Tag Archives: writing

Journeys into the alien minds among us: Beginning the bjoite series

The bjoite have been here for hundreds of years and revealed themselves well over a century ago, but my stories about them are new. I just recently published the first one in three e-book venues. There will be more to come. People have been asking about the back story and other details. Also, I think it’s a good time for literary science fiction. Or SF-extended literary writing.

Humans and bjoite have not had an easy time together. In some parts of the world, especially where overfishing has depleted marine life, bjoite are still being killed and eaten in what used to be traditional seafood dishes. In the United States, they have the same status as farm animals in most states—not to be abused, but fine to slaughter and exploit.amb cover 2

The fourteenth bjoite ambassador, stationed in San Francisco like all of his predecessors, really wants to do nothing more than play the piano and enjoy classical music, the one thing he likes best about our culture. Instead, he has to fend off assassination attempts, listen to insults, get distracted by pop tunes, and waste time with bureaucratic busywork. Still, he manages to organize for himself one last piano performance in San Francisco’s Symphony Hall and prepare for it. The concert will happen just a couple of days before the ambassador ends his assignment and leaves our planet. Fully aware of the danger to his life, he looks forward to playing some of his favorite compositions. He even invites a special guest.

Will the ambassador survive and get to go home? Who is after him this time, and why? What are bjoite like, anyway? Find out in the first of the bjoite stories, The Ambassador’s Last Recital. I promise it’s unlike anything else you’re reading this year. Also, it’s only $1.99, and your correspondent needs cash to continue his research and documentation of all matters bjoite.

I didn’t much like the SF magazines I explored or else the story just didn’t seem like a good fit. You can find it as an ebook in different formats:

If I add any publishing venues I will post about that on the usual social media and might add to this blog post as well.

If you give the story a good review or rating, thank you, that is very helpful. If it’s truthful, even better. No, I won’t tell you how it ends. Enjoy a couple of hours of time off from your regular day!

I’ve been busy doing lots of other writing in addition to what I do for paying clients. But this is not the huge big, reality-swapping, murder-happy kitsch extravaganza that some of you heard about. That’s currently being queried to a number of agents. I’m still hoping that one of them might be totally disgusted with the sample materials, loathes the whole thing after reviewing it, and sells it to a publisher because it will surely appeal to certain people.

To be continued. Thanks for listening!

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How to hire a good writer

When content is important to you in making the world aware of your products, services, and company, you need to figure out where it comes from. You can syndicate, crib, copy, and cross-link only so much. Sooner or later you will need your own content. That means you have to find a writer. I’m sorry to hear that.

Writers are easy to find, but it can be so hard to gain any certainty that they are a good fit for what you need. Throw a metaphorical blank page in the air and dozens of them will rush to fill it with verbiage. Independent, hungry contract writers beat the pavement, looking for clients like you, claiming to deliver great quality for minimal cost. Talent agencies promise to hook you up with the best in the industry, carefully vetted and background-checked.

And yet. With all this abundance of talent, much published writing is an embarrassment. It’s far too easy to find poorly written web pages, white papers, case studies, blog posts, and more. Most anybody I talk to can share bad experiences with writers who didn’t understand what the client wanted, became upset at feedback, lacked any flexibility in voice, tone, and style, and had the social graces of a hung-over porcupine.

This is probably not what you want in a writer.

I once worked in an agency where writing was the mainstay of everybody’s paycheck. We hired writers from time to time and tried very hard to figure out who the best candidates were. To that end, we developed a writing test. Most candidates went through this step onsite in the office. Some of the tests were simply bad. If that was the case, one thanked the people, wished them well, and hoped they wouldn’t be upset. Other tests were great. With minimal source material and in a short time, some hopeful writers produced a nice page of technical marketing content. Unfortunately, even the best tests were no reliable predictors for performance on the job. Some writers who tested well went to become fabled contributors. In other cases, the test was the last good piece of work one ever saw. At least once, a writer delivered a very fine test piece, got the job, and quickly realized that writing was no longer of interest to him. Another time, a well-testing writer showed up for the first day, and we never saw him again after that. We spent many hours evaluating candidates and their tests, but we were never able to rely on a meaningful outcome.

