Why Your Writing Sucks.
May 31, 2013
In: Creative Writing
There's a lot of horse shit going around the internet these days about “writing from the heart” and eliciting emotion in your readers/audience/customers/landlords.
Okay, so not landlords.
And you get it. You know it's important. Because nobody wants to buy from a faceless mime.
But what you don't know is how to actually do it.
In your best attempts, you end up with something that still feels generic, forced, trite and/or overly earnest. You write things like, “Live a life you love,” and “feel the fear.” Actually, I don't know if anyone says “feel the fear,” but if they do, they probably need a drink.
I've thought a lot about what makes for brilliant writing that connects with people; writing that pierces people's immune system. And the number one finding is this (yes, finding): To talk to humans, you've got to talk like a human.
The business world is usually driven by a real passion, but by the time it turns into your blog post, or your sales copy, or your promotional materials, the heat has long since been stomped out by the “rules,” and the “expectations” and the “format” and “the way it's done.” And the human part of what you're saying goes out the window. (Along with your sales.)
This doesn't mean you need to get overly personal, or confessional, or raw, or tell us about the hair-pulling sex you had last night (fucking TMI), but what it does mean is that in order to write something human; in order to write something that other people are actually going to read (and remember) you can't be overly inflated, or pretentious, or stiff, or FACELESS MIME. (You're going to have nightmares about faceless mimes now, by the way.)
One of the biggest problems I see in writing is that you can't feel the actual writer.
You can't see their shaky hands, their second guesses; their facial expressions or their unkept thoughts. The writing seems, too often, to come from a hollow factory of catch phrases and clichés, boring words and 5-cent verbs. (That rhymed. Two points.)
See what I did just there? That parenthetical statement was me butting myself onto the page. Even that can make your writing more human, because you have a chance to actually see the human behind it tearing a hole into the writing. Sort of like when people cross the finish line and they tear through the ubiquitous banner. I always wanted to do that–tear through a banner. Except I sort of feel like those moments are reserved for people who can actually jog around the block, so…I'll stick to piñatas.
Anyway, the point is that tried and true, recycled, jargoney, ready-made sentences, thoughts and statements create barriers that distance you from your customers. It's done because it's a way of protecting yourself from criticism, and, ironically, from the very people you want to reach.
Because it's safe. But safe writing does not translate into safety. Rather, it's the other way around: The only way we can really be safe, is by doing the exact opposite, and putting ourselves in harm's way. You have an opinion? For god's sake, state it. Want to say something taboo? Say it. Hate the way something is traditionally done? Un do it.
And then watch and see as the very things that you thought were unsafe, step forward to support you, because now you aren't just somebody with a blog; you're somebody with an opinion. Now you're not just another professional; you're a mentor. Now you're not just somebody writing the same old shit; you're somebody who's stepping around it. And when you're viewed as all of these things? You can't help but be successful.
And your writing gets a lot better, too.
The key here is to remember that you aren't just a “professional” or a “business owner” or “the person behind the screen.”
You're an actual character in the story that is your business. And just like in any story, any book, and any movie, you've got three types of characters:
:: The one-dimensional “walk-on” characters: The taxi drivers, bartenders, and that guy peeing on the street. They're briefly seen. They don't talk. And they don't matter much.
:: Then you've got the two-dimensional characters: The “cardboard” characters, if you will, who only ever reveal one emotion or character trait. Everything they reveal is one-track, lacking reason, explanation and depth. This is how most people write.
:: And then you've got the three-dimensional character: The main characters who are riddled with complex emotions, conflicting thoughts and interesting pasts; they're alive with passion and ambition and desire and there's no chance you're reading the story, or watching the movie, without being slapped in the heart with it.
And