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Why Write (Really, Really) Low-Brow Essays

The stylistic troglodytes are popular. Like, really popular. One of my essays might get 200 claps from readers. The five-thumb essays? Thousands, sometimes 10,000

Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

I’m going to write some s***.

I mean that literally, to the extent the vulgar metaphor can be literal. I’m going to write low-brow essays.

My goal is to crank out one such piece every week, maybe two or three every week if I get good at it.

Don’t worry. I’ll still do my weekly serious column, those series of essays that form my “Existence Strikes Back” project. I (with shocking arrogance) think the story laid out in those essays is important and needs to get out there. It’s perhaps unfortunate that the story is in the hands of a nimrod like me, but out there it must get, so this Yoda will continue to plug away at it.

But I’m also going to crank out some excrement. Opened My Eyes

Why this turn to the slop?

I have a few reasons.

First, has made it pretty clear: A lot of readers are grobians.[1]There are writers at Medium who, quite frankly, suck at writing, if judged from the perspective of, say, E.B. White, Robert Graves, Herbert Read, or F.L. Lucas (all of whom wrote about literary style; Lucas wrote the most beautiful: Style).

These writers at Medium are bad, like they woke up one day and decided they’d start writing. “I can read a newspaper, so heck, I can write an essay.” They violate the Ten Commandments of Style more frequently than a corrupt gay prison guard violates the other Ten. When I see our beautiful English language in the hands of these folks, I feel like I’m watching Harvey Weinstein grope a starlet.

But these stylistic troglodytes are popular. Like, really popular. One of my “Existence Strikes Back” essays might get 200 claps from readers. The five-thumb essays? Thousands, sometimes 10,000-plus.

Every time I see one of their essays (“attempts,” to use the original meaning of the term) get thousands of claps, I feel like Randy in that South Park episode when he realizes people are paying for vegan hamburgers.

Maybe these guys are the Harvey Weinsteins of the English language, but at least they’re getting laid. Me? I’m flexing my muscles in the mirror and telling myself I look good. Even if true (it’s not), I suspect there’s something more self-centeredly Weinsteinish in my approach than there was Harvey in his casting couch.

These other writers, on the other hand, are doing something to appeal to readers. They have a knack, or a set of skills or techniques, that Orwell would have scorned.

But George wasn’t writing in the digital age.

Second, Parkinson’s Law

I’m just beginning to appreciate this law. It says: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

For 30 years, I’ve never understood why I don't have enough time to get all my projects done. Now that I’m thinking about Parkinson’s Law, I think I know one of the reasons: I have a ton of projects and none of them have time limits, so they expand and expand and expand, leaving me frustrated and exhausted.

That won’t be the case with these essays. One hour maximum, at least for the first draft.

Of course, they'll probably require editing (this one did). If nothing else, I’ll need to revise them to give them more of a slop feel, just like Dostoyevsky took enormous editing efforts to make his Writer’s Diary columns look spontaneous.

So, I will revise the drafts, but within a tight timeframe.

Third, a Sympathetic Reader Suggested It

A reader reached out to me and said my essays deserve a broader audience. I looked at his stuff and his media-savvy techniques and decided he was a dude worth talking to. We spoke on the phone for 90 minutes, discussing potential ways for me to reach a larger audience.

When I told him how much time and care I took with each Monday column, he seemed taken aback.

I think his reaction was, “Frick, dude. You’re never going to get an audience if you take that much time with every essay.”

My position has always been, “Frick, dude. I ain’t no hack. I write like an artist. People will come to appreciate it.”

Well, I think I’m wrong. My subscriber list is growing, and I even got my first priest subscriber last week, but the process has been slower than a tractor on a 55-mph highway.

I’m afraid my dilettantism is either anachronistic in today’s literary climate or simple arrogance on my part or both.

It's time to try something different.

I’ll keep my careful, multi-revision approach with the Monday column, but otherwise, I’m going to start developing an eye for the slop.

I’d like to hear what you think. Drop me a line.

[1] I really wanted to use that word: A crude, sloppy, and often buffoonish person, named after a fictional patron saint of vulgar people.