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.