Write Mindset: Mike Cernovich & Gorilla Journalism

Write Mindset: Mike Cernovich & Gorilla Journalism
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Only 10% will finish your article. Such is the short attention spans of readers these days. So, I’ll try to keep your attention. That’s one thing I learned from Mike Cernovich. I’ve also learned a few other things.

With his appearance on 60 Minutes, it’s time to write a little about how he helped me with my writing.

The short version: Don’t write like a bitch.

The long version: I’ve already written elsewhere the impact of Mike’s books on my decision to self-publish, reviewed a movie he produced and even wrote a summary of a Twitter battle where I got criticized by a Hollywood hack—accusing me of kissing Mike’s ass. Whatever. This site isn’t a Mike Cernovich fanpage but when you like someone’s work, you like someone’s work. I admired Mike’s aggressive style and his decrying of all things “basic bitch”.

So when I got the commission to write an expose on Carlos Slim for Cernovich Media, to say I was pumped would be an understatement. It was my chance to showcase my work on a major platform—something I’ve been hacking away at for years. I looked at it as being thrown a pass in a football game, catching the ball and all that remained for me was running  in to the end zone. I just had to do the work.

After doing a ton of research plowing through Carlos Slim’s blog archive, reading articles and conducting interviews, I finally sat down and wrote the piece. I was relieved it was done. But there was something nagging at me and I refused to listen. If you think you can fool people through your writing, think again. Readers are smarter than you think.

But it was hard to pinpoint my insecurities—even harder to admit them. The research was there—really, it’s one of the stronger talents in my stack—the facts were there but…as Mike said, it lacked, “pop”.

For journalism to matter, and that’s the only kind of journalism we do at Danger & Play and Cernovich media, you need a BIG THEME, a central theme involving Jungian archetypes. Heroes and villains. Good guys and bad guys. David v. Goliath.
In fact, the worst thing a journalist can do is read journalism books. Far better would be to study The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Aesop, and the Bible.

Getting a lecture about writing was a kick in the balls. Mike and I are around the same age, I’ve been writing for a while—even published a novel—so, for sure it was a blow to the ego that my work wasn’t deemed good enough and that I needed to study the basics of storytelling.

Most writer’s these days act like delicate snowflakes. I’ve read stories of editors having writer’s break down in tears after a round of constructive criticism, making self flagellating statements like, “I’m terrible!” The ability to process criticism and use it to improve yourself and your work is what separates the men from the boys. Call it another talent in my stack: I’m not a delicate snowflake.

Mike told me what he wanted, gave me his expectations and even told me how to get there:
Re-write this article. Then share it with some friends. Ask them what they FEEL. If they say, “Good article, man, that’s interesting,” then you’re off the mark.

Mike wanted a story. Not an Esquire profile. I realized that parts of my article were fine—they just needed to be re-ordered…like a story. You think a novelist would know this, right? Wrong. I’ll explain why in a moment.

I rewrote the article. Following Mike’s advice, I passed the article to my friend. He called me back quickly. The piece still lacked punch. He explained that Mike was a street fighter at heart. He’s been in intense crowd situations, confronted in person and even got maced in the face while covering a protest. His writing his a reflection of that: One long confrontation with the system.

My writing needed to be the same and honestly, it should have always been this way.

I grew up in a working class family with four brothers…a majority spent in the Texas countryside with fighting in both the school yard and on the bus ride hoe…I fought in full contact Karate tournaments in Japan (no bitch stuff there)…I trained in kickboxing—the Thai kind NOT that fitness shit—not to mention I’ve written “aggressivearticles. So, what the hell was the disconnect?

My mindset.

I wrote the wrong article for the wrong audience. Why? Call it bad training or brainwashing or just plain, old insecurity. Before majoring in history, I majored in journalism. Tom Wolfe, one of my favorite authors, was himself a journalist and encouraged fiction writers to write like journalists and journalists to write like fiction authors. I also minored in film studies (this matters, keep reading). But all this heavy intellectual reading that fills a student’s syllabus in both history and film studies, all the analysis and deconstruction, all the talk about narratives and mise-en-scene, it all teaches one how to think heavily—maybe think too much!—without really feeling. And those same departments of history and film studies looked down on “popular” material. Popular history books and movies got little respect in those departments. The more intellectual, the better. As a redneck kid, with all the insecurities of intellectual inferiority, I wanted to be respected, so my writing has always tilted towards an academic style.

The same applied to journalism. I wrote an article that I thought writers for The New Yorker or Harpers would like. I thought I wrote a respectable journalism piece. And it sucked. Because I cucked.

Mike’s strength is that he probably has never taken a journalism class. It’s never been an intellectual exercise for him. This applies to other fields as well. Is it any coincidence that one of the most read histories of The Civil War was NOT written by a historian? You know what history book I’ve read over and over? Mao: The Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. They both are not historians. It’s the same reasons my novels haven’t suffered from this disease of intellectualism: I never took a literature class.

The quicker one disposes of this intellectualism mindset, seeking approval from some sort of “establishment”, the better they’ll be. Like I mentioned above: Mike and I are about the same age. But while I was sucking up to Hollywood and big publishing, he was building his own brand. Look who got on 60 Minutes quicker!

After talking to Jason, I rewrote the article again, this time writing like a storyteller NOT some intellectual journalist. I then showed it to Brian Bankston and Jason again both thought it was great. Then I passed on to Mike…and waited. Then one day I received this:
You did great research and writing, thank you. I added some stuff you didn’t know about to make it more effective.

He’s right. The stuff he added made it more effective. The article won’t get nominated for a Pulitzer nor get me a job at The Economist—but who wants to work for dying rags like that anyway? These people never admired guys like Mike and me and never will. Why cuck for them? However, I got praises from guys I do admire, like Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes and Stefan Molyneux, guys who have built their own audiences and brands. More importantly, I received word from residents of Mexico who were shocked by what they learned about their richest resident. Mission accomplished.

And now Mike is appearing on 60 Minutes. I don’t know the nature of the piece but it shows when you’re a man and stand your ground, people take notice. You don’t need to go to them. They come to you. But honestly, Mike doesn’t need 60 Minutes for approval. And neither do you or I.

And no one needs legacy publishing. If you’re one of the 10% who finished this article, then you might like my novel.