I Wrote A Bad Article

Has this ever happened to you? You felt like posting a controversial opinion online, but feared the fallout from your followers. You could’ve let the whole thing go, but you wanted to say something, so you came at it from an awkward angle. You chose to be confusing instead of controversial. The greater your social media presence, the more eyes of judgement are upon you, so you vague-booked. You blogged ambiguously. You committed crimes against clarity. You reached out with oven mitts on, because you were afraid of getting burned.

I’m just as guilty of these lies of omission. This is my confession.

Tie in Mouth Cover

I Wrote A Bad Article

I had a sensational headline with a hook that guaranteed it would go viral, but for all my promises of heated debate, I’d written a tepid article. Expecting their triggers to be set off, the reader would find themselves shrugging. For all my big bold print and explanation points, my title was misleading. It was edgy in tone, but not in content. Rather than go to bat for my cause, I played it safe. Rather than tip the scales, I barely weighed in on the subject.

In my mind, coworkers were reading over my shoulder. Dating prospects were crossing me off lists. Relatives were filling up on conversations for next Thanksgiving. I saw my social media followers scattering. This wasn’t my usual platitudes with attitude. It wasn’t inspiring, it was alienating. I found myself revising more than I was writing.

My literary voice cracked. My writing persona got stage fright. I bit my tongue, I choked on it. I wasn’t about to showcase my untested material. I wasn’t about to go dropping any microphones.

Afraid to let my controversial idea slip, I reported the controversy. Sighting polarizing extremes, I said there were two sides to every story. Then I implied they both had equal validity. I was a shepherd, shaming my readers toward the center. I walked my flock down the middle of the road, because I thought it was safer there.

It turned out my muse had centrist views.

My position didn’t support the facts. My neutrality was a non-reality. I tiptoed around the issue, and lied about the topography. I built a straw man, not to misrepresent the opposition, but to obscure their identity. Careful not to name names, I went after their behavior, and ignored the cause of it. I condemned easy targets like I was the only one brave enough to do it. I was a voice in a choir of condescension, pretending to be the most outspoken. Meanwhile, a grave injustice passed by unchallenged.

I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t the message that mattered, it was the wordplay. My readers wanted wit, not truth in jest. Piling on pointless alliteration, I spruced up the form to conceal the function. I turned prose into poetry. I distorted a clear picture into an abstract painting.

Rather than acknowledge the opposition’s argument, I addressed the logical fallacies in how they presented it. I didn’t go high or low, I took the off road. I sidestepped the issue. Rather than attack a dangerous claim, I lashed out at how it was said, putting semantics before substance. My fallacy was thinking that pointing out the opposition’s deceptions proved them wrong.

I was afraid to make a statement until the court of popular opinion had rendered a verdict. I wanted to take a stand, but I was afraid I’d be crushed beneath the bandwagon. Those big wheels keep on turning. They have to pass before Captain Hindsight can say something.

As I typed, I saw the rebuttal editorials forming. I saw the trolls frothing. I didn’t feel like curating the comment section. I didn’t feel like I owed everyone an explanation. I wanted to speak my piece, not have a conversation.

I saw myself seated at the misfit table at the next wedding. I saw my classmates avoiding me at the next reunion. I saw future in-laws, armed with confrontation ammunition.

While other causes are finally coming out of the closet, my lobby isn’t exactly making a lot of friends. Our delegates come across as elitists. They’re not winning hearts and minds so much as getting the rest of us condemned. When speakers list different groups to celebrate a diversity of opinion, we’re rarely mentioned.

I couldn’t find a mouthpiece to hide behind, a source to quote that said exactly what I was thinking. So I laundered my opinion through a complicated analogy, hoping that no one would see my words for the story. Afraid to talk politics and religion at the dinner table, I peppered them into a different conversation. I made ambiguous allusions, so I could get off on a technicality. I made noncommittal statements in case I needed to shrug off my beliefs.

I wrote a bad article. It compromised the truth in the interest of fairness. It compromised my journalistic etiquette by being politically correct. It committed a wrong by not fully addressing another wrong. It omitted evidence in the interest of balance. It looked down on the reader from the middle ground. It turns out the half way point between the truth and a lie, is still a lie.

I’m a liar liar, and I burn my pants in penance.


21 thoughts on “I Wrote A Bad Article”

  1. I think many writers struggle with this because they mix their “writing” with their “blogging.” That is why I keep them seperate and it helps me to never hesistate to publish anything. Nice post! -OM

  2. It’s like you were reading my mind! I was considering speaking out on an issue on my blog but it’s not really the right forum for a rant or piece that might alienate readership. I did feel it needed addressing still, so I used twitter instead for a brief encapsulated version.

  3. It’s such a tightrope act, interacting with people who may have different levels of willingness to consider opposing views and/or still connect with those who have them. Some writers build their fan bases by being controversial, but that’s probably exhausting to sustain. I hope some day you’re able to find a safe space for the piece you really meant to write, or at least the things you didn’t put in it.

  4. Fabulous post, and will make sure and I find a way to link to it on my own blog. It is a difficult balance when you’re blogging – having a strong enough voice without alienating potential readers – and sometimes we’ll get it wrong. But at least you decide which comments get published!

  5. Integrity is important. Integrity to remain true to yourself even more so. Sometimes we all compromise our integrity in one way or another. I loved this though Drew. You had enough integrity to burn your pants in public! 🙂

    (Oh and you’ve probably gathered by now I’m not the type of person who’s too bothered what others think of me personally. As long as I’m not attacking an individual but ideas instead, I think my integrity remains intact . I hope. We do live in countries where freedom of speech and freedom of press is allowed don’t we?… Don’t we? :/)

    As always, a pleasure to read your stuff.

    1. Thanks again for another insightful comment. I was debating posting anything this Monday and decided it might be interesting to talk about the thought process that gets me to bite my tongue.

      I love to pretend I’m above peer pressure, or the fear of judgement from proximity friends on Facebook, but I’m not (just unfriended an acquaintance over a rude comment).

  6. Great (not bad) post. I think we all make judgment calls constantly about what to say, to whom, how and where. The decision to apply self-censorship or permission is constant. I do like Patti’s idea of a rebuttal! And don’t you pique our interest!

  7. I think this is why I’m suffering from writer’s block! It’s not a lack of things to say, for certain…I’ve just been holding back for fear I’ll never develop a readership. So when I dig deeply and my soul pours itself onto paper, I suddenly become hobbled by a perceived future public repulsion. And “Rachealizations” becomes “Rachealizations Light.”. Sigh*

    1. I find that with polarizing topics, sometimes it’s just best to take your stance. I try to make it as entertaining as I can. I’ve got a fringe piece, like this, coming out in the not too distant future

      1. Thank you…perhaps you’re right. As for your writing, polarizing or not, it is magnificent! Genius. The most interesting I’ve read in some time. I’m not kidding when I say I was in tears last week, it was so good. Brilliant writing is a thing to behold. 🙂

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