At another company, portfolios were important. Writers dutifully brought them in or provided the links to them. When these people applied themselves to what we did, the results could be all over the map. Eventually, I understood that a portfolio simply shows a person has done certain work in the past (unless they faked their show pieces, which is pathetic and happens more often than you think). A portfolio, however stuffed with neat samples, has nothing to do with what a writer will do next. In fact, there are lots of people looking for work who simply don’t yet see that it’s time to move on and that for one reason or another, writing is no longer what they can or should do. It’s too bad, but don’t feel obliged to hire them because you feel sorry.

A good writer personality is more like this – engaging, resourceful, committed, and with a sense of humor.

You gather I don’t recommend testing or judging from portfolios. But how can you be reasonably assured that somebody you interview can come through in a writer role? Here are some suggestions.

  • Creativity and innovation. Take a look at what your potential writer does on her blog and website, and on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and in other social media. Does she come up with interesting ideas to make white papers, presentations, case studies, and other workhorses more interesting and valuable? Does she sound like somebody you would like to hear more from? Somebody you might like to collaborate with?
  • Ability to connect audiences and writing technique. Everybody will tell you that they keep audiences in mind when they write. They know it’s expected. But many writers will draft in the same style, using the same voice and tone, almost all the time. Ask your writer candidate to discuss a couple of portfolio pieces and show you how exactly she reflected the interests of different audiences.
  • Engagement. What happens when you disagree with your writer candidate? Does she engage in a civil, professional manner, or does she get upset or withdrawn? You need your writer to be an articulate, pleasant conversationalist even when challenged (or edited), or she will not be able to work with people and accommodate different perspectives. How much does she share in the conversation, and to what extent does she react to your statements and questions?
  • Fun and caring. What does it feel like when your writer candidate talks about her work? What does she like about it? Do you find that believable? Do you get a sense that she enjoys her work, or is it just a passion-free way to pay the bills? Do you get the impression she has the enthusiasm to work with you and your people and write, day in and day out? Does she do any writing of her own, just because she loves it?
  • Subject-matter expertise. This should be easy to ascertain. Presumably, the writer has some level of experience with your industry or the type of products and services you offer. Get her to talk about that. How does she see the industry changing? What are the most challenging problems, the most interesting new developments? Does she pay attention to how other writers and their companies in your industry communicate? Does she volunteer any of this, or do you have to elicit it?
  • Questions. Never, ever pursue work (or anything else) with somebody who does not have questions. Such people are just not there for you. You should avoid them, no matter what else they say or how smart they seem to be.

If you get a good response on all or most of these points, good luck to you and your new writer! I’m sure you can accomplish some valuable, enjoyable work together.

(By the way, if you need a writer, might you require editorial assistance as well? We discussed that a while ago.)

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How to write badly (5): “Let’s make up some bland quotes!”

We carry on with our master class on writing badly, which commenced not too long ago and has intermittently continued since then.

As a bad writer, you may find yourself in a bit of a quandary when you have to quote people. You’re supposed to include the voice of the customer in marketing case studies and press releases. You might need to quote the CEO or other executives and won’t get a chance to talk to them. In the company blog, you have to quote business partners that comment on your products and services. If it’s news you need to perpetrate, readers will expect that you give them an impression of what victims, bystanders, offenders, fans, crooks, and thought leaders are saying. The problem is that people usually don’t speak nearly as horribly as you write. They can be lively and interesting, whereas your inclination is toward the bland and predictable. That means you have to make up properly bad quotes, or you will have to explain the odd quality gap between quotes and other copy. I understand this is work and therefore unwelcome. To make your life a little easier, here are a few standard quotes you can use with minimal adjustments.

People talk. For you as a bad writer, this presents so many opportunities to ascribe lame, warmed-over quotes to them.

