Do You Need a Gimmick to Succeed as a Writer?


Writing, in some ways, is akin to professional wrestling. You work 300+ days a year with no vacation or sick time. The pay is atrocious for the amount of effort you put forth. And your success is dependent on consistently eliciting strong reactions from a group of strangers night after night.

The most important similarity, however, is that both writing and professional wrestling have gimmicks.

“Mantaur” is widely considered one of the worst gimmicks in WWE history.

In pro wrestling, a gimmick is essentially a wrestler’s character. The late Ultimate Warrior wasn’t actually a mystical hero from “Parts Unknown.” The “Ultimate Warrior” character was just his gimmick. There have been loads of gimmicks in pro wrestling. Garbage men. IRS employees. Human-bull hybrids. Pretty much anything you can think of has been tried at least once.

In writing, gimmicks aren’t so over-the-top, nor are they explicitly acknowledged, but their existence is undeniable. I’m sure you’ve seen them without even realizing they were a veneer—a false persona invented to spur success and fend off failure. There’s the motivational speaker/life coach gimmick. The “I’m too cool to care about anything” gimmick, the “cool parent” gimmick, the “20-something who’s got their shit together (and will help you catch lightning in a bottle too)” gimmick, and hundreds of others. The one similarity between them is they’re all trying to gull the marks into clicking their articles, sharing their articles, following them on twitter, and blowing smoke up their asses in general.

Writing, like professional wrestling, is fake. Do you really think writers believe everything they write? Half of all lists could be titled “XX Things I Don’t Believe But I Think Will Resonate With the Audience and Get Pageviews So I’ll Publish This Anyway.” But such lists transform websites from niche blogs to fast-growing powerhouses, from irrelevant aggregators of content to premier media companies. They work. Gimmicks work.

I’ve been gimmick-less throughout my three years of writing. In part because I don’t write to procure an army of social media sycophants. In part because writing solely to resonate is fraudulent; writing has always been about honesty to me. And in part because I simply can’t think of a gimmick that would even work for my “voice” and my opinions.

I once asked my therapist (Twitter) if I was less of a person for never getting published on sites like The Awl, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and The Toast. One of my Internet friends/colleagues g-chatted me an answer.

“Those websites are for stupid Brooklyn hipsters,” he said. “Your gimmick should be the normal guy when you’re dealing with those people, not some wannabe Williamsburg douche.”

Should my gimmick be The Normal Guy™?

There’s a pro wrestling adage that states your best gimmick is you with the volume turned up. I subscribed to that style. I wrote my opinion on something but then turned it up about a thousand notches—to sting people, to leave an impression. Once I went a little too far, and decided to proceed sans gimmick.

Was that the right decision? Should I still try and find a gimmick?

My heart says no, but my head says yes. Gimmicks elevate you as a writer. Not appropriating one for myself is doing me a disservice, yet I’ll continue to write without one, lest I become not only a parody of an Internet writer but a parody of myself.


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