year, we moved across the country. She became fairly well known for her unauthorized roving of the streets of downtown Eugene, Oregon and swimming in the Willamette.

Like many stories from ancient history, it’s hard not to wonder “what if?”.  What if my father-in-law-to-be had wandered out of the house in time to see the dog and her protrusion?  It might have spelled an entirely different path for my life.  I might have bid a hasty farewell to my girlfriend and never seen her again.  Then again, my future father-in-law might have just shrugged and gone back into the house, and I would have ended up right where I am after all.  Most people would say that having philosophical thoughts about a topic such as this is both disturbing and pointless – but if I was like most people, what would be the appeal of this blog?

I owe a strange debt of gratitude to Angie Z. of Childhood Relived, who through no fault of her own, got into a comment stream with me about a totally different subject, which somehow took a scatological turn.  She in no way could have forseen that safe sex would somehow cross-pollinate this gem of a story and make it even worse.  Those among you who have been engaged in comment streams here on WordPress can probably understand.  Those of you who ignore the comments might want to reconsider- some of us do our best work there – potty talk and all.  If you click on Angie’s blog link above, you can see her funny writing, and make sure to stick around for the comments section after.  Follow her blog as you do mine, become a better person, do it now!