When you use these quotes, be careful not to insert too many specific references. Their charm largely depends on vagueness and intimation. Busy readers will appreciate that they can scan over a couple of lines without missing anything. You save time that way, too. But you still need to apply your restrained, unmistakable touch. Have you heard that silly story about the joke club, where people have simplified joke telling by calling out the numbers of known jokes instead? A visitor wonders why anybody still laughs if the jokes are so familiar. “It’s in the way it’s told,” somebody explains. It’s like that with these quotes. With practice, you will be able to slip them into your copy as if they came naturally.

About a technical product or service

  • “[product or service name] is an end-to-end solution for the issues we were facing. I would recommend this to anyone.”
  • “[product or service name] stands out because of the innovation incorporated in it. Its rich feature set makes it extremely valuable.”
  • “I don’t know what I would do without [product or service name].”
  • “[product or service name] is a best-in-class offering that will add value for years to come.”

About a company

  • “[company name] demonstrates true leadership by innovating in its industry.”
  • “[company name] leads the pack of comparable vendors because of its track record.”
  • “We are proud to partner with [company name] in advancing innovation in our industry.”
  • “Risk-taking innovation and thought leadership are in [company name]’s DNA.”
  • “[company name] has practically re-invented [category].”

About a person in a new role

  • “[name] expects to hit the ground running and deliver results rapidly.”
  • “Her leadership experience makes [name] a great fit for this challenging role.”
  • “As a natural communicator, [name] will not have any problems in meeting the expectations of [people in whatever roles].”
  • “Numbers don’t lie. [name] has delivered strong results in her last position and we expect her to do so again.”

About a problem

  • “We welcome the opportunity to address this challenge with confidence.”
  • “Circumstances are never quite fair. But we will address the concerns promptly and get to a satisfactory resolution.”
  • “[problem] has been blown out of proportion. While we don’t expect that [problem] will cause any issues for our customers, we are closely monitoring the situation.”
  • “[problem] came at us out of the blue, but we’re ready to take action. We will face this issue with resolve and resourcefulness.”

About something horrible somebody did or said

  • “A diligent review of all the facts will present a very different course of events. In the meantime, I should refrain from commenting further.”
  • “I always strive to maintain the highest standards of integrity. I apologize if some people have the impression that I may have fallen short in this situation.”
  • “I regret if I offended anybody. That was certainly not what I intended.”
  • “I’m reviewing the situation and will have more detailed comments presently.”

About a murderer

  • “He usually kept to himself, but seemed like a nice guy. We didn’t know him well.”
  • “He seemed like an angry guy and always had arguments with people. We didn’t know him well.”
  • “This clearly shows the need for strengthening gun control.”
  • “This clearly shows the need for empowering more law-abiding citizens to carry guns.”
  • “He gave my wife a strange look the other day.”

About a weather-related or natural-disaster situation

  • “I knew we were in for something terrible.”
  • “This is really too bad. We all feel the same way.”
  • “When we were young, we never had events like this happen.”
  • “We will pull together and get through this just like we did through other situations like it.”
  • “We are getting desperate and very concerned this might get worse. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

You’re welcome! More soon.

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How to write badly (4): Rocking the flow

We continue our summer class on writing badly, which started to minor acclaim quite recently.

Good writers always make a big deal of sequencing their thoughts just so a reader can follow along easily and a paragraph is a sort of organic entity that becomes part of a larger, beautiful whole, like a leaf on a tree. Well, if you’re aspiring to bad writing, it’s always fall for these leaves, and they’re dropping off the trees in an unpredictable manner.

Have you noticed how the truly righteous, when they go on and on about something, leave out the vital connections between their thoughts? That’s part of the quality we’re looking for when we disrupt the logical flow of your writing. You can find many good examples in letters to the editor. It doesn’t matter whether the topic is political, religious, cultural, or food-related—most highly opinionated writers are having a hard time keeping up with the syntax and logic, because they have so much to say, so quickly. They usually feel that smart folks like themselves will understand well enough, because they have a strong message to share.

If you place the equivalent of verbal rocks into your flow of copy, readers will stay with you and only eventually realize how confused they are. You need to exercise restraint in this practice.

