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Archive for the ‘art and work’ Category

Is it Better to Sound Smart or to Communicate?

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Please stop me before I commit an act of literature.

We had this discussion in class. A literature student was talking about how writing for social media was different than, say, literature. Popular writing—so our discussion went—is aimed at a different audience (here we picked our way around classist terms), and is not as, well, interesting, as literature. All her other classes required a compacting of ideas into sentences that grew rather long. Sentences that required a fair amount of attention. Sentences that required grappling with theologically heavy terms, or the whimsy of philosophers who felt compelled to make up words for their new ideas. Or writers who committed acts of literature in the most tortured fashion.

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I maintain that writing for social media requires that we let go of jargon and the complex sentences that shout “College!” or “Graduate School!” At our best, our writing is nearly transparent: leading right into the topic without stopping to say “Look at me.” Does that mean we use dumbed down ideas and language? I’ve said no to this several times. Erasing our jargon so smart people from different disciplines can understand us is not the same as dumbing down. And, in fact, when we do the work of translating our tribe’s jargon into regular English, we are poised to find a certain elegance and cadence that sounds more human, more fresh and less like the forced and predictable tribal language.

Respecting the reader is central to this project of communication—this bridge-building activity. If you think the reader is an arse, that comes through in your word choice. If you think the reader cannot be trusted, that shows. If you think the reader is intelligent and can handle the topic in words any human would understand, your reader will know.

One irony of the discussion is that many of the writers we celebrate as having written literature were themselves seeking for the simplest way to say things. Countless writers talk about kill your darlings and omit needless words and how nearly anyone can write to confuse. But the real artist takes a meaningful notion and makes it clear to someone else. And this: we are more likely to say something memorable and possibly even elegant the farther we get from our tribe’s insider language.

Will you commit an act of communication today?

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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Forget Content Strategists: We need Village Storytellers.

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Begin the Begatting!

“Content strategy” has such a corporate feel to it. Such strategized-promotional-content-puzzle pieces, dreamed up in isolation, will move forward whether or not anyone cares. But here is exactly where strategy and art must date, marry and get busy begatting fecund stories.

No human will be interested otherwise.

No amount of strategizing can actually make that happen. Art must take over. Art connects with emotion. Art is a human meaning-making activity not easily controlled by a corporate agenda. If controlled too-tightly, art quickly becomes something less than art.

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I’m working with a group of writers who need to understand this. Their task is to pull people into the causes they have begun to champion. They will identify their mission and purpose, complete with telling details about their target audiences. They will strategize about content and assemble editorial calendars, but in the end, it is the art of storytelling that has the power to pull anyone forward.

My theory is that strategy works best as a beginning point. You do your best to get a strategy in place, but then you move forward. As a writer, I know from experience that stories and strategies grow up best together. Each talking to the other. That is because the weaving of the story actually makes new strategy elements available (and vice versa). Elements appear that would not be apparent except that the artist has accessed that deep subconscious, chaotic place where connections are made and much foolish talk swirls around very bad ideas before anything worthwhile appears.

Sometimes when I get stuck in the analytical side of strategy, I set it aside to tell stories just to open possibilities. I am not alone in that practice.

There is a push for strategists today. But I would rather work with their more human cousins: story-teller strategists.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Stephen Fry’s Voice Serving Heathrow

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Please speak human

Copywriters try to harness voice to say their client’s message. There’s lots of talk about being on brand these days, and for copywriters that means speaking in the voice of the brand. But voice must always be human to be heard. That’s why press releases and spokespeople are so easily dismissed—they generally don’t sound human.

John Cleese felt he could perform Basil Fawlty for Specsavers because the voice they wanted was true to the character he had created. He had refused many opportunities because unfunny scripts deviated from that character.

Check out how Stephen Fry voices a gentle, unhurried, humorous take on a place that launches an airplane every 45 seconds.

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Via Ads of the World

Written by kirkistan

January 14, 2016 at 8:07 am

Writing Through and To

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Rinse and Repeat.

Today's Writing Task

Today’s Writing Task

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 13, 2016 at 11:52 am

“What Will I Be When I Grow Up?”

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Start Your Process Early to Answer Life’s Recurring Question

This question will not go unanswered.

As a kid you quickly volunteer answers: firefighter, ballerina, basketball player, scientist, pilot. It’s right that action-jobs attract kids. You may defer answering it as a college senior. You may say, “I’m not sure. We’ll see what comes up.” You find yourself saying it in your first job, hinting that “This is OK, but it’s not quite the right fit.” In fact, you may think it through a career.

I’ve had two different conversations recently with people suddenly seeing the horizon of retirement off in the distance. Both said some variation of “I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.”

