Three Writing Defense Mechanisms that Kill Good Copy
Hi. I'm Alyson. I make my living helping clients communicate clearly.
It's satisfying to see language, well wielded, help awareness rise, minds change and bottom lines grow. Sometimes, solutions are deceptively simple. We identify how communications can improve, and help organizations make that happen. And sometimes, even with solid strategy and materials, the results are obscured by everyday writing challenges.
Sure, creating tight, lucid, sparkling prose isn't always easy. But, most of our clients have solid communications teams. So what is getting in the way? I wonder if weaknesses in writing are obscuring something deeper. What if sub-par wordsmithing is actually a cover-up for fear? Grown men and women frightened of a few ABC's? Yes! It's possible that what looks like wordy, muddy, or bland prose could be trepidation in disguise. And what do we do when we're afraid? Get defensive. Here are our top three writer defense mechanisms and tips to help you work around them.
Wordiness: Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that the most valuable of all talents is never using two words when one will do. One reason we overwrite (and make ourselves overwrought) is lack of confidence. We bury the lede, and other important phrases, at the bottom of kitchen-sink prose, hoping no one will notice we don't know what we're talking about.
Solution: Embolden all your writers, especially inexperienced ones, to know their subjects. Instruct them to say what they mean and mean what they say. And, edit, edit, edit. Eliminate extraneous words and passive construction. Model succinctness from the top down in memos, newsletters and emails.
Muddiness: It's hard for audiences to get the message, and your messaging, through word-fog. But, sometimes we muck things up because straightforwardness can be scary. When we're not strong in our point of view, we write around something rather than through it.
Solution: E.L. Doctorow helps us make the journey, ideas intact. "Writing is like driving at night in the fog, he writes. "You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." We all want to skip planning to maximize efficiency, but to foster clarity, carefully jot down notes or create an outline to get readers from point A to point B.
Blandness: Boring copy inspires no one. If you want people to buy what you're selling or practice what your preaching, captivation is key. Unfortunately, stretching one's creativity can feel risky. We reach for the comfortable thing, the familiar thing, when the magic lies in going beyond our default choices and culling the best.
Solution: Gather your team in activities that stimulate creativity. Brainstorm with no barriers and "no bad ideas," and keep tools of the trade handy, whether it's notepads, colored markers, small fidget toys, or, AWC's favorite, lots of coffee. Allow time and space for flow. Great ideas develop when content creators take breaks to walk around the block, grab some shut-eye or shoot the breeze with coworkers.
If we want words to work, we must go boldly into our writing. Try these tips, and if you need more help, AWC is here to offer a one-day business-writing course for your team, and any of our other services to get you on the write track.
Alyson Gold Weinberg