The problem with such disrupted writing is that it often goes overboard. You lose the reader altogether instead of seeding gradual confusion. Don’t be heavy-handed—the right touches will knock the flow of the copy sideways and your audience will follow along for paragraph after paragraph. For example, if you change just the right word in the right place, you will ensure reader fascination along with befuddlement. Try a “what’s more” when you are really not continuing a line of thought. If you feel sure of your steps, use a “however” when you are not actually expressing an opposing concept. To soften the impact, you might experiment with “as well, however…” Even the occasional “also” inserted in completely inappropriate locations will advance the obscurity of the copy.

Reader still with you? You can pile it on. Try frivolously switching tenses in the middle of a paragraph. If you use a compound tense, such as the relatively rare past perfect, the flow will slow—I guarantee it! A fine trick is using the future tense for something that is going on right now. A lot of presenters and public speakers love doing this. Most listeners eventually catch on, but initially, yes, this is very confusing and will distract from what you’re actually talking about. It works perfectly well to make written copy more nebulous.

Assuming your readers are tenacious, you can mine your content in a more texturized manner. For example, consider demonstrative pronouns without clear antecedents—such an innocent, every-day practice. But this can work wonders in your bad writing. You can try obfuscating with personal pronouns if you dare, especially if you could refer to more than one person of the same gender. Who knows what she was trying to tell me, or who this was.

Finally, and I see this done gracelessly and very often in user manuals and other technical documentation, even in cookbooks, and in the recipes the newspapers crib from them. It works like this: Write perfectly fine paragraphs without using any of the simple tricks we just mentioned. Then, when you’re almost done, cut a sentence here and there. Don’t overdo it, or you’ll give yourself away. A missing statement every four or five paragraphs or so will do the job. People will read and follow along, maybe even try the steps you describe, and then—kapow! The conceptual trap door opens and it’s a steep drop down.

Just a few simple hints that help you rock the flow. If you like, you can work them in just like the last bad practice—write beautifully, then edit down. That way, you will avoid making the copy too obviously poor.

More soon—I promise.

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How to write badly (3): Accomplish verifiable pretentiousness

We continue our exploration of bad-writing skills, which began with such promise a few weeks ago.

Ingrained pretentiousness makes your bad writing much worse. To achieve true pretentiousness, you have to do some pretending, of course. That means the Potemkin villages of your spotless mind need to find a colorful reflection on your patient screen. If you do this right, it’s very likely that a lot of your pretentious blather will get past the editor, who can stand only so much and is not paid to rewrite your entire production.

If you dress up your poorly written copy just so, it can become truly, horribly awful. Accomplishing this needs practice and perseverance.

Practically, conning the reader into thinking there’s more there than meets the mind is a matter of word choices and some other good habits you should make your own. There are very many ways to go about this. Here are some of the easier ones:

  • Verbum latinum bonissimum. If you can replace a one-syllable noun with a more elaborate noun phrase, especially one with an expression of Latin derivation, you should go for it. You don’t choose, you make a selection. You don’t just catch up on work that your client expected the day before yesterday, you provide retroactive deliverables. Forget about having a drink. Ingest a beverage instead. Get it? This might take some practice and creativity. If you read your draft aloud and find that it’s just not compatible with natural speech, you’re probably onto something.
  • Nobility moves conceptual mountains. Take this a little further and enjoy undisciplined verbosity in a tone that is just a bit elevated above your ordinary speech. The moment is not now, it’s at this time. You don’t ask inside, but inquire within. You disembark instead of getting off the ferry, of course. Naturally, you don’t do things differently just because it’s more efficient or less costly to do so, but also because you ensure strategic alignment in compliance with stakeholder expectations. I think this is the one I excel at, if I may say so.
  • Blandness becomes flavorful. Give your prose the right flavor of determination by sprinkling in mostly meaningless filler terms such as “certainly”, “explicitly”, “decidedly”, “clearly”, “highly”, “extremely”, “definitely”, “unmitigatedly”, and the like.
  • Actions are taken. Use passive voice to obscure who did what and make it sound like more agents and forces were involved than there probably were. Add irrelevant detail to increase the level of reader perplexity. It’s not that the baker made bread. What happened was that, after all the ingredients were procured, they were mixed in the proper proportions, and then loaves were shaped, left to proof, and eventually inserted into the heated oven, where they were transformed by means of elevated temperatures into almost painfully delicious offerings.
  • Obfuscation should be respectful. When you quote people in your article, you introduce them with their full name and title. Nothing pretentious about that. But once you’ve done that, you should refer to them as Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms., not just their last name. This is particularly effective if you can cite several persons. Speaking of quotes, it’s nice if they’re pertinent. But in the interest of bad writing, if you can include an additional, confusing or completely irrelevant statement, you’re way ahead. “We doubled our sales volume in the last quarter,” said Mr. Crux-Levander. “More sales team members achieved a new level of sustained effectiveness.”

