Do you write epic content for your clients? The kind of content that readers will bookmark and come back to again and again?
If you do, great! I expect you to weigh in in the comments. If you don’t write epic content, why not?
Building a popular blog for your clients involves two things: promotion and writing brilliant content. Content that blows the audience’s minds, challenges and inspires them with the crazy value you provide.
To help your client’s blog truly stand out, to help them build a raving audience of fans, you need to write epic shit. It works. For our purposes that’s all we need to know. Usefulness, emotional engagement and uniqueness win.
The Internet is full of junk. Don’t add to it. Write epic shit. In this post I’ll show you how to make your personal experience an asset, integral to the amazingness of the article, rather than something to strip away leaving only deadened objectivity.
Gonzo journalism creates epic shit
The method I recommend is a style of long form journalism. It requires us — the “citizen journalists”, AKA bloggers — to put on our grown-up pants and write as serious journalists.
But epic writing doesn’t spring from a staid focus on the facts. The method I follow is gonzo journalism, made famous by Hunter S. Thompson, the author and real-life protagonist of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
This form of writing embeds the writer in the story: you tell it from your perspective. Personality is exactly where gonzo thrives. It’s a style that encourages an honest voice, sharing your strongest opinions.
If you go to a music festival and have a debaucherous time, write that story. It requires a certain kind of optimism — call it silver-lining spotting, or an awesomeness filter. Write as a fan loving what you experience. Write with all the energy of the event, all the emotion that you felt, with all the intermingled colors, sights and sounds.
To mix up a heady cocktail for your client’s readers, combine your excitement in the experience with vivid description.
Why create gonzo blog posts for clients?
Because their audience isn’t expecting it.
The unexpected is exactly what we writers need to deliver: content that makes our clients stand out from the crowd. This sets us apart as premium content creators, worthy of premium rates.
Gonzo blogging is full of life. It’s nothing like the dry, objective reporting that feels out-of-place on blogs but is typical of broadsheet newspapers.
The gonzo style carries the excitement of the writer, infecting your reader and inspiring them to take action and join in.
Or it elicits an emotional reaction in which the reader feels connected with you because you’ve synthesized all the overwhelming, intangible feelings they couldn’t put into words. Your content fills the audience’s need to understand and to make themselves understood, so they share it with everyone they know.
As a skilled writer, you can crystallize an indescribable reader experience into a shareable piece of content that benefits your client by increasing reader engagement. You build a written time capsule that allows readers to experience the event vicariously. Done well, it encourages a frenzy of interaction.
The uniqueness of individual experiences and the difficulty of describing them both contribute to this frenzy. If your audience can feel and share your experiences, your content sticks. This is what your clients hire you for: to intensify the experience, make it magical and larger-than-life. That is precisely the epic shit you can write.
Who needs gonzo blog posts?
Any direct experience, from event coverage to celebrity profiles or product reviews, suits this kind of storytelling. The stranger and the more intense, the better. Ideal markets include:
- the music industry for concerts and festivals
- the restaurant industry for openings and events
- new startups with unique offerings
- adventure or travel companies
There are a lot of different directions you can go with this kind of writing, and as a bonus it often revolves around interesting experiences you can bill as expenses!
How to start gonzo blogging:
Leave your desk behind
This kind of writing doesn’t start behind your desk or with a blinking cursor in Google’s search box. It starts out there, in that mythical realm beyond your keyboard.
Find an experience that excites you
Epic content comes from experience. To create these gonzo posts you need to do something before you can write about it.
Experience what you plan to write about; live and breathe your client’s brand, product or event. Do things and learn things. If you aren’t excited by the experience, your readers won’t be either.
Teach your client to trust you
Your client must be on the same page as you for gonzo blogging gigs. Before you take the job, be clear about the type of post you’ll deliver. Explain why it’s better than bland content for their business, and how you plan on making it work to achieve their goals. Once the client’s on board, make it happen.
When you’re out there:
You’re a participant observer: you’re in the event and you’re reporting it. It’s the balance that is key to creating an epic post.
Once you’re out there, experience everything as a participant. This is no time to stand in the corner scribbling down notes while everyone else has a good time. Dive in, get your hands dirty, make a name for yourself or throw your name away along with your inhibitions. Absorb as much of the experience as you can. Don’t fret over minor details — your aim is to capture the feeling. Facts are easy to check later, but the feeling will evaporate over time, so soak it up while you can.
Remember to remember
You need to stay involved in the experience to keep it authentic, yet at the same time record enough of the moment to express it later. Take as many photos as you need, but don’t run around dazzling everyone with a camera flash. You want to position yourself within the story, not outside it like a traditional journalist.
