Some people write newspaper articles. Some people write essays.
Newspaper articles have 85% of the story in the first paragraph. If an editor has to cut paragraphs, the bulk of the story is intact.
Essays have 85% of the story spread through roughly 85% of the paragraphs, leaving the remaining 15%, including the point of the essay, for the rest of the paragraphs. Frequently, the point is contained in a pithy statement in the last line, forcing a reader to get to the end, pick up the key, and reread the essay saying “Ah!” and “Now I get it” and “How thoughtfully clever.”
Newspaper articles are written for skimmers and for deductive people.
Essays are written for readers and for inductive people, people who are willing to live long through an experience and then, afterward, say, now I understand.
I write essays.
That’s a perfectly acceptable thing, I think.
And now Jason Falls comes along and picks on me.
“Write good headlines,” he said yesterday.
But that would give away too much of the essay, I reply. It would ruin the clever surprise. I want people to read to the end to understand the story.
But Jason said, “I … subscribe to 350 other blogs and make efficient use of my time by skimming headlines looking for an inviting post.”
And suddenly I realized that he is right.
If I write enigmatic headlines, forcing busy people to read all the way to the end of the essay to get the point, I will keep people from even starting the essay. If I write generic headlines, I keep my friends from being able to get their friends to read what I write.
As I thought about Jason’s point, I realized that my “8 ways” posts get attention. In fact, of my top ten posts, six of them are “8 ways” posts. Not just because they are list posts, I don’t think, but because I tell you in the headline what is in the post. (Like 8 ways to encourage a friend.)
Ironically, those are some of my best posts. The title reflects clarity in the posts as well.
So I think I’m going to try what Jason says: Take the time to actually craft a headline that might catch a reader’s attention and give a reason to read.
I’m guessing that this one catches his.