Now, on to practice! Find a good book, pick a paragraph, and rewrite it poorly, using these bad practices. Put your results in the comments, if you please. Fine if you wish to use an assumed name.

As always, I shall close with the threat: More soon!

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Let your content include obituaries

I always read the obits. Article-length obits in the Guardian and the New York Times are usually very well-written, although the paid obits in the NYT are usually as pretentious and badly put together as anything you will see in a small-town paper. The Guardian’s other lives obits feature wonderful portraits of notable, relatively unknown people. The Seattle Times generally does a decent job and encourages people to get creative with pictures and stories in paid obits (which thereby become more profitable). When I’m away from home, I always buy local newspapers and magazines and, yes, I’ll read the obits every day. If I wouldn’t have paid attention to the obits, I still wouldn’t know about such incredible people as Patrick Leigh Fermor or Horacio Coppola.

A German “notification of death”

In other countries, the obits tell you a lot about how people feel about death and dying, who they love and what they fear. There’s nothing like the tense emotion, expressed in few well-chosen words, of the “Todesanzeige” (notification of death) in German newspapers. In Italian cities, you see obit posters on billboards and walls, often next to advertising, often with heartfelt messages and beautiful photographs of the deceased.

But when it comes to companies? Nothing, really. You find pictures, bios, and lists of the leadership group, key people, or even the entire team. Sometimes, a notice may commemorate a founder or past CEO who is no longer living. For the most part, nobody seems to die at work, or if they do, it’s a tragedy of which you don’t want to remind anybody. That’s too bad.

If I were apply for a job or wanted to choose a product or service, I would definitely read a company’s obits first. In doing so, I would look to get a sense of how the organization treats and values people. After all—let’s get real—people do die while they have jobs, and it will probably happen more and more. By choice or because of necessity, many of us will still be employed when we die, although probably very few of us will have this happen to them while we’re in the actual workplace—although that, too, is not uncommon.

So, why not publish obituaries along with your other content?

Italian billboard obits

They should be part of the “about” section. Recent obits would stay up for a certain amount of time, say 90 days. After that, they would be in an archive, where one could still access them. As employees get older and are not ready to withdraw from the workplace, you might even bring up the subject with them—maybe they would like to write their own. I know I’d take the opportunity.

What should be included in an employee obit? Here are some suggestions:

  • Basics of the employee’s biography and family
  • Role or roles at the company
  • Special accomplishments and awards, including unique contributions to the company
  • If you can state it authentically, how the person felt about working at the company—what the engagement meant
  • The employee’s unique style in leadership, communications, building relationships, serving clients and customers, designing innovation, and so on
  • How the deceased mentored and supported other employees
  • Quotes from colleagues and customers about this person
  • What the employee was known for—creativity, tenacity, sense of humor, efficiency, warmth, and other qualities
  • A photo portrait from early in the life of the employment relationship, and one from later

If you have a writer develop the story of a deceased employee with respect, elegance, and good taste, and publish it, I promise people will appreciate it—not just the employee’s family and colleagues, but also the customers and business partners you deal with. While death is a taboo subject for many of us, we all know it will happen to everybody without exception, it doesn’t help pretending otherwise, and we actually appreciate some assistance in facing reality. And, not to be crass, there is a business advantage to offering great obits on your site. If you honor your people in a beautiful, written appreciation, you will definitely stand out from the many companies that would never consider doing so. It shows that you are more mature, caring, realistic, and thoughtful than they are. Who knows, maybe even your products and services are more deserving of consideration than theirs.