At the same time, you can’t go too deep — at some popular events, joining in with all the revelry will lead to you waking up on Monday morning with a blank memory and a blank document instead of a blog post! You need to record the experience with your senses, so don’t get senseless.
If you’re on a longer trip, such as road trip, then by all means take notes. Remembering details over a long period of time is harder than a single night.
Don’t try to force your recollections — the mental pressure will block off your memory until you relax again. Instead, think of a single detail you do remember, and follow it. What led you to notice that detail? What happened next? Starting with tiny steps, you’ll release an avalanche of information.
While you write:
Start writing as soon as possible while the sensory information is fresh in your mind. The process of writing it down reinforces your memories, triggers new recollections and helps them to last longer. Once you have it drafted, you can interrogate it for missing details. The main thing is to start, get out of your own way and write it all down. Now.
Create space to write
Write in a distraction-free setting and block out enough time to write a rough draft from start to finish without stopping.
Pick a persona
Choose a character to play within your story. You are a unique snowflake, but the multitude of details that make up who you are don’t need to be explained. You don’t have enough room for that, and your readers don’t have the patience.
To streamline yourself for the reader, pick an aspect of your personality and emphasize it. Choose a persona that benefits the story:
- a wide-eyed newbie retelling your adventure?
- a grizzled veteran doling out hard-earned wisdom?
- a fish out of water whose perspective provides contrast?
For example, I once wrote a feminist piece from the perspective of a “typical” male jock surrounded by hundreds of topless women. Contrasting stereotypes with the message of the story increases engagement, heightens enjoyment, and adds insight without getting preachy.
Choose your persona according to what story you’re telling, and for how long. If you’re writing a regular column then develop a persona that will last and suit all the topics you might cover. But never lose your unique gonzo approach — you want to ruffle some feathers.
Once you’ve identified your persona for this piece, write from a first person perspective. Use the persona as a lens to focus your experiences with a specific perspective and voice that increases the impact of your message. Readers may show up for the content, but they will end up staying for your persona.
This is a great approach for writers coming to freelance blogging from a fiction background.
Let it flow
Sit down and write without editing. Write as fast as you can; allow the stream of consciousness to flow out of you. Once you have the raw material, you can whittle out your masterpiece later. For now, channel the event, the experience and the excitement. Don’t let your damn internal editor out of his slimy cage until you’ve completely spent yourself. No pushing commas around until you’ve birthed the entire thing.
Be led by your memory. Once you feel like you’ve run out of steam, it’s probably about time to stop. Your aim isn’t to milk paragraphs out of every last detail — this will dilute the content and reduce its overall impact.
When you edit:
Don’t dumb down
You don’t need to oversimplify, justify or contextualize everything. Allow your readers to connect the dots and trust them to think for themselves.
It’s tempting to ask if what you’ve written is too out there, too different. That’s a way of asking, “Is it safe?” This is a normal reaction. It’s human nature to want security. Resist that instinct. When you write well, you will feel naked. When you edit, don’t cover yourself up.
Pace your story
Think about the rhythm of your words. Use short sentences to drive the story on. Use long, rambling sentences to slow things down again, with more poetic language and extended descriptions.
Go with your gut
The first time you write a piece like this, you’ll want to second-guess the life right out of the post. Try not to.
Purists of the gonzo style argue that you shouldn’t edit. Ever. Hunter S. Thompson was infamous for holding up the presses so his editor wouldn’t have time to change his work. He believed an editor’s touch would rob the writing of his essence, his unique voice.
To some degree this is true, but minimal edits are a good idea when you’re writing for a client. Keep the wild flair, but make sure it makes sense. Gonzo is true to your voice, but be flexible — when editing, never forget you’re addressing your client’s target audience.
Use beta readers
We all subject our unlucky spouses or friends to our writing from time to time. Your usual beta reader may not be the most suitable choice for your gonzo blog posts if they’re naturally cynical. Seek out creative, open-minded people to test-read your gonzo pieces first, then consider showing it to your nitpicking grammar Nazis.
Take all advice in moderation; it’s your story, your opinion, your voice. No one can tell it like you can.
In the end, gonzo blogging is about having fun and sharing that sense of joy with your reader in a way that benefits your clients. It raises your profile as a freelance blogger and positions you as the alternative to soul-destroyingly dull blog posts.
To go gonzo, share your hard-won wisdom, battle scars, and bar stool stories full-throttle.
All you have to do is hang on for the ride!