WRITING Is Not Easy

We are inundated with content all day long. We are buried in promotions. Suffocating from inbound. Struggling to create outbound. So because writing is all around us, it seems that it is an easy thing to do. But it’s not. WRITING is not easy. Good writing is really, really hard.

  • People write emails all day long. They’re writing. Right? No. It’s not WRITING. On the other hand…
  • Writing is not surgery. Good writing isn’t either. But writing is important. (Examples: The U.S. Constitution, The Bible, The Koran, etc.). And it may save lives as in well-written checklists like those in Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto or an instruction manual for electrical wiring.

Writing may save lives.

  • You need a license to practice surgery. And while you do not need one to write, you do need a license to drive a car and to be officially married.
  • Did you think about the fact that you do not need a license to have a child?

Having a license sets people apart. It denotes a level of proficiency. Yet, even after obtaining a license, people practice what they have learned to become good at it. Doctors, dentists, and lawyers have “practices.” Professional musicians practice. Dancers, actors and other people who are not licensed practice long hours to attain the level for which they can be paid… as a professional. Writers do, too.

People struggle to write well. Professional writers struggle more. Tennis players strive to play well. Professional tennis players strive harder and longer. Professional golfers and painters (or anyone who needs the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours of practice to be really good) do not have licenses but compete to be deemed the best at what they do. Writers that write for 10,000 hours do not always get their books published by one of the big publishing houses. That also takes luck. (And luck is also a Malcolm Gladwell Outlier ingredient for success.)

Good writing is not easy. We can try to write more because we think more is better. However, practicing long hours is only helpful if it’s correct practice. Because so many people write all day long, they may think they will become better at it. Yes. Better.  But to be a really good writer, people can take a class. Buy a book on writing. Enter contests, and seek legitimate publishing venues. Or they can hire a professional writer to write with them.

Bottom line:  Really good writing is extremely hard to do. There is no license to be a writer. Masters and Doctorate degrees—yes. Otherwise, the proof is in the publishing. In clarity and voice and tone. However, the real proof: the pleasure of reading good writing of any kind.

Results

You’ve hired a writer.  Defining Your ProjectCongratulations! I’m thrilled. You’re excited because your work is done. But wait.  We have to talk about that.

As I view the content landscape, I am convinced that people hire content writers  expecting magic—as in seeing instant results and an immediate increase in business. It would be lovely, a writer’s wish, a company’s dream-come-true if it worked like that.

It doesn’t.

Ongoing Content

How often do you look at automobile advertisements or the independent reliability reports, or fuel efficiency readings? Only when you’re looking for a car. But the auto companies advertise and provide content all the time. The do not look for an immediate increase in sales after they have put up one ad, one blog, one Consumer Reports review. They are in it for the long haul.

Automobile marketers pay attention to the number of people that visit their website: they pay millions of dollars (I worked for such a company) to measure every click on every web page and every minute and second prospects spent on the smallest detail of the brand’s offerings. They analyze the metrics down to the threads on the tires’ lug nuts, so to speak. But they cannot directly correlate sales increases to online behavior. They get close, and they can sometimes indirectly estimate sales upticks based on the analytics.

What they can measure is interest and then try to correlate it to sales. SO CAN YOU!

How to Get Great Results:

Be sure to garner your clients’ and prospects’ interest in your content by:

  • Employing good writers
  • Providing the writer with YOUR company’s content bullets and voice/tone. Very important.
  • Getting your website person* to measure the reaction (analytics) to your content on your web page.
  • Asking your social media person* to analyze the reaction to your Social Media posts. Who responds? What day, time of day, topics, words or word phrases are best? What channel is best? LinkedIn? Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? YouTube? The analytics are offered by the sites themselves, but how you react to them makes a difference. For example, changing the messaging might be necessary if the response is low, but it will not change itself. Someone has to do it.

* If this person is you, make sure you have this on your weekly To Do list. Either that or be willing to pay the writer to do it. Why? Conscientious writers want our words to bring you buzz and business! If they don’t, we will fire ourselves if you don’t fire us first. And then you start all over with another writer. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Bottom Line

Hiring a writer is a great first step. It’s not the last step. It’s important to conduct sessions in which the content — web page, post, product description, etc.— is studied for their results. The goals must be clear: More clicks? New leads? Increased sharing? Closed sales, higher email captures? There’s no shortcut. Stay the course with your writer and make sure to measure our results.

Professional writers want their clients to succeed and grow so we can grow with you!

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

Everyone from marketers to writers to web designers needs Fresh Eyes. Find out why and how.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

I don’t like to edit. Well, I like to edit other people’s stuff, but not my own. I like what I write. Or I wouldn’t be a writer. That said, everyone needs someone to edit their work.

 

EVERYONE. (Including moi).

Fresh Eyes are other people’s eyes. Or they’re your own eyes after a good night’s sleep.

