How to Write (Better): How to Write a Rant
I love a good rant. I love to read them, and I love to write them. I love to read them, because a good rant is smart and energetic and inspiring and often funny. I love to write them, because I get to practice creating something smart (and energetic and inspiring and funny), and because it feels so good to let an argument hang out.
But rants can go off the rails really, really quickly, not least because they are, usually, driven by excessive emotional and intellectual energy. We usually write rants because something has provoked us; that's a good thing -- provocation fuels some of the best discourse -- but it can also be, you know, a little problematic. Ever come to after arguing so passionately about the evils of veal production to the other guests at the dinner table (at that veal-parmigiana-serving wedding that you hyperventilated and passed out), only to find out that you called the groom a baby-cow-killing monster who should never be allowed to procreate? That can happen when you get carried away with a rant. Don't ask me how I know.
So here are some tips for doing it well in writing:
1) Never write a rant in the heat of passion. Or, if you do write in the heat of passion, don’t publish. Wait until you’ve calmed down and given your outburst a good edit or six. It’s the rare person who can be reasonable and coherent while gripped by anger or outrage. And a good rant – no matter how passionate – is always reasonable and coherent.
2) Yes, reasonable. This might sound counter-intuitve, but the point of a rant is not to vent your emotions (okay, that’s part of the point, but not the whole point; more on this in a moment), but to communicate to others why a given issue has provoked your emotions, why that matters, and what we should do about it.
3) But also passionate. When I say to not write in the heat of temper, and point out that the expression of your emotions is not the primary purpose of a rant, I don’t mean that you should excise all feeling from your prose. I mean, keep all that feeling in its place. Focus it, direct it, use it to make a moving and convincing argument. A good rant is a vehicle that is fuelled by passion but driven by a skilled and sober driver.
4) Remain aware that there is always more than one, or even two, sides to an issue. So the ChildFree people are out there comparing children to pets again? Yes, that’s absurd, but if you’re going to do a rant against people who compare children to pets, be aware that although most people recognize the absurdity of that comparison, there are still some who still love their own pets passionately and who won’t appreciate your snarky jokes about dog houses and abattoirs. And that you-just-can’t-know-love-if-you-don’t-have-children argument is hurtful to those who can’t have children. So avoid tilting into ‘that’s just WRONG/STUPID/ABSURD’ arguments, and instead make every to at least make the impression that you’ve considered other sides of the issue.
5) Edit, edit, edit. Because regardless of what I say about not getting carried away by your passion in a rant, it is, after all, a rant. You’re going to get a little carried away – the best ones often do – and you want to make sure that you’ve cleaned the spittle off of your screen, figuratively (and literally, if it comes to that.)
6) End with a flourish. Being tempered in making an argument sometimes warrants a conclusion that suggests that whatever is under discussion is open to debate, that it's all up for discussion, we're all grown ups here, so let's agree to disagree if we must. But this is a rant. You're writing it because you feel strongly that you're right and you want to say so. So, go for it. After you've nodded your head here and there indicating that you understand that there is more than one side to the matter, go ahead and indulge your impulse to say BUT MINE IS RIGHT, DAMMIT. Because, despite everything that I said above, sometimes you just want to shout SUCK IT. And that's okay.
(Here are a few of my own, on such topics as celebrating motherhood and complaining about motherhood and reality television and, yes, the ChildFree movement. Got any of your own -- or any from other writers that you admire and want to share? Leave the URL in the comments, and we can discuss what makes them awesome!)