Archive for the ‘copywriting’ Category
2 Reasons You Should Watch This:
Certainly someone was selling something in there.
My new dead friend teaches on knowing
I do not read westerns, typically.
But Mrs. Kirkistan, with her eclectic tastes, put L’Amour’s autobiography into my [sweaty] hand. Education of a Wandering Man is a revelation.
Two things right away:
- L’Amour was an autodidact like few others. He had little formal education—he quit school at 15 to travel. His real education started with knocking about as merchant marine, going to war, wrangling cattle, going hungry between jobs, boxing—and reading. Especially reading. L’Amour’s hunger to know is infectious.
- L’Amour’s hard-knocks education contributed to his readable writing. That’s my hypothesis: life experience makes for more readable writing. And vice versa.
L’Amour’s life (1908-1988) seems a rebuke to the supposed schism between “academic” and “practical.” If you read Education of a Wandering Man (and I hope you will) you will find an articulate man who read widely and used very approachable language to package his thoughts. But it wasn’t just easy-to-read language that was his genius; it was the layering of language into a story. L’Amour is a storyteller who is hard to resist.
His is not academic writing, of course. But it is thoughtful writing—especially when you find out what he was reading when he wrote. His simple stories start to go deep.
In his autobiography L’Amour named the books that had been influential for him. There are scores of them—73-120 books per year, from 1930 to 1937—and he named them one by one. But these are not the books listed on a college syllabus (though some are, to be sure). From Voltaire to Nietzsche to Schopenhauer to Mann to O’Neill to Joseph Conrad And lots and lots of fiction These are the books that piqued his interest as he lived his life. And that is how his autobiography is organized: the books he read while he was living this or that particular chapter. Reading about the West as he worked on cattle ranches Reading Nietzsche and Schopenhauer as he boxed. Reading ancient myths and stories as he sailed. Reading about the West later as he wrote frontier stories. (I may be off in the details about when he read what—there were so many mentions and so many chapters in the guy’s life).
Education Not a Given
One thing that stands out is the focus of his education. It was not to acquire a degree. It was to move forward with what he was intended to do—as best he understood.
Stay with me here: L’Amour read to see how stories worked.
Yes, he got lost in books. Yes, he loved learning. But his learning was always aimed at assembling an image of how the world worked. He was of a time when many readers were doing the same thing, because education was not as available as it is today. But there were books.
Here’s the point: L’Amour told stories, and all his philosophical thinking about life is bound up in the stories. He is not pedantic (at least in this book), but thoughts about life roll out of the characters in the stories. This is a revelation because much of our education (and my education) are all about pedantics: laying lesson out in neat arguments. One could memorize these arguments. In fact, you have to memorize them because they slip away the moment you turn your eyes. That’s because they are not moored in the emotion of real life.
L’Amour, on the other hand, had stories pop out of him of all sort of real (ish) people doing real things in life because of their underlying beliefs.
Oral and Writing Should Talk
The big revelation that L’Amour gave me was that precisely because he was educated by stories and for stories (he had to captivate audiences again and again in the different chapters of his life), his writing fit quite naturally into an oral rhythm. No big words. No long sentences. Ideas were easy to remember because he wrote them with stories, and we remember what that philosophy looks like without the pedantics.
Because of L’Amour’s example, and because of my own failures (plus a few minor successes) with communicating and expressing detail, I’m starting to move toward copy that can be said. I’ve always advised copywriting students to read their sentences aloud to see if they make sense. In the end, it’s quite possible that what we hear and what we gather from what we hear, is the standard for engaging another person, as well as the standard for knowing anything.
Knowing seems to pass through our mouths, in particular.
Where does Fallow Fit in Your Work Calendar?
You’ve pulled all your levers, called in your favors, phoned the usual suspects and still, nothing.
You’ve checked and rechecked your inbox.
This is the freelancer’s periodic plight: No matter how busy you were last year, last month, last week, today is a different day—subject to the vagaries of clients, markets, time and creative flow. And there’s nothing you can do about it except wait.