Fresh Eyes are your eyes after 24 hours away from the project. Maybe 8 hours. Or 2. For longer works, Fresh Eyes, if they’re your own, require time and a blink-worthy dusting (think powdered sugar here) of amnesia.

Stephen King says Fresh Eyes are needed between book drafts. In his writing craft memoir On Writing he says, “How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”

Fresh Eyes could be called “vu-jà dé” … (I stole this from Adam Grant’s TED Talk at minute:second 10:57 into the talk. Thanks Adam! J). It’s like the opposite of déjà vu, where instead of already having seen it before, you’re seeing it for the first time.

Fresh Eyes bring someone else’s perspective into your life, onto the project.

Fresh Eyes sing new tunes and bring new rhythms.

Fresh Eyes understand there are more ways to approach the problem, write the story, paint the picture, take the photo.

Fresh Eyes are untainted by prejudice. Fresh Eyes are unclogged by confirmation bias.

Fresh Eyes are often “focused” by listening ears and open hearts and reading out loud.

Fresh Eyes are gifted by a willingness to admit you’re wrong. A possibility that you made a mistake. The welcoming of another opinion, instead of an anxiety about being criticized.

Fresh Eyes are not fearful, nor are Fresh Eyes to be feared. They are your friends.

For your writing project, your film, your new product, your idea, your company, or your invention or daring marketing scheme, take a moment and a deep breath. Take two steps back, or take a walk around the block. A trip around the world. A night away. Take in a movie or a play. Read a book.

Then return with Fresh Eyes. And when “Did I really say that?” escapes your lips, you can thank us. Or thank Stephen King. He’ll be glad he could help. I’m sure.

Artwork by Katie Phillips

 

Voice, Tone, Style and Brand

I hear you! You’re saying…voice, tone and style are writing terms. What are they doing in a business blog? Lots. Voice has to do with who you are. It’s your identity. Your music. It’s your immutable, unalterable you that shows up in your speech, but also in your writing…in your emails, your message to the shareholders, or the correspondence to the members in youNew Voice and Styler club and on your website for gosh sakes! Voice is the name on your door. You are your voice. Your voice is you. The rhythm of your words, the cadence of the sentences, the word choices—they are all you. Using contractions like aren’t and haven’t will send one message. Or having no contractions in your messaging makes quite another statement. They all contribute to voice. Your “voice” defines your brand.

Ever heard of a writer with a strong voice? That’s someone with an identity that you can recognize… almost like recognizing a cartoon character by the human’s voice: Woody in Toy Story is Tom Hanks. You recognize his voice. Dory in Finding Nemo is Ellen DeGeneres. In the book Seriously…I’m Kidding written by Ellen DeGeneres, you hear her voice, not because you hear it, really, but the word choices sound just like her! Ellen DeGeneres is a human brand.

Tone defines your writing, your communication, your delivery. “Don’t take that tone with me, young man.” Oh how tone matters! Is your writing tone breezy? Erudite? Cozy? Funny? The tone of your life affects the tone of your writing, your website and um, your brand! Upbeat? Happy? Silly? Serious? Academic? Professional? Sad? Writing tone can send a company’s brand down the tubes or up to the clouds. Continue reading “Voice, Tone, Style and Brand”

Taking a Break

“Give me a break.” In the vernacular, ‘give me a break’ means “Oh, come on.” On the other hand, taking a break has no second meaning. Does that mean it’s more serious? Taking a break is so important that it is mandated by law to protect employees from being forced to work without eating or taking restroom stops.

Taking a Break from WritingTaking breaks makes us more productive. Coffee/tea breaks make life livable. Meditation breaks fill the screen of your mind with a pleasant je ne sais quoi. However it is positioned, taking a break helps balance body, mind and spirit.

One way of taking a break is to have someone do your work for you. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool? This strategy is usually a win-win. Why? The person doing your work often does it better because they don’t consider it work. They like it! And they’re often paid for it, which is good for the economy.

When we’re super busy, we like to convince ourselves that breaks are unnecessary. Been there, done that. However in my saner moments, I figure that if we weren’t supposed to take breaks, we wouldn’t have been designed to eat or to sleep.

“I think I can, I think I can,” says the little train filled with good intentions as it chugs up the steep hill. Of course we all think we can. We’re good. We’re professionals. We’re adults. Mostly, though, we’re invincible. But we’re not. Scientists know. The bad guys are certain: Starve people and keep them from sleeping, and they’ll crack.

Trend Alert: Taking breaks must be important: Google returned 729,000,000 results on the keyword string “taking a break.” This post will make at least 729,000,001! If those were seconds, the time to open up (without even reading) each of the separate results would require 12,150,000 minutes. Gee.  That’s 202,500 hours or 8,437 days. That comes out to 23 years. Taking a break is a very significant concept, evidently. We all need breaks, and more than one every twenty-three years.

