How NOT to Write an Obituary for Fun and Profit

Like a lot of self-obsessed pundits (whoops, I mean astute marketers), I use Google Analytics to check my site’s traffic statistics, such as what search engines invite people to visit, which referral sites point an arrow to mine, and what flavor of link bait might entice Lady Gaga to go gaga over my prose. (Note to Lady G: I’ve named all my strings after you.)

One of the analytic tools displays what search keywords people use to find my site. Writers and other types of peddlers have been scolded by marketeers of every stripe that we must discover and cultivate our audience, whether we want to sell words or wombats. The keyword tool does reveal what’s on the minds of site visitors, and thus is one gauge of what people are looking for when they come to a site. Apparently my people want to learn how to write obituaries.

Running from Your Audience
The greatest number of people, by far, who visited my site—as a result of organic search (not direct visits)—over the past nine months were looking for advice on writing an obituary for a family member. The reason: my father, Sgt. Robert Bentley, died on New Years Day of this year. My sister and I collaborated on writing his obituary, and I wrote a “How to” post on that strange, sad process.

I was struck at several levels by that search-tally information: one, on an emotional key, thinking of the anonymous (to me) people who have had death enter their lives, some probably suddenly, and the weight of that loss. Thinking anew of the loss of my father. Thinking that so many issues around a family member’s death are boggling, and how we seek help for those issues—such as help with writing an obituary for our loved one. And thinking that I clearly didn’t want to go into the obituary-writing business, no matter if that’s where my audience is.

Capturing the Elements of a Life
This is an age of specialists; undoubtedly, there are writers who focus on writing obituaries, though I didn’t want to search for them—probably afraid I’d see my own site come up, and add to my totals. I don’t want to consider the commercial aspects of the trade, but I could see some appeal in helping people through the process, because the obituary’s tale is part of the grieving, the letting go—obit content, narrow as it is, can sometimes atomize the elements of a life, the cherished aspects of character, the seat of a family’s love for the lost. But I don’t want to write them; that is too close, too sad.

Ironically, this post will undoubtedly bring more souls to my site looking for a way to write about things that are in some way unwriteable. The words of broken hearts. Maybe my original “How To” did help. I hope so.

At least it’s better than the searches for “long scrotum” and its variants that brought many people to my site a while back after I’d posted an article about my vasectomy. Sigh…

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4 thoughts on “How NOT to Write an Obituary for Fun and Profit

  1. You are indeed my writing hero, Mr. Bentley. And I have no idea what sort of person would search on the phrase “long scrotum.”

    Well said.

  2. Why Mr. Knowles, that’s most generous of you. (Readers, that comment from Mr. Knowles only cost me $100. You too can benefit from his praises, at low prices.)

    Yeah, the scrotum thing. There were a lot of droopy variants of that phrase that brought people to the site as well, but I won’t go into them. Fame is so fleeting.

  3. It is a wondrous thing to see the words “obituary” and “scrotum” on the same page.

    Less importantly, I don’t even like reading what’s sad, let alone writing sad realities for money. While I understand, a little, that some folks want to watch a tragic movie or read a book which ends unhappily ever after, I don’t wanna.

    I work far too hard to stay above sea level to take on the 10-lb. penalty of others’ sadness without good reason.

  4. Of course, Joel, it’s sad to write an obituary for your scrotum. Not that I meant YOUR scrotum, of course.

    Joel, you capture what I was trying to get at in the post. I have enough sadness of my own, and couldn’t handle writing words of other people’s sadness, particularly sadness so close to the bone.

    But I do like some sad movies. Caddyshack, for example…

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