Some teachers of writing teach their students that writing leads to wealth. These teachers are correct. Yes, writing can lead to wealth. That is one thing that writing is capable of doing. If you’re very, very good at articulating your thoughts, people will eat out of the palm of your hand. Some teachers of writing are smart enough to teach their students that writing clarifies one’s thoughts. Writing always clarifies one’s thoughts. Even if you’re writing badly. The bad writer is at least capable of showing to himself that he’s capable of writing badly. And while some teachers are smart enough to see that writing clarifies the mind, they fail to see that they’ve confused ‘clarifying the mind’ with ‘sanitizing the mind.’

Rick Rubin once said that art divides the audience. You can’t call yourself a teacher of writing unless you teach your students how to gracefully piss people off. Gracefully. Not on purpose. Not by using writing as a tool to offend people for the hell of it. Nobody likes to read that kind of writing anyways, and if you’re just trying to offend people for the hell of it, you probably didn’t get a lot of attention from mommy and daddy.

Even the most harmless writers I can think of have written something irksome. Take Austin Kleon for example. Austin Kleon is a “writer who draws.” I don’t think of Austin Kleon when I imagine the kind of writer who might accidentally piss someone off. Although, in Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work! Austin wrote, “your work doesn’t exist unless it’s online.” Rick Rubin would be proud. This sentence is dividing the audience into two groups. Group 1 are the folks who nod their head. Group 1 gets the joke. Group 1 wants to use the Internet to spread their work. Group 2, however, they have some objections and man are they ready to shout them from the rooftops. Group 2 cannot believe that someone could write something so stupid. “But what about people who don’t have access to the Internet? So hardworking moms with 2 jobs don’t exist if they don’t have a website? Sigh, this is late-stage capitalism at its worst. What a joke.”

“Your work doesn’t exist unless it’s online.” This is a Splitting Sentence: a sentence that divides readers into two groups. Please don’t confuse the splitting sentence with the polarizing sentence. Anyone from Group 2, the ‘anti-your-work-doesn’t-exist-without-the-Internet’ can change their mind and join Group 1. A more polarizing version would have been something like, “working-class citizens have no choice but to create a website, freelance, and work from home in their pajamas.”

The opposite of a Splitting Sentence is a sanitized sentence. “We should build good habits because James Clear said so.” “Mother Teresa was a good person and we should all follow in her footsteps.” Yawn. Sanitized sentences come from the minds of writers still tied to the umbilical cord of popular trends. Sanitized sentences never go against the grain. They never state anything original. Sanitized sentences unite us under one nation under God Anyone Could Have Written This. Please never write sanitized sentences. Because, as this pandemic has taught us, too much soap burns the skin. Likewise, too much safety burns the soul.

Disagree. Shake your head. Make an assertion. Say no, there’s a better way of doing this. Don’t just piss people off because it’s fun. You’re making an assertion, a statement about something. You have a different opinion and you have evidence to back it up. There’s a lot of stuff in this world that you disagree with. Write about that. Agree to disagree. Do not merely offend. Do not merely insult people just because you have a keyboard and some free time. Let them be ticked off by what you said. Let them be irked, bothered, pissed off, outraged. Just be sure to provide your readers with a bridge between Group 1 and Group 2.

Once more, as Rick Rubin said, art divides the audience.

Dividing is not the same as polarizing. To divide is to provide people with a way to change their mind.

Go write.

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