A Writer’s Dozen

Have you forgotten how to write?

It’s no wonder.  We’re living in the era of new-fangled phenomena like e-mail, texting and Twitter.  Suddenly, brevity trumps clarity.  Emoticons replace true emotion.  And Instant Messaging creates instant laziness.

Ahh, but the day will come again when you’ll have to write an article for the community newsletter, fire off a complaint about your BMW, piece together the client conference report, or possibly even submit your resignation letter. All things you’ll want to do well.

Don’t crumble under pressure.  Nothing’s more satisfying than wowing people with your words.  You just forgot how much fun it can be.

So here’s a (mercifully brief) reminder on how to do the voodoo you did so well:

1.  Easy writing makes for hard reading.
Truer words were never written.  Make this your mantra.

2.  Read other writers.
Pick the writers or writing style you enjoy most.  For me, it ‘s often an op-ed piece in The New York Times or a feature article in The Wall Street Journal, but it can be any author you enjoy.  Even Stephanie Meyer, if that’s what you’re into.

Read enough, and you’ll steal their brilliance through osmosis.

3.  Write like you talk.
You don’t need to develop a “style.”  You already have one.

4.  Activate your voice.
I’m not an English teacher, and I slept through most of active voice versus passive voice discussion, but note the difference:  I improved my writing.  Not:  My writing has been improved.

Here’s a site that explains it well: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/eli/buswrite/passive_voice.html

5.  Activate your verbs.
Supercharge your writing with power verbs.  They demand attention.  They create impact.  They empower you.

You go, girl.

6.  Use short sentences.
Enough said.

7.  There ain’t no rules in advertising.
Lucky me.  I’m an advertising copywriter.  But pretend you’re in advertising, too.  Throw away that AP Stylebook.  As long you’re communicating effectively, you’re golden.  LOL!

8.  Write to someone you know.
Remember: you’re not an MIT professor explaining quantum theorem to your colleagues.  You’re a person.  So personalize your communication.  Write to someone you know.  It could be a neighbor, a mentor, or a best friend.  Just make sure it’s appropriate to your communication.

9.  Less words are more useful.
Readers today are either time-crunched or lazy.  Or both.  Does it really matter?  Edit.  Condense.  Get to the point.

10.  No ellipses, please.
Nothing screams “I don’t have a coherent thought” like the overused and banal ellipses.  So throw away that crutch.  Never use them in headlines or titles.  And as for body copy…

11.  Write well every single time.
Use e-mail, blog responses, Facebook meanderings, and those other aforementioned shorthand forms of communication as tools to hone your craft.

12.  Read it out loud.
Go ahead.  Don’t be shy.  If something’s not quite right, you’ll notice it sooner.

And finally:

13.  Hard writing makes for easy reading.
Then again, it’s only hard if you don’t like writing.


Lead From The Middle

I believe the trick to being a good leader, and a great Creative Director, is to remain centered.

No, I don’t mean the center of attention.  Far too many CDs have gone down that path in a flaming blaze of egotistical glory.

By centered, I’m talking about the realization that to be effective, you need to be the man (or woman) in the middle.  Every time.

For example, if there’s a particularly vexing assignment at the agency, you have to put yourself between the creative team, urging them on to find unique solutions that will resonate with consumers, and the account team, urging them to have patience or provide more insights.  Depending on the moment, you are either a staunch wall or an open door, helping both sides succeed.

Or, imagine your last presentation.  There you are again, right in the middle.  While you’re trying to woo and wow the client, you’re also ultimately responsible to the agency leadership to sell something in the process.

I witnessed this centering firsthand many years ago as a young writer.  My CD put himself between an impossibly tight client deadline (tick, tick, tick) and the inexperienced, freaked-out video editor who was in way over his head.  It was a very tense evening.  But by keeping his cool, and everything in context, he got the spot out the door.

Is this the job you signed up for?

Think of it this way: in baseball, everyone would love to be Yankee superstar Derek Jeter.  Joe Giradi (the current Yankees manager), not so much.

Jeter gets it all: the salary, the supermodel girlfriend, and the media accolades.  Giradi gets the heartburn and the heartaches, and media attention only if the team is sucking wind.

But as Creative Director, for better or worse, that’s the role you’ve chosen.  Congratulations!  You are now officially manager in another highly competitive team sport.  Success will come (or not) based on how well you can remain centered, and keep everyone focused on the task at hand.