Still Bitter After All These Years, Or How I Learned to Stop Caring About Brevity and Love Writing Verbose Headlines*

Did you participate in U.I.L. contests in Junior High or High School?

In Texas, the University Interscholastic League sponsored contests between schools covering a wide range of academic topics. In Junior High, I tied for 6th in a U.I.L. spelling contest. Unfortunately, the powers that be at that particular contest failed to notify me of the tie. I missed the ensuing spell-off, only to later find my test with “7th Place – Didn’t show up to tiebreaker” scrawled across the page. My little, proud, Junior High mind was crushed, not only at the fact that I wasn’t first place, but that I also didn’t even get the chance to compete to sustain my 6th place position.

So, years later, after stuffing my feelings by devouring as many words as I could, I attempted the journalistic competitions set forth by the U.I.L. It’s been far too many years since then, but I recall participating in Feature Writing and Headlines. I did so poorly in both of them that I can’t even recall my place in either competition. This may have been the beginning of a subtle aversion to the pursuit of writing as a legitimate means of self-sustainment.

Now, even more years later, writing (thankfully) is a part of my job. Learning to craft concise, creative, compelling copy (while attempting to avoid the adolescent allure of alliteration) is an art form I enjoy attempting to master. It’s a journey without a final destination, but if I can inch ever closer with each new day, each new writer I read, and each new voice that speaks wisdom into my life (and there are many of those at my current job and in my real-life circles), then I’ll consider it a day well-spent.

But headlines still cause me a tightening of the throat, a muddling of the mind, and a blankness of the brain. Consequently, I’m highly appreciative of posts like Matt Thompson’s 10 Questions to Help You Write Better Headlines.

While headlines have to convey much more information in a smaller amount of space versus your standard tweet or Facebook update, there are similarities to be found. The pressure of limited space leaves little room for error or vagueness, but carefully crafted content calls out for a memorable, clickable headline. As with your updates, so too with headlines. You want something that tells the truth, but begs for interaction.

Maybe the essence of any headline is this: How do you compress your meaning so that it’s an irrepressible invitation to interact?

So . . .

  • What inter-scholastic competitions did you compete in, and where did you place?
  • Or, what’s the best or worst headlines you’ve ever read?
  • Or, when you compose a tweet or Facebook update, do you linger over exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it so that someone will reply, click, or like the post?
*I’m not really that bitter any more, and I’m not allowed to write long headlines, unless it’s here on my own blog. However, I’ll still admit to adoring alliteration.
By | January 11th, 2012|General, Writing|0 Comments

Most Likely to Succeed… at Failing

In my last year of high school I was voted both Most Witty and Most Likely to Succeed. Even though I went to a small Texas high school, I never expected to be voted “most” anything. This is what we call a “self-esteem” issue, something never lacking from the high school experience (and something most of us spend our adult lives trying to prove wasn’t true about our high school selves).

I’m proud of the Most Witty moniker, although I think I won that title because we didn’t have a category for Most Punny. In a small Texas high school, I’m not sure most people knew the difference, but I’m not complaining. It worked to my advantage. I could be witty on occasion, but I might also be saying that there wasn’t exactly a lot of competition, which sounds egotistical, but, then again, as an adult, I’m still trying to combat the self-esteem issues that plagued my high school self.

But I digress.

I’m most comfortable with holding the title Most Witty for the fact that it’s something I am, and not something I have to do.

Being noosed with Most Likely to Succeed is like lugging an albatross to every job interview, new relationship, or writing endeavor. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not an overpowering obsession – This must succeed or else! – but it’s always there, in the backpages of the yearbook of my mind, leaving me notes like Better luck next year!

As an above-average student, I was never allowed to envision a future in which I didn’t succeed at everything I attempted. (God bless my mom!) In some ways, this helped me. It gave me a confidence in my abilities that should have otherwise been sorely lacking, given my self-assessed status of band geek, classic-book lover, introvert, and wannabe writer. Despite those “flaws,” I tackled obstacles in my paths, both academic and professional, like a linebacker bent on making the state championships.

Then I met a girl, got married, and settled down. I was content. I was happy. I was as successful as I thought I could be. I could tell myself, confidently, that I’d finally fulfilled the destiny prophesied by my senior class.

Then the things I had built my life around began to fall, one by one, like band geeks tripping over themselves at halftime. But instead of it being a forgotten event a week later, or a laughable anecdote at a ten year reunion, this experience left lasting scars. The healing would take years. Will take years.

This is not the life I had envisioned. Not in the least.
I’d truly and spectacularly succeeded now, at failing.

Self-esteem? Gone.
Hope? Dead.
Love? As if.
Most Likely to Succeed?
Only if Bob Dylan was right: “There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.

In counseling and DivorceCare, I heard it wasn’t uncommon for the newly divorced to feel as if they were going through puberty for a second time. In the aftermath of this devastating year, I became my high school self. My voice started cracking (through the strain of unexpected emotion). I started reading again. And drumming. And writing. And praying. And remembering how ardently I used to try to love God. Doing the things I used to do, for no other reason than the joy they brought me. I started to become serious about the man I’d always wanted to be, the man I’m afraid I always should have been.

In this renewal, I became keenly aware of my shortcomings and faults and failures, and it wasn’t until now, with an abundance of time to simply think, that I could own these failures and take responsibility for them. With God’s help, I grow gradually prouder of the man in the mirror these days. In light of what I consider a colossal failure, I’m learning to lean on this verse in a way I never had before:

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses…” (2 Cor. 12:9, ESV)

I’m proud to be Most Likely to Succeed now. It’s either still out there waiting for me, giving me something or someone to look forward to (hope/love), or I’m learning what it means to be content in all circumstances (faith). In my dictionary, making those three words a part of my daily life defines success.

Whatever the case may be, I’m still Most Witty, and have been successful at that for most of my strife… er… life.

By | March 15th, 2010|Christianity, General|3 Comments