A few years ago, I started a blog. I used it as an outlet for various urges: to try to put my thoughts in some coherent form, to give myself something to think about beyond my daily routine, and to scratch my bucket-list itch of someday writing something other people would like to read.
It was amusing and fulfilling, even though my readership could be described as “people who attended my wedding.”
In 2013, I attended a writing conference for bloggers in New York City. It was among the most humbling experiences of my life. I was surrounded by thousands of mostly women writers who could recite statistics about their websites with greater ease than I could recite details from the previous day. There were sessions dedicated to expanding an online presence, finding your voice, and identifying ways to partner with other writers.
I felt like a tadpole that had been dropped into the Atlantic Ocean.
I wish I could tell you what those other bloggers were doing to win and maintain their audiences. I wish I could remember how they explained search engine optimization. I wish I knew how they managed to make their Twitter feed a virtual networking platform.
I cannot do any of those things. I spent the conference in the same frame of mind that I spent middle-school: shy, overwhelmed and wondering when my mother could come pick me up. The easiest conclusion was that I was out of my league, and needed another hobby.
Then I remembered that one of my favorite humor writers got her big break when she was “discovered” through a column she wrote for her local paper. That was the kind of math I could compute. I reached out to the editor of The Forecaster, and here we are.
It’s a lovely gig. You are an extremely loyal and generous audience, and it’s luxurious to be able to write about whatever I want, whenever I can find the time to do so every two weeks. I remain a full-time lawyer. Playing at being a writer is usually an escape and rarely a chore.
I admit that I fantasize about one of my columns going viral. For a hobbyist writer, going viral is the equivalent of a breakthrough performance. Maybe I’ll end up on “Today,” analyzing the social and judicial implications of “Making a Murderer” with Matt Lauer.
Or maybe I’ll be the next Cheryl Strayed. I’ll discover some treasure trove of free time to exploit and a creative inspiration to harness, and I’ll write a book. The book will somehow catch the attention of a publisher, and it will be warmly received by Amazon.com. Google will point people toward my collection of columns in The Forecaster, and before you know it Oprah will be sending me scented candles on my birthday.
That type of explosion is, of course, just a fantasy for me. It is much less a fantasy for our friends in the Bangor Police Department.
In 2014, Sgt. Tim Cotton began authoring the department’s Facebook posts. Since that time, the page has earned more “likes” than Bangor has residents. It has been written up in The Washington Post.
Just before last weekend’s epic snowstorm, Cotton posted advice about dealing with that type of weather event. The advice ranged from the importance of Cap’n Crunch to the appropriate time to shovel. As of Monday, the post had about 85,000 likes and had been shared about 65,000 times. For context, the most likes one of my columns has generated is about 10,000, and the most one has been shared is about 1,000.
Cotton’s style is a seemingly effortless blend of Onion-esque humor, saintly humanity, and grandfatherly wisdom. He runs a regular feature known as “Got Warrants,” pokes good-natured fun at himself and his fellow officers, and displays a grounded perspective about every aspect of the department’s role in the community.
I admire Cotton’s style and written work product. I recommend the Department page he’s made so prolific. Perhaps more significantly, I applaud that he’s leveraged his writing talents to become an ambassador for well-intentioned, humane police officers reaching a broader public audience.
It’s the type of work that deserves every benefit of going viral.