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How to write badly (2): Think creatively about redundancies

We continue our series on writing badly, which started with minimal hyperbole a few days ago.

Marketing writers often think that the more they repeat their message, the better the impact. Often, they are also afraid of leaving anything unsaid—a reader might harbor doubts or even miss the point entirely, so it’s best to approach it from different angles. Distracted audiences might not even pay attention the first time they hear something, but maybe they’ll do better the second or third time. Apply this principle to writing content, and it will help you fill screens and pages quickly and result in the sort of labored prose that is a hallmark of accomplished bad-writing style. Thus: Recommended. If you want to stay within the healthy parameters of accepted writing behaviors and avoid surprising readers, you need to build redundancies into your copy.

As a bad writer, you need to guard carefully against your natural inclination to avoid redundancies.

Get creative in what you think of as repetitions and redundancies. You need to be bit subtle about it, or your readers will catch on to what you’re doing and think it’s some kind of gullibility or perseverance test. You need to keep your redundancies varied, or the audience will drift away. As you practice, start by creating redundancy within a sentence, using two or three similar expressions when one would suffice, be enough, or make your point. At the next stage, which requires a little more effort, you can elegantly repeat the content of entire sentences. Going beyond single words and short phrases, entertain your audience by rephrasing certain statements.

If you want to take redundancy to a higher level, you need to do a little planning. Have you seen those white papers in which the executive summary, introduction, and conclusion are alike except for some turns of phrase? That takes work. Or, consider case studies. Many times, a case study or success story introduces certain issues an organization experienced. Then, the writer tells you how the company used a product or service to address these issues, which can be happily recapitulated at that point. Finally, a concluding section presents what changed, giving room to restate the issues a third time. Even better, supporting quotes can echo the narrative with comparable redundancies. Customer evidence is practically the Holy Grail for writers who are dedicated to the pursuit of redundancy. I know some people are trying to move away from the gold standard, but many case study writers and their readers proudly and passively lag behind. You don’t want to go out on a limb, straying from the norm.

If your boss or client still has budget left to spend on your contributions, you can dream up entire deliverables that are completely redundant. Don’t try it with case studies—it’s too darn obvious when one company starts sounding like another. I’ve seen this done very well with white papers, where the risk of somebody reading more than one is low in any case. Also, with fact sheets, easy to knock off and quickly repeated for other offerings. A tip: If you want to test whether people actually read your materials, insert some completely off-the-wall content near the end and see if anybody comments. If they stay quiet, you’re free to repeat whatever you like, as long as you like.

Redundancy, already bad in itself in most writing unless it’s an opera libretto, can be worse if you apply yourself. Stay tuned as we explore complementary techniques. Mistakes will be made, again.

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How to hire a good editor and avoid the psychopaths in the business

Good for you. You want to keep the quality of your communications and marketing materials high by bringing an editor on. Times are tough. Many editors don’t have work. It should be easy to get a few folks in to interview.

But how do you find a good candidate? You want somebody who quickly learns your business, works well with your people, and makes your materials better, day after day. Is that too much to ask?

Sometimes it would appear so. Many editors will take a bit of time to find out what you’re about, won’t get along well with your other employees, and will make changes in your documents without improving the quality or consistency.

The editing role can bring out the worst in certain people. Some years ago, I worked with an editor who, starting with day two on the job, instructed writers to take certain approaches in their drafts and, at the next draft stage, demanded changes to be made just so. As writers immediately noticed, this editor didn’t really get what the technologies and supporting marketing pieces were meant to help people accomplish and understand. The editor’s approach was abrupt, evidencing a complete lack of social skills. Writers soon found a way to work around this person. Mercifully, after a few weeks managers made a change to restore editorial sanity and returned a previous contractor who knew the technologies well and had friendly relationships with writers.

Your editor candidates don’t need to be saints. But they should be able to demonstrate competence and collegiality.

