Happy Halloween.

Today’s trick-or-treating reminded me of an encounter I had not too long ago with a writer friend of mine. And 1 simple trick that is very helpful to most writers.

My friend had just transitioned from a journalism job to one in PR. I saw her one morning after dropping off my son at preschool.

She told me she was really stressed out about something she had to write. She said she couldn’t come up with something good. She said the piece needed a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and she just wasn’t into it.

She said that the owner of the company who was really enthusiastic would be able to do it…but it was her job.

Here’s the simple trick I promised:

I said, you need to imagine that you are the company president. You need to feel his emotion and channel his energy and perspective. Be him as you write. Then afterwards use your writing and editing skills to polish it up.

A couple of weeks later I bumped into her.

It worked.

Good fiction writers are adept at writing from different perspectives, at adopting a persona that isn’t necessarily themselves. But not all writers are.

Copywriters should feel comfortable writing with different voices and from different perspectives. It goes with the territory. After all, brands are like people with distinct voices, so you’ve got to be a bit of a ventriloquist to be successful

If you’re not used to this, a good exercise is to find an ad (or a web page) that you like but think you might have a hard time writing yourself. Use this as an exact model for something you want to write.

Don’t copy it word for word, obviously, but let this other work inform your sentence structure, word choice, punctuation, and sales strategy. You may simply need to internalize  the writing itself, or you might try to imagine  the person who wrote it (or the persona of the copy if it has a strong voice) and try to inhabit that personality.

And remember, putting on the “masks” of other writers/copywriters should be more than a once-a-year event. That is, if you want your writing to treat you well and not trick you into thinking you can’t be effective with all kinds of projects.

Good luck. And Happy Halloween.

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Empty Words, Lazy Editing

October 8, 2007

On my way to work this morning, I heard this report about hackers on NPR:

“Hackers are finding new ways to deliver spam, steal data and introduce computer viruses. New research suggests that online media players could be their next weapon.”

While it’s mostly a prediction of a coming trend, it starts by mentioning that we all know to delete suspicious emails without opening them and it does lead to a mention of recent threats on YouTube.

In closing (“bottom line…”) it sounds like we are going to get some specific, actionable advice.

Perhaps to keep our media players up to date with the latest security patches? Or to avoid certain websites? Or certain kinds of files? Something.

No. We are only cutely advised “viewer discretion.”

Which means what? What are we supposed to do (or not do) with that advice?

Nothing. They are empty words.

It is sloppy reporting and lazy editing. It’s journalism that favors style over substance, the cute over the real.

It may also mean NPR is not taking the online world quite as seriously as the “real” world.
In any case, it was the sort of “story” that I expect James Michaels (the demanding editor of Forbes for 37 years who died last week) would have sent back for a rewrite, penning something like this on the draft:

“This is a real snoozer, lacking in specifics. Why not just send them a nice lacy valentine and forget the prose.”

I expect better from NPR.