Do you remember Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button? When Google launched in 1998, below the search bar there were two buttons. Both equally prominent, unless you think the right side is more prominent than the left, which I do because I’m right-handed, and then the Lucky button ruled the screen. The other button simply read “Google Search.” Dull.
By hitting the I’m Feeling Lucky button, you took the pressure off Google to scan the entire web looking for all eighty-million hits to your search string. Google only returned the top result. Tonight, I checked my browser to see if the button is still there. I didn’t think it was, but I honestly couldn’t remember. It’s not, Google discontinued that service in 2010.
That research took about twenty minutes. Our internet is crawling. Susan and Eli are both streaming shows and using up all of our broadband. My searches are pushed to the back burner, grasping for gaps between the steady stream of Schitt’s Creek and How it’s Really Made (the comedic and intentionally inaccurate knockoff of How it’s Made). My 139,000,000 results took fourteen seconds to load.
I used to watch Schitt’s Creek with Susan, but half the episodes left me feeling depressed. The characters are so sad. None of them are remotely in touch with their needs and feelings, or anyone else’s needs and feelings, and many episodes play off awkward misunderstandings. The comedy simply mimics the worst part of my day-to-day interactions. I suppose it’s funny, but it hits too close to home.
The Lucky button isn’t really what I needed anyway. What I want is a button that pulls up a completely random web page. Well, not completely random because I want it to be in English, but beyond that, random. I wanted a writer’s prompt.
I went to a writers’ workshop a few years back. One of the instructors, Leslie Pietrzyk, explained to the group that she wrote much of her recent novel, Silver Girl, at her weekly writers’ group responding to assigned prompts. A prompt was given, Leslie thought about how it pertained to her story and characters and just dashed off in that direction. The result is a completely unpredictable book, that I think falls in my top ten list, and not just because the author inscribed it to me.
Here’s how I met Leslie:
My brother Dana: “Hey Jeff, my friend Leslie Pietrzyk is going to be one of the instructors at your writers’ conference.”
Me: “I’ll be sure to say hi.”
The next day: “Hi, you must be Leslie, I’m Dana Cann’s brother Jeff.”
Leslie: “Oh, hi Jeff, what sort of writing do you do?”
Me: “Mostly blogging.”
We were only a few of feet apart. I swear I could watch her eyes glaze over with disinterest. I wound up liking her anyway, and plus, that’s a cool story about writing prompts. I used to fool around with writing prompts a few years ago, and I always enjoyed the result. So why can’t Google feed them to me.
Blogging is an up and down hobby for me. Sometimes I feel great about it, sometimes I want to throw in the towel. I’ve been very much in towel mode over the past couple months. My readership is way down and less than twenty percent of my page views result in “Likes.” I’m left wondering if the people who pop by even read my post at all, or worse, they didn’t finish it.
Last week, I wrote a story about the rock band Iron Butterfly. After I posted it, I mentioned to Susan that I may have just hammered in a coffin nail. No one wanted to read that post. It made no sense to drive away readers with such an esoteric topic. “No Jeff, you’ve got your crowd. You won’t lose any readers.”
I got this all wrong, and Susan got it all right. My Iron Butterfly post turned into a fun and fantastic experience. I didn’t get any more likes than normal, but the conversation was amazing. Susan’s right. I have a crowd, and I’m eternally grateful you come by and comment no matter what I write. If my writer prompt plan pans out, my subject matter may get a bit quirkier.
Today, after I commented on a post, a writer asked me what I blog about. I listed a variety of topics, but that the posts were really just all about me—she didn’t click through to read anything. But that got me thinking, these prompts may send me in odd directions, cicadas, sewer drains, bank vaults, but every story will dive deeply into me. I’m thankful that you care.