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The question is tricky because it sounds like an all or nothing deal: you do this or you do that. Binary. One or the other. But the truth is more like life is filled with all sorts of opportunities that are concurrent. You must pick. You must choose. If you don’t pick and choose, chances are good you’ll simply slide into being entertained. That’s not bad, it’s just that being entertained generally pacifies the urge to create.

And yes, I am talking about creating. Because one assumption behind the “What will I be?” question is “How will I take action in the world?” I argue that the sooner we find ways to address that question, the better off we’ll be at every stage of life. One old model of retirement was that you put in your time for 30-40 years (at something you hate or just tolerate), and then head to the golf course in Florida or Arizona to be entertained until you tip over into the grave. Today people approaching retirement are looking for ways to keep making a difference. The lucky ones have both their health and some sense of the art or craft or service they simply cannot live without doing.

I’m thinking about this today because one central piece to my social media marketing class asks students to pursue their passion publicly using every social media avenue open to them. This is a difficult question and commitment for these students to make. I like the exercise because it forces them toward the larger life question. I like the exercise because it initiates a process that, if they follow it, will begin to answer that question.

Locating that thing we are passionate about involves experimentation, of course. And if your work does not leave any time for locating your art/craft/serve/tribe, is it possible that in 30 years you might still be asking, “What will I be when I grow up?”

I hope not.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

What is Engagement, Anyway?

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Are Likes Helpful or Corrosive?

The college where I teach is something of a bride-and-groom factory. This [largely unstated] expectation of finding your soul-mate by the time you graduate lurks in the halls and hovers over tables in the cafeteria.

At least that’s what students tell me.

"You like me. You really like me."

“You like me. You really like me.”

I’m sympathetic: there are few times like college for being surrounded by attractive folks of similar age who are also poised to make big life decisions. And, true, that’s where I ran into the beautiful young woman who a few years later became Mrs Kirkistan (lo these 30 years and counting).

In this particular college social construct, if you ask someone for a date, well, that’s kind of like a proposal. If you actually date, well, you might as well be married. To be fair, I’m not close enough to say if it this is entirely accurate. But my few talks with students make me kind of sad that relationships would be so, well. binary.

So it’s not surprising that these folks have an interesting skew on engagement. These are people who grew up with likes and short texts and public Facebook conversations. The quick word carries a lot of weight. For some, the quickness with which a like comes back speaks volumes to their self-esteem. It seems like engagement is an all or nothing deal and social media has the power to amplify that.

This social construct plays into expectations in my class. What do we expect when we think of engaging with the audiences we pursue? Are likes what we seek? Page views? Actual comments? Someone stopping you in the hallway? How does anyone determine if someone else is interested in what they say? Social media experts have all sorts of answers for this and all sorts of complicated metrics, some of which even make sense.

One thing is certain: grooming your personality and language for likes is dangerous. Just as it always has been. Of course we all do this to some extent. Who doesn’t want to be seen as attractive and groovy?

My hope for my class—and for anyone with courage to create anything—is that they create from an interiority that remains integrated and intact. That is: write and create from what drives your passion. Likes and page views are OK, but they should never substitute for your own sense of chasing the thing you simply must say. Yes, you’ll need to sort out how to get attention, but it is even more important to exercise your creativity along the lines you were made for.

In the end, likes may not be all that helpful.

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 8, 2016 at 9:55 am

Stuck and Reframe

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Just How Real is Our Imagined Beginning?

I’m stuck on a client project. Late in 2015 I devised a social media communication strategy that calls for weekly themes. But one of my weekly themes provides very little fodder for producing content. And so I’ve been spinning my wheels and getting exactly nowhere.

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Maybe it’s a good time to be stuck, because this is the season of reframing. Old things ended as 2015 shuffled out and new things began with the calendar change. Everything outside my window looks the same, but we’ve all group-thinked (group-thunk?) ourselves into what we call a new year. Is it an imagined new beginning? Of course. But that doesn’t make it any less real. Somehow that calendar change gives a bit of courage to consider releasing the strategies that don’t work.

Reframing—trying to see a problem or need differently—is a way out of stuckness. My tools for building a new frame around a client need or personal problem include words on pages and dumb sketches and mind-maps and fartleks and conversations. You already know that conversations hold quite a bit of promise: telling someone else about your stuckness has the effect of bringing to light a problem and beginning to find your way through it.

If you are of the tribe that makes resolutions, you also know that telling your resolution to someone can have a positive effect on keeping those resolutions. And you may even have someone who holds you accountable.

I’m stuck on a client project.

I’m going to talk with my client.

Staying stuck is not an option

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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