Short ‘n Sweet: Taglines & Slogans

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Write On


Photo from The Guardian

1. Find a subject you care about
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

2. Do not ramble, though
I won’t ramble on about that.

3. Keep it simple
As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. “To be or not to be?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.
Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

4. Have guts to cut
It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

5. Sound like yourself
The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.
In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand.
All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue.
I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

6. Say what you mean
I used to be exasperated by such teachers, but am no more. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.
Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.

7. Pity the readers
They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school — twelve long years.
So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient readers, ever willing to simplify and clarify — whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.
That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique Constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

8. For really detailed advice
For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical sense, I recommend to your attentionThe Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. E.B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced.
You should realize, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say.

In Sum:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean
7. Pity the readers

Write & Wrong

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“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” – David Ogilvy

“Write drunk, edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

What Hemingway was getting at here was this: writing and editing were not meant to occur at the same time. They require totally different states of mind. When you write, you should be loose, ambitious, and open-minded. Follow your creative instincts. Let the words flow. Let the story take you where it wants. When editing, you need to get tough. Scrutinize your work. Find the heart of the story and carve away everything else. Be brutal.

“The first draft of everything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” – William Faulkner

“You can fix anything but a blank page.” – Nora Roberts

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King

If you’re having trouble writing or coming up with stuff to write about, maybe it’s because you haven’t been reading enough. Reading other great work comes with a host of benefits. It inspires you to achieve great heights with your own writing. It activates your creative mind by stirring up themes, issues, and plots inside your brain. And it teaches you about the craft of storytelling.

Simple is genius, brevity is beauty. Like Hemingway says: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

First thing you want to do is to delete your first two paragraphs. Then reread the article and add just one single sentence instead of these paragraphs. Sometimes you don’t even have to add anything.

An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening. Go to sleep and then look at your copy in the morning. You’ll understand that some parts need to be changed even if they seemed ideal the evening before.

Master the art of storytelling. You may find a lot of new ideas to craft a cool story about your brand.

Doubt yourself. Doubting that your copy is great is the best way to make it better.

“Start off with ‘Dear Charlie,’ then say, ‘this is what I want to tell you about.’ Make believe that the person you’re talking to is a perfectly intelligent friend who knows less about the product than you do. Then, when you’ve finished writing the copy, just cross out ‘Dear Charlie’.”

Okay. Now. How many ways are there to say that?


Around the Block

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Go Somewhere

Take a Bath

Break Things Into Small Pieces

Talk to a Friend, Real or Imaginary


Take a Nap

Take a Walk

Have a Snack

Work on More Than One Project at a Time

Get Comfortable

Do a Crossword Puzzle

Use a Different Tool, Platform, Font

Embrace Messiness

Consult a Friend

Permit Yourself to be Bad

Change the Time You Usually Work

Change the Place

Wash the Dishes

Shut Down Your Computer

Stop Worrying About Grammar


Say “I Can” Rather than “I Can’t”

Start in the Middle

Steal Ideas and Make Them Your Own

Read a Magazine

Walk the Dog


Find Something to Laugh At

Cry, Then Start Working as Though Nothing Happened