I’ve recently had a growing number of people asking me for some tips and pointers on creating content. I thought I’d cobble together some of the tricks of the trade, as it were, that I’ve learned over the years. Naturally, my preferred form is the essay, either written or video and so that is what I will be discussing. I will not be discussing promotion, monetization, or which platforms to use.
I tend to think the Online Right is over-saturated with live-streams and long-form audio content though I’m sure the people who make them have some tips of their own. However, in terms of styles of content, I feel it is important to point out that within the attention economy, a three-hour stream is a big ask and what’s more, that stream will be directly competing with a multitude of other three-hour streams — and this brings me to my first tip.
1. The Big Event
A consistent refrain on movie critic YouTube is that the magical films and characters of their youth — such as Star Wars — have been reduced to mere “content”. Such a statement begs a question, what is the difference between an art form and merely content? Just to be clear, this is not to suggest that I create art, but it is to suggest that there’s a difference between a utilitarian exchange of information and a form that seeks to cut off the constraints placed upon it by the medium. People will settle for “content” but they will become excited about something that tries to transcend and break the shackles. An interesting example is the YouTuber Mauler’s diatribes against the final season of Game of Thrones. Mauler’s lament at the disrespect shown to the characters and carefully constructed plotlines is often more artistic than the shows he is pillorying. Moreover, his audience would have expected to be in for something special when they saw the thumbnail on their YouTube feeds — and this is the Big Event.
Having frittered away endless hours watching films in my youth, I was keenly aware of the expectation built up by the pre-credits action scene in James Bond, the somber opening bars of John Rambo’s theme, or the bombastic fanfare of Star Wars. This, to be blunt, is why all of my videos have intros: it signals to the viewer that this content means something and is worth investing their time in. The utilitarian element of an efficient exchange of information is swept away within seconds of the video beginning, it is the promise of ‘‘An Event’’. Movie Critic YouTube’s hatred of modern Hollywood remakes and cash-ins is that they solely rely on such a promise but only ever deliver “content”.
2. Know Your Wheelhouse
It is a tragedy of the modern world how rare it is to hear people saying simply and honestly the phrase “I do not know”. I haven’t a clue about economics, technology, various scientific disciplines, or the internal bureaucratic structure of the European Union, and that’s fine. There are some things I do know about, such as how the media manipulates people on behalf of power, ‘80s action movies or Oswald Spengler’s theory of history, and others that I don’t. I’m not any sort of academic, but I do have many, many years slugging it in the trenches of poorly paid jobs and mingling with real people in the North East of England. A degree of self-awareness and honesty about what you do and do not know, what you are familiar with and not, is important in choosing subject matter and constructing narratives. I do not tend to write about Zoomer culture or the incel problem because it is foreign terrain. If I did so it would have to be from the perspective of a middle-aged northern man who had not experienced the subject matter.
On a live stream, you have far less control over what the subject matter is, and as such a lot of what the audience hears is mainly bullshit, padding, and guests desperately trying to avoid dead air. I’ve been on hundreds of live streams and I can assure you the last thing anyone wants to have to concede is “I don’t know” because it’s tantamount to killing the flow of the stream, so people just splash about until they can move on.
3. Wring It Dry
I estimate that roughly half of the draft concepts I have prepared for future content have gone nowhere and simply gathered dust before being deleted completely. In the dashboard of a private blog I use to store ideas, there are currently two dormant projects I could not make work. One project aimed to combine an analysis of the film Tron 2 with a history of Blackrock’s Aladdin software and the failed promise of the digital sphere. Unfortunately, much of the technological side of the project took me well outside of my wheelhouse and so the project stalled.
The other project is called ‘‘How Oswald Came In From The Cold’’ which is an exploration of Spengler’s increasing popularity after the so-called Great Meme War. Unlike the Blackrock project, I was on familiar territory. However, once the general thesis was laid out there was not a great deal of gold to mine. It would be merely a good idea without much depth. Essentially, it dawned on the Online Right that our problems were civilizational rather than political, which meant Oswald Spengler’s philosophy of history became somewhat en vogue.
The point here is to conceptualize a project in terms of what can be mined, and when your project is chosen, make sure you harvest every last chunk of ore until there is nothing left. Your readers or viewers will already have their thoughts on the subject, and this must be accounted for. The subject must be viewed from every angle possible before moving on to your thesis having assuaged any doubts in the audience during the narrative. The aim is an ambitious one — to leave the audience with a sense that there is simply nothing left to say on the subject and that all the bases have been covered. Of course, this requires that the audience remains interested enough to go on the whole journey and this brings us to my next point.
4. Duelling Banjos
In almost all of my longer form content and even the shorter “quick takes”, I will have not one subject, but two or even three, each forming a narrative line that runs in tandem with the others but which will at first not always connect directly. Here are some examples from my work to illustrate:
Heat: A Movie For The Atomized Man: The analysis of the film has a secondary theme of the Organizational Man and America’s corporate, grid-like cities that impose themselves on the individual. It is only at the end of the essay that the two different strands become synthesized to make a wider point and explanation.
