Archive for the ‘copywriting’ Category
Where to find courage to create
Designer/entrepreneur Mike Lundborg uttered it dozens of times over a few projects we collaborated on. For me this quote nearly perfectly encapsulates the dance between creativity and work that is the business of freelance life. That’s why I keep the quote front and center in my work space.
Even today I’m working on a story intended to invite prospective patients to participate in a clinical trial. But early review comments indicate my client wants to buff out the narrative parts (that’s right, losing the story itself) and swap it for clinical and corporate language. The story was meant to pull prospective patients toward a clinical trial, but it won’t if the corporation keeps talking.
But this is not a lament. It’s only a statement of reality and maybe a celebration—because this is how we create together. My sizzling hot interpretation of a marketing objective is held in the tongs of review and hammered into shape by my collaborator. And by me. This is my expectation for my ideas and the resulting words, just as it is my expectation for each part of the process.
And now this: as we release a few of the projects physical constraints, my story bounces back—which makes me glad. This is what collaboration looks like. Successive drafts change but the central objective continually informs all the collaborators as we take our turns shaping the project.
Amazingly, it is this very collaborative process that needs to inform my less commercial writing projects. The courage to create actually springs (again) from the sometimes difficult conversations that surround the project. But it also takes courage to produce a rough draft.
Applause? Permission? Donuts?
Twice in the past week I’ve asked myself this question.
In one case I had just started a large writing project requiring all sorts of information that is not available and will not be available any time soon. My topic is partly in a shipping container in the Pacific, partly in a guy’s head in Scotland, partly in a set of computers in Minnesota and mostly nowhere near complete. But the need is approaching and my content must move on a parallel path with product development. A very specific audience needs very specific information.
In another case the blank page itself kept reminding me of the limitless intrigue of cat videos and TED talks. There’s nothing like a blank page to send you to all the advertising blogs and newspapers you’ve not checked on the web lately.
In both cases a conversation helped me mend the tracks to send the idea and task trundling forward. As I heard myself describing what I was trying to do with the idea and what I needed to complete the task, I realized I have the tools before me right now. There is nothing holding me back.
Waiting for permission to move forward is nearly as fruitless as waiting for someone to applaud your work or tell you what to do.
We move forward and the work has a role in showing us how to do it.
When to poke your target audience in the eye
My client needed to reinforce the why behind a clinical trial. We needed physicians to remember their tried & true therapies didn’t always apply under this particular set of calcified conditions. We hoped for a visceral reaction to help change fixed treatment habits toward a killer disease. The poster was both over the top silly and aimed at the gut of a largely intellectual audience.
Some hated it. Some loved it. Some thought it went too far and was not appropriate for a clinical setting. Some found their rage against the disease. The poster polarized even as it got attention. And that was the point.
Not all our communication is meant to slip into the space between us like links in a chain moving meaning smoothly from your mouth to my brain. Sometimes you need to jar me from my stupor so I can really understand what you are saying. Because what you are saying is urgent and important and not business as usual. This is why teachers make students stand and move every 15 minutes or so—to restart the brain. This why street preachers are uncomfortable and often memorable.
Rather than automatically aim for consensus, challenge your team about the kind of reaction you want from your target audience. When does it make sense to provoke?
Seth Godin: Designing Our Ideas to be Spread
I’ve always been utilitarian–not overly concerned with fashion. That’s not a boast, it’s a lament: I confess to being more preoccupied with ideas than the various forms atoms take. But I’m coming around. I’m starting to think more about what is sharable. Pretty things matter because pretty things move around in our culture: photos, design, elegantly packaged ideas. Unexpected videos. Things that are well-lit or unusual. Baubles attract and hold the attention of babies and today’s adults alike. Visual simplicity and elegance are part of what helps an idea stick.
This is sort of a big deal. It is something we know for others but not so much for ourselves. Because we think our own ideas are inherently interesting. Seth Godin talked about this in his post yesterday and the day before. He talked about doing the work whether or not you get picked for fame. And making things sharable. Those posts are worth reading.
If I have some message to deliver, just plopping out the linear logic on paper pulls in only the most interested and committed insiders. Everyone else keeps walking thinking “nothing to see here.” Old school marketing was all about setting features into bullets for the interested reader to scan. But the interested reader was buried in the local cemetery years ago: only distracted readers walk the earth today. I’ve said over and again that blocks of copy scare people away—even people who self-identify as readers. Too much to read. Too slow.
But an image…now that is sharable. An image intrigues in a very different way.
So—today’s writer must sort out how to engage with a visual generation. Sure, we’ve known this for forever and those who have taken it to heart for the messages they need to deliver are the ones being heard today. One of our daughters feels that getting rid of the ugly in the world is part of her life work. As a writer I’m thinking about adopting that stance—I’m becoming more intent on locating images and simple analogies to help me tell the deep story that I need to tell.
You Complete Me.
The fawning devotee image is standard fare in our media diet. Models perpetually doing homage to the product at the focus of all attention. Chevy, Toyota, Cadillac—who doesn’t make ads like this? Product as hero. Forever. We see this everywhere.
Somersby recently turned the Apple experience on its head by grabbing the dead-earnest communication style to appropriately ridiculous ends. It is perfectly reasonable to poke fun at the high places certain brands have taken in our lives.
Can we get beyond product as instrument of life change? True: it is possible that some consumers (that is, those who have already chosen to purchase a car/beer/computer/whatever) may look with unbridled lust toward their purchase, this object of their desire. But is it possible to promote a product without making the (thoroughly ridiculous) promise that it will indeed change your life?
