On Resisting the Bait

I don’t mean click-bait. I mean write-bait. That article that wants you to launch your 2.000 words rhetoric missile, and click the red button: Publish.

I am pondering about one of the most successful genres clicked and shared on social media: a blend of popular psychology, life hacking, and business wisdom, perhaps enriched by trusted thought leaders’ anecdotes.

Viral articles often match one of the following patterns:

1) The positive version that wants you to be part of the chosen group:

People who are X are also capable of Y.

X has usually a somewhat negative connotation, so capability Y comes as a surprise and as a relief.

[Also introverts can be great leaders.]

In addition, X is not clearly defined (maybe Y isn’t either), and it will be easy to find a multiple-choice test that gives you confirmation about your status as a winner.

2) The negative version that makes you feel happy about not being doomed, or giggle mischievously:

People who are X are not capable of Y.

To make this work, X-People need to be a minority, and Y needs to be something the target audience recognizes as desirable.

[Book-smart academic over-achievers will hardly be successful entrepreneurs].

These articles are light entertainment for the Non-Xers, but X-People might have a hard time resisting the temptation to take the bait. Especially when they feel they haven’t tagged a blog post with Rant for a long time.

If there is anything to gain here in terms of self-improvement and self-hacking, it is the ultimate test of your Stoic attitude. You can refine and polish your counter-arguments over and over, make it more poignant and provocative, or more balanced and thoughtful. Make it more anecdotal, personal, and honest, or more detached and based on rock-solid research. You might long to dance on the slippery area in between, mastering the art of making fun of yourself without too much self-sabotage.

But no matter what you write: If you take the bait it will always sound like whining, nitpicking in the wrong place, or re-defining and twisting terms like ‘success’ to meet your own agenda. Besides, it may hurt your productivity at work to turn around that unpublished piece in your mind again and again. So do yourself a favor and trash your draft.


Also notorious wafflers are capable of writing short posts.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. I like the term you have used–the concept is not new to me nut the name is. I am reminded of a similar set of “writing prompts” I used to get when I first followed WordPress on twitter. The tweet would be a scenario you “needed” to write to. The whole idea got on my nerves. First, I don’t like being told what to do and second, it was obvious that WordPress REALLY wanted to profit from my free labour! I’ve always noted that I write whatever I want to write about (and I know you feel that way too) so it’s doubly infuriating when you realize that someone else is trying to get some of my efforts out of me to meet their ends and their ends alone.
    In a related vein, I’m reading the book linked below right now and suspect you would enjoy it immensely.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Maurice – this books looks like an interesting read! I have been nearly offline for more than a day today due to broken router, so: definitely agree – the internet is not the answer ;-)
      Yes, I have seen these prompts. Sometimes I figured if I would follow them I would blog more. There were so many questions inviting introspective or opinionated rambling (like this post of mine ;-)). Recalling from the book about WordPress and the company running it I guess they would say they launch such ‘initiatives’ as many bloggers have writers block or finally don’t dare to click the Publish button. I forgot the number but the percentage of blogs created without a single post ever was enormous.

  2. Joseph Nebus says:

    Wow. For what it’s worth I hadn’t thought of doing one of those write-bait style posts, but I have blogs of the sort of focus that don’t lend themselves to this kind of article. Yours has a broader remit.

    1. elkement says:

      Maybe I have selected some topics for my blog just because I am too easily write-baited :-) I think I had once started one of my other websites as an outlet to write what I had been baited to do!

  3. Fascinating outlook. I like this

  4. I’m sorry to be so naive Elke … I’ve never, ever, heard of write-bait! Perhaps this post should have been preceded by a primer … ‘write-bait-for-Dummies.’

    1. elkement says:

      That’s because I have just invented the term write-bait in this post! So this was my primer! ;-)

  5. howardat58 says:

    Now of course we are all speculating about your being an “also capable” or a “not capable”. Which “X ” is probably not too difficult to guess ! “Y” doesn’t matter at all.
    Jus keep dem fingas off dat keebawd.

    1. elkement says:

      It dawns on me that I have to resist another bait now – commentators questions ;-) I’d just like to say I typically choose my hypothetical examples carefully :-)

  6. Michelle H says:

    Where did this come from, my friend? Is it connected to the LinkedIn article you shared on Twitter about entrepreneurs?

    1. elkement says:

      I had this general theory (about pop-psych articles) in my mind for quite a while, but yes: This post was related to the LinkedIn article – but indirectly: The LinkedIn article was fine and it was a response to another article – and that one was the potential bait.
      But I think a write-bait never lives in a vacuum: It is a bait because it feels like the 1000th article putting forward the same theory … about allegedly ‘too smart’ people not being able to run a business… for example! That example was of course totally hypothetical :-)

      1. Michelle H says:

        I liked the post. Lively and entertaining, but also requiring further consideration.

        1. elkement says:

          Thanks, Michelle! Yes, I enjoyed writing it! Much more than writing that write-baited unpublished draft :-) … or all those drafts.
          I had actually deleted many completed and edited posts in the past months (on diverse topics): I figured they don’t meet my new standards but maybe the root cause was that they had been a result of taking a bait, sometimes a bait from other social media, TV, or real-life interactions.

          1. Michelle H says:

            I think I inadvertently stumbled upon the Buddhist equivalent to this, called ‘reproaching the ego’ with a sense of humour. Every I just flip through one of the books I like and find something to connect with… and then I keep it at the front of my mind for as much as possible during that day. Today’s lesson on developing self-awareness was this: “The point of reproach is to develop enough self-respect that when we catch ourselves getting hooked in familiar ways we can stop. … We’re finally giving ourselves a break.” – Pema Chodron

          2. elkement says:

            An interesting view, Michelle! I am really not sure which categories or tags I should apply to that self-censorship or reproach or whatever it is.
            Just trying to keep things as simple as possible I tend to believe it is maybe just an experiment in writing? Like: You are capable of churning out x words per week, x is increasing over time. Now you can either publish them all, marveling at your productivity or you can get more ruthless, keep your output constant and delete the ‘worse’ ones.
            Then you need a criterion for ‘worse’ and you apply the same criteria to your own posts than to others. Perhaps I have become tired of opinions, including my own. I’d say I rather try to write today what I would also like to read; before I was also happy with just feeling the need to write. And the write-baited posts usually belong to the category ‘what I felt I had to write but what I would not even like to read myself’.

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