Taking a break is essential. Standing up, taking a walk, stretching, reading a book for five or ten minutes. Meditating. Seeing a movie. Going out for a meal. Vacationing.

Breaks refresh, renew, revive, reinvigorate, restore, recharge, revitalize. We all know this. We just need to make time for it, schedule it on our calendars, find a break partner, and make taking a break a habit.

Or we’ll break.

Original Content

“Thou doesn’t want to be stoleth from… right?

What is original content? Original content is unique music, inventive lyrics, one-of-a kind words or works of art that come from our true selves. I love synonyms. Here are some synonyms for the word original: authentic, initial, first. But the more interesting synonyms come in the second layer, as in taking the word authentic and drilling down to the lower levels for the synonyms of authentic: authoritative, accurate, convincing, legitimate. Powerful words, no?

Original Content
Image by Katie Phillips

 

On the opposite side of the writing mountain is the word plagiarism. Plagiarism is the ‘wrongful appropriation’ and ‘stealing and publication’ of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.[1][2] I’m citing Wikipedia here. See? It’s okay to use other people’s work if attribution is given.

Furthermore, Merriam-Webster defines plagiarize as follows: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own:  use (another’s production) without crediting the source.

Trend Alert: The ease of copy-paste tempts the weak, but does not give anyone permission to copy, plagiarize or otherwise “borrow” content. Why would people want to do that anyway? Look at the words above: Authoritative, accurate and convincing. They are not my words. The thesaurus says it’s so. People want to present themselves in their best light, so the best way to do that is through original content.

Having an outside writer compose for you is cheating if there has been no mutual agreement. So if someone like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future bullies you into writing their papers for them, that’s cheating. Remember? Marty’s father George McFly wrote Biff’s papers for him. Ghostwriting is different. In that case, the person has knowledge that their words are being written by someone else. In fact, they specifically ask someone else to write for them. See my ghostwriting blog post here.

Believe in yourself and your originality. Make your own content. It’s one of the 10 commandments, isn’t it?

“Thou shalt not steal.”

And for good reason. It’s also related to: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” Who says their writing is better than yours? You’re the expert!

More to the point: Thou doesn’t wanteth to be stolen from. Right? So don’t stealeth!

To see why it’s great to have original content click here for a link to the Ebook by Kathryn Atkins, “10 Reasons to Hire a Professional Writer.”

Ghostwriting

Work that is written by someone other than the nominal author is ghostwritten. It’s purposeful and you’re hiring a ghostwriter because you either suck at writing, you don’t have the foggiest idea of where to start, or you simply run out of time.

Word has it that Aristotle was busy at the Lyceum and ran out of time. He had some great ideas, but he didn’t have time to sit down and write, so he hired a ghostwriter to capture his thoughts. It was quite difficult for the ghostwriter.

Ghostwriting
Image by Katie Phillips

Paper or papyrus (invented in 3000 B.C.E.) was still pretty sketchy during Aristotle’s time (circa 335 B.C.E.). Drafts were penned by hand, and erasers weren’t going to be invented until 1770. They used breadcrumbs or bread crusts as erasures back in Aristotle’s day. It was a great side business for the moms whose kids didn’t like crusts on their sandwiches. Anyway, you’d be surprised to know how much is ghostwritten these days.

Celebrities, politicians, business executives, professors, doctors, entrepreneurs, and website designers all use ghostwriters for their

communications. The range  can be from an essay to a magazine article, a memoir to a textbook, a piece of music, a speech, a press release, a blog, an RFP (Request for Proposal) and more.

Is ghostwriting (sometimes called ghosting) okay? Absolutely! In fact, it’s better for society because we would rather read well-written pieces than something a non-professional would create. We would prefer to see a professional tennis player than a high school tennis team player, unless of course it’s your son or daughter. That’s another reason. If the CEO has his mom read his book, she loves it. Moms love everything we do, but sometimes they’re not the best judges—right? Ghostwriters take longer works and organize them so they read well, so the pacing is better (not too fast, not too slow), and so the style and voice reflect the author better than the author may be able to do themselves. It is also nice for the author to give some credit to the ghostwriter, either “as told to” or in the credits.

Ghostwriting Trend Alert

As people become busier and busier, you will see and need more ghostwriting. There are ghostwriters that charge $50,000 for ghostwriting a book. Research shows that Barbara Fineman was paid $120,000 for ghostwriting Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village. On an entirely different level, we find that many executives use writers to “ghostwrite” their email answers. Of course, famous speechwriters have ghosted for presidents throughout the ages, and a company’s annual report has ghosted articles and analyses if not from contract ghostwriters, then surely from internal employees that act as ghostwriters.

There are certificates now in ghostwriting, too! Ghosting is legal, moral, and non-fattening. It’s also much easier with computers than it was with papyrus and bread crumbs. And it’s on the upswing.