Duelling Banjos = 2
Chernobyl: The Problem With Technocracy: The disaster of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant here forms the canvas upon which an analysis of Bertrand De Jouvenel’s On Power corresponds with the capture of scientific institutions across the West.
Duelling Banjos = 3
Why Elon Musk Will Never Colonize Mars (And How He Could): Here the Faustian Spirit is juxtaposed with Rationalism, William Blake, and the Competency Crisis.
Duelling Banjos = 3
Why Nobody Cares About The Aliens: The revelation that supposedly exists is contrasted with media saturation of alien narratives and a general disenchantment within postmodernity.
Duelling Banjos = 3
Contrapoints And The Broken Violin: A critique of a flagship leftist YouTube channel that leans into America’s departure from Afghanistan, the absence of patriotism and meaning elicited by postmodernism using an analogy of a broken musical instrument.
Duelling Banjos = 4
I realize of course that deploying the language of musical harmonies to describe blog posts and YouTube videos could warrant allegations of pretentiousness, but we could equally think of it in terms of narrative threads or strands being woven together to create a greater whole.
And before I get too carried away about my work let us consider a video by The Distributist that I consider one of the all-time greats in our spheres. Dave’s video on ‘‘Why Game of Thrones Jumped the Shark (And Why George RR Martin will never finish the series)’’ made six years ago set what I considered a new benchmark in what could be done using the essay format. Dave begins his monologue by outlining briefly and brushing away any notion of withholding spoilers or outlining the saga so far. He then moves on to introduce the central question: why is Game of Thrones falling apart and why was it always destined to? Now we learn the consequences of George RR Martin’s postmodernism, namely that having eschewed traditional fantasy in favour of depicting a world of grey without right or wrong, there is no meaningful way to wrap the story up that would be satisfactory to a mass audience. Dave then builds on this still further by citing the catharsis and sense of tragedy that pervades truly classic works of fiction such as in Shakespeare or Greek myth.
We see, then, that Dave is wringing his subject matter dry. He begins with a question that is answered comprehensibly but then moves on to ruminate over the antithesis of the initial subject. The dueling motifs are in play by recontextualizing a well-known fantasy saga as a backdrop for what is a discussion on Meaning and the human condition in myths and legends. As a final flourish, Dave posits that writing a saga awash in human evil but unable to attain a sense of goodness is little more than pornography. And naturally, he’s very much in his (expansive) wheelhouse here.
I remember watching Dave’s video years ago and having a reaction akin to Ridley Scott seeing Star Wars: ‘‘He’s doing that, what the hell am I doing?’’
5. The Real World Is Your Friend
There’s a tendency and, to be honest, an incentive, to trawl social media in search of the next Current Thing or some piece of outrage that can be used as fuel to power the engine of content creation. However, while such material will result in clicks and views, it won’t last. Soon it will be just dead space. Here once again I feel I must take another pot-shot at the live-stream format by asking a simple question: how many live-streams have you listened to twice? This Tim Poolification of discourse has been disastrous in my opinion because it has a cannibalistic element to it in which only the grind of social media has legitimacy and the real, normal world hardly even exists. Moreover, any content produced will be obsolete within hours of it being “consumed”.
Consider instead an essay written by Millennial Woes meditating on a train journey he took in which he realized the ‘‘Quiet Carriage’’ was in the process of being phased out. A real-world experience in a familiar and mundane setting everyone can relate to becomes a place where abstract theory becomes realized and lived.
The First Class carriage speaks of overt, crass, financial elitism, whereas the elitism of the quiet carriage transects the classes, speaking down potentially to everyone. This is much more dangerous. It acknowledges the virtue, not of being wealthy, but of being thoughtful. In theory, any dumpling can become wealthy… but being thoughtful is a quality granted only to a few, and it is granted not by decision, not by action, but by nature. You can’t fake it, you can’t manufacture it. All you can do is brush it aside, out of view, and not reward it with recognition nor facilitate it with special provision in public life.
Even today, life is primarily an offline phenomenon, and as such most of our interactions and experiences take place within mundane settings such as trains, supermarkets, pubs, or workplaces. Do the theories and ideas we see expressed on the internet in our social media bubbles actually manifest in reality? Sadly the answer is yes. The inherent Current Thingism of social media creates a swarm effect on users and there’s a very strong incentive to jump into the latest craze. I am by no means immune to this as my back catalogue shows, but I am conscious of it and try to remain outside of the swarm as often as possible.
It is the real world that shapes us, not the internet. People often forget this and become ideological automatons. I doubt that many people in my audience remember the article I wrote about Frankie Boyle but I know many more will remember the time a lefty barmaid kicked me out of a pub.
Perhaps if I were to whittle down my approach to making content to its core, it’d be that a good story well told is better than theory, statistics, and abstractions.