Maybe not. Because quickening desire has always been at the heart of selling, and nothing quickens desire (and loosens the wallet) like showing the person you will be once you buy this car/beer/computer/whatever.
Maybe so—and this may be what is behind the eventual victory of online advertising: product messages that follow our search patterns and interrupt us with the key to what we’ve already been seeking.
Maybe both. Because desire follows a need or want. And we want what promises to make us different. Better. Smarter. Hipper. Advertising will always make these promises and will find ever new ways to get the message to us. And because we self-identify as “consumers” we’ll probably never run out of the optimism that buying stuff will change our life
It’s just that the loving magnetism of the Chevy image seems, well, juvenile. It’s a credibility issue.
Guest Post from Kayla Schwartz
[A few of us have been discussing what fulfillment looks like for a professional writer. The entire discussion was in a response to a question from Kayla Schwartz, a professional writing student at Northwestern College. Check out these six essays filed under Shop Talk: The Collision of Craft, Faith and Service for more on that. Kayla’s back with this guest post that contains a few of her thoughts and conclusions.]
“Technical writing? That’s so…interesting.”
This is the response I usually get when I tell people what I’m studying. As a professional writing major, I’ve done journalism and PR writing, but I’ve been most drawn to technical writing.
Why? I had not given it much thought. Most people think of technical writing as boring or tedious. So why pursue it? What really drives technical writers?
As I’ve thought about these questions and talked to technical and other professional writers who’ve been at it much longer than I, I’ve gleaned a few potential answers.
- It’s useful. Some people find a lot of satisfaction in their ability to help others understand things. They feel they are making a difference.
- It’s necessary. Technical manuals may not always be read by customers, but they are a necessary step in the process of distributing the product. There is satisfaction in contributing to a company’s success.
- It’s interesting. For people who are naturally curious, technical writing offers an ideal situation: learn about new ideas and products, and get paid for writing about them.
- It’s lucrative. Yes, some people are just looking for something that pays the bills.
All of these are valid reasons to do technical writing. However, none of them really expresses my motivation (although the last one is starting to look pretty good when I think about my student loans).
I’m pursuing technical writing because I genuinely enjoy it. I like creating an organized, easy-to-follow document. I like figuring out how to use words effectively and concisely. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and don’t mind spending time on “minor” details. I suppose I enjoy learning about new things or knowing that I’m helping others, but ultimately, it’s a way to do what I love.
Maybe this makes me the exception among technical writers, but I hope not. Technical writing isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who enjoy it, it can be just as satisfying as any other career.
Life’s not about poetry. Or is it?
I’ve been posting in response to a query from an English student who wondered about finding fulfillment as a professional writer. How can we compare writing poems and short stories and novels to writing for companies or ad agencies or other firms or organizations seeking help to communicate? She asks a good question which we all struggle to answer all our lives. See a few responses here: Shop Talk: The Collision of Craft, Faith and Service
When I teach professional writing classes at Northwestern College, I like to invite Rich Bosshardt, who writes for a well-known local manufacturer, to talk with the class. Like many of us, Rich’s route to writing was circuitous: from mover of boxes to telemarketer to carpenter to chemical compounder to university research lab technician—plus about ten other jobs. Along the way he earned a Master’s in New Testament, so his thoughts about work and writing have a theological bent, which I appreciate. In response to my request, Rich rattled off ten things about writing for a living and offered to explicate one more:
- We could learn a lesson on career fulfillment from Joseph, the son of Jacob and the great administrator in Genesis.
- How do you work through when the honeymoon of being hired is over and passion for the work is long gone, but the bills keep coming?
- My career has been an unintentional path; I didn’t enjoy writing and knew nothing about technical writing until I was over 30 years old.
- Why shouldn’t we be passionate about what we do for a living? Whom would you rather hire—the passionate worker or the dispassionate one? You can raise the competence of a mediocre worker who is passionate about the work and therefore wants to improve, but the dispassionate worker? Let him or her go; you’re doing both of you a favor.
- Luther had great insights about one’s vocation, raising the legitimacy and importance of “common” work and sparking the Protestant work ethic.
- There is joy in doing work of the best quality that you can and in a manner that marks you as a person who has character, thereby earning the respect and admiration (stated or unstated) by others. Good (both competent and ethical) workers do eventually get noticed by those who work with them, and these good workers will find themselves happily employed.
- I thank God for the “little things” at work, e. g., that I’m working inside in a temperature-controlled environment on a frigid winter day or a hot, humid summer day.
- Relationships can make all the difference; being part of a caring and talented team can turn drudgery into joy because you enjoy the relationship regardless of the circumstances.
- There is a psychology to technical writing; good writers should think about at least two things: (1) how people will use the product that they are writing about; and (2) how people will interact with the instructions and illustrations that you create.
- “And God saw that it was very good.” There is a satisfaction (and fulfillment) in a job well done, no matter what job it is, great or small.
I like Rich’s list and think it gets at the tensions of creating versus making a living versus making meaning every day. Rich’s vocational path also reminds me of Parker Palmer’s wonderful “Let Your Life Speak,” which is all about taking the time to notice what you enjoy. Palmer’s book is one to own and read annually.
I’d like to hear more from Rich on Number 9: the psychology of technical writing.
What would you like to hear more about? What would you add or subtract?
Image credit: 2headedsnake