Elsewhere, I’ve watched editors have highly emotional exchanges regarding their arbitrary preferences for capitalizing or hyphenating certain words. Editors have told me they make changes in my copy because of “pet peeves” or because they have an “aversion” to a certain expression. Maybe tempted by what they think of as power in their positions, some editors seem thrilled when they have a chance to lay down the law. Even James Kilpatrick, who enjoyed huge audiences as an ultra-conservative columnist and one-time racist, felt it was necessary to playfully assemble an imaginary law court to decide the language issues he also wrote about.

You don’t want any of this. Hiring editorial psychopaths can disrupt your marketing team, ruin the quality of your communications, and cost a lot of money. You want your editor to make copy changes because they improve the quality of the language—nothing else.

Do this. When you are serious about a potential editor, ask this person to spend a little time in your office to edit a page or two of draft content (and consider paying them for their time and trouble). Next, have the candidate take a few minutes to talk you through the revisions. If you hear about likes and dislikes or other personal choices, or if the editor gets testy, thank the candidate and move on. Your new editor needs to be able to justify every single change and explain how it improves the copy by strengthening its voice, making it easier to read, aligning it with your style guide, making it grammatically correct, and getting the target audience to enjoy it. What’s more, if you can receive these comments in a professional, even-handed manner, it’s likely that your candidate will also be able to communicate and work well with your writers and subject matter experts.

Of course, you will also do your due diligence and verify that your new editor is familiar with style sheets and contemporary tools of the trade. Do not take this for granted. A surprising number of hopeful editors avoid new editing software tools and will prefer to work as they always have. Reference checks will help in this area, although they won’t turn anything up if a candidate you consider has acted imperially or manifested other editorial pathologies in an earlier position. That’s why you need to have the test first and the talk afterwards.

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How to write badly: Keeping a healthy balance

Considering the popularity of bad writing in commercial and technical communications and marketing, it’s surprising that only very little credible guidance is available to help writers out. Most of the training and coaching for writers directs them toward excellence, not mediocrity. Is that really helpful? It seems to me that there’s way too much help available for a writer who wants to be good, but next to none for somebody who aspires to awfulness. Obviously, a lot of businesses, organizations, and public-sector entities prefer writing of poor quality. Writers need to be up to the task, and I’ll do my best to help us out. I know this will take serious effort and perseverance from you and me. Like anything that’s worth doing, bad writing doesn’t happen all by itself. I will get to the details of the discipline in an informal series of blog posts.

For today, let’s consider one important principle. Don’t overdo it.

You know why? Imagine a screen or page jammed with vague generalities, patronizing language, redundancies, jargon, passive voice, cute alliterations, puns, acronyms, clichés, very long sentences, recycled headlines, pronouns without clear antecedents, and so forth. Will anybody read it? Of course not. Viewers will stumble at the end of the second or third line, roll their eyes, and move on.

That’s not what you want. You need them to stay with you to the last miserable word, or they won’t get what you’re telling them, and your clients, if you are a commercial writer, won’t get their money’s worth. Readers expect to see what they know—some inarticulate, immature writing, but also some actual content that interests them and is not entirely what they’ve read before. Therefore, you need to learn to be disciplined in your pursuit of poor prose. A pun in the headline is fine, especially if it’s ambiguous. A ludicrous generalization in the first sentence, great—it will irritate some and make others curious. But after that, take it easy. Try to deliver at least a couple of sentences that introduce your subject in an attractive manner before you take a dive. At that point, think about offering a long, maybe not quite grammatical sentence that also includes a quote from a famous subject-matter expert. After that, try for a surprise—a clear, concise statement in fresh language. But be sure to follow that up with a non-sequitur generalization. See, you have already found your rhythm!

Many kindly readers know to expect and accept this writing style. Often, they don’t have a choice, because they have to make do with what they get from their bosses, vendors, business partners, even their friends and colleagues. And, in any case, a lifetime of exposure to poor writing works like anesthesia. It doesn’t really rattle you until you come out of it.

So remember: Your bad writing can’t be extreme. It needs to come across as genuine and unintended. Like it or not, you will have to sprinkle it generously with almost flawless, even luminous verbiage.

Mistakes need to be made, will be made—brilliantly. More soon!

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