Playing With Fire By Kate Wicker

I’ve seen my share of fireworks lately, and I’m not talking about the WHAM-BAM, sparkly kind summertime celebrations bring.

No, I’m actually referring to the figurative variety.

I’ve never really thought of myself as controversial. As a parenting/health writer, I typically cover fairly straightforward and benign topics like how to sneak veggies into meatloaf or ways to squeeze fitness into everyday life. I have a blog as well, but its audience mostly consists of people (moms!) who happen to agree or at least relate to most of the things I write about (like mothering, homeschooling, and faith). Really, the most explosive topic I tend take on is my baby’s blowout diapers.

But recently, something unexpected happened to my idyllic writing life. See, I wrote what I thought was an innocuous article about how I prayerfully came to the decision that I should feel no shame discreetly nursing at Mass for InsideCatholic. When the article went “live,” naive little me ambled on over to the site to see if any readers had commented. To my dismay, a litany of comments followed my article, many of them personally attacking me. (To be fair, I reeceived plenty of positive feedback as well.) Soon thereafter I acquired my first piece of hate mail and while it wasn’t the most pleasurable experience to be called some pretty nasty names, I couldn’t help but think, “I have arrived.”

I’ve been freelancing for almost a decade now and never has anything I’ve written ever gleaned this much of a response. Soon popular bloggers all over the blogosphere were coming to my defense. My inbox was overflowing with letters of support (and a few more pieces of hate mail to boot). My blog’s Sitemeter was going crazy, and I realized something very important about writing – especially writing on the Web where there’s an information overload and a lot of redundancy. Positive attention is wonderful, but just like my preschooler sometimes resorts to the negative sort by turning a lovely ballad into an ear-splitting scream session and gets exactly what she wants (Mommy’s undivided attention), sometimes having critics means getting noticed.

If you want to draw an audience, you might have to play with fire. Find something controversial, determine your position on it, and shoot off a compelling query to an editor. It might have a better chance of selling than yet another query about how to lose 10 pounds. As I mentioned, I believe this is even more important when writing for new media. If you build it – whether “it” is a quality blog or a website, readers may not come. But if you start talking about religion, politics, sex or in my case, breastfeeding in church, they will come…sometimes in droves.

Kate Wicker has written for a variety of regional and national publications including Canticle, Faith & Family, Pregnancy magazine, Augusta Parent, and Woman’s Day. Visit her blog at