Waiting is not the worker’s lot. Employees have no end to work and the seeming ability to remain busy. It’s only when the busy employee steps away from a job (voluntary, lay-off, fired) that she or he realizes that they might have benefited from stepping off the treadmill earlier. A bit of perspective may reveal their busy productivity didn’t really add up to much they can take with them.
Waiting is also the job-hunters dilemma. The job-hunter taps her toe waiting for the wheels to turn, for the right people to review the resumes and the interviews to be scheduled. Waiting for an offer. Waiting for a “thanks-but-no-thanks.”
No one likes waiting. You want productivity 24/7 and let’s start being productive this instant.
Waiting is a complete waste of time.
But is waiting a complete waste time?
In fact, waiting pulls back the curtain on our fallow ground.
Kathleen Norris, in her book The Quotidian Mysteries, wrote about the infinite prairies to which she returned to focus on writing. All that land—miles and miles—seemed so unproductive. And that unproductive land was also a reflection on her mood. It took time, but she eventually saw that there was actually pretty big stuff happening in those fallow fields—all largely unseen. Norris learned to sit with her own fallow, unproductive times knowing that hidden gears were turning and new avenues were opening:
No small part of the process of writing is the lifting up into consciousness of what has long remained in the basement, hidden, underground, as in a tomb.
Maybe you are crazy busy and fallow/unproductive/waiting time has no place in your schedule. Please reconsider. Take that vacation. Rethink your time between jobs. Look deep into the underground and pull out the life what was entombed years ago.
That’s how you wait like a boss.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Leadership is an emotional action story
Most of my clients see themselves as thought-leaders. These clients really are leaders in their industries: their scientists and engineers labor to create new ways of approaching old markets even as they open new markets. A think-piece is an outward-facing story of their leadership in the light of a market problem or need.
Some clients assume their brochures and web copy can be repurposed into a think-piece. One of my tasks is to help them understand that a think-piece takes a position on a problem, spins out a story that shows the problem resolved in an emotionally satisfying way. That is typically a larger frame of reference than their current brochure or web copy.
Other clients want to say something without revealing anything. They worry about competition in their tight market. But they don’t realize how a generous spirit is another kind of selling (especially in this sharing economy), and giving something-not-everything away is a mark of true leadership. But it’s just too big a task (they say) and it will “only distract our scientists and engineers.”
Sharp clients understand that thought-leadership presents a story that is immediately recognizable, universally understood (by their target audience) and easy to digest. They also understand that the best stories carry a useful thought with an emotional element.
My favorite thought-pieces typically have these three elements:
- Story: A story is threaded together with real people doing real things. There is emotion in a story—just like life—and real people talk in human rather than PR speak. Real people with real problems that unlock real emotion both before and after the solution appears.
- Visual: There’s no question that words simply take too long for most of us. We still read, of course, but our short attention spans move us toward images and video. Some say visual is the primary way social media will present in coming years. We can put that visual bias to work today with words that paint pictures. That has always been the novelist’s forte: creating scenes. That ability must find a home in today’s think-pieces. Gone are the days when an interested audience member might happily read your brochure. Now you have to catch them when they are not looking or thinking about your product or industry. This is not an easy task, but the more visual the better. Visual also has the advantage of being immediately understood.
- Speak Human: Every discipline has its own secret words. Every industry uses lingo and code words to show they know their stuff as well as out of sheer laziness. It’s just easier to say the same things as everyone else. Plus it’s a badge of the tribe, so why wouldn’t you? But insider language is inherently toxic for anyone outside. It’s a buzz kill for an outsider looking in. Speaking human means words cleansed of jargon, words that can shine through a clear story.
The best think-pieces don’t appear to be think-pieces at all. They can be read so effortlessly that we take every step with the author to the intended conclusion. And we find ourselves happy to be there, taking action with the hero.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston