Want to Go Viral? Target a mouthy audience

posted in: A Writer's Life, Blog | 1

Want to go viral? Take a cue from a former teacher of creative writing. He came out with a rant about his students and the craft of writing. The piece riled quite a few people. Mostly writers, for sure. Enough of them that his article went viral. On twitter, at least. It also led to a rebuttal article from a former student.

How-to-Use-Emotion-in-Your-Writing1-1024x512What has ensued should be great publicity for Ryan Boudinot (know him?), the author, and for the Stranger, the Seattle newspaper that published his article. But they’re not the only ones cashing in. The student who made Ryan Boudinot cry got to author a rebuttal article. He starts out with an undertone of hurt and blame but ends up apologizing (maybe, even showing affection) for “mean-spirited and tone-deaf” Boudinot. Unfortunately, he might be the one who gains least from all this, partly because his rebuttal is long and long-winded.

The British site guardian.com has also seen, in the article, a rich source of material for its pages. It’s inviting any creative writing students, past and present, to put in their two-cents worth.

This whole affair—from the publication of Boudinot’s rant to attempts to mine it for material—has been a great lesson in publicity. The topic at its center is one a vocal and verbal group of people is passionate about. And Mr. Boudinot’s incendiary assertions fuel that passion. Its having gone viral is not a surprise.

Mr. Boudinot put forth an article that, from the very first paragraph, made an explosive claim:

The vast majority of my students were hardworking, thoughtful people devoted to improving their craft despite having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it. My hope for them was that they would become better readers. And then there were students whose work was so awful that it literally put me to sleep.

The rest of the article doesn’t get any more charitable than that. But my point is not to analyze or give my opinion—well-considered, of course—about the claims of either Mr. Boudinot or the rebuttal article writer, J.C. Sevcik.

My point is nothing new: If you want to go viral, make yourself stand out in “a flashy way.”

The “flashy way” can take a number of forms. You can write an essay, a la Boudinot, one that touches sensitive chords in a vocal audience. You don’t even need to write it for a big well-known paper. (Who ever heard of the Stranger?)

But, you do have to have the right keywords in your title, and enough links to the post—your friends’/relatives’ blogs would help in this. The post should also come up in the first three pages of a Google search. Boudinot’s article was the second entry on the first page when I googled “writing programs.” I was actually searching for software. Yeah, bad search words. I should have written: “writing app.” More au courant. But I’m just a little better than a troglodyte.

  1. Rich

    You give us a description of the ingredients, the conditions which when blended successfully go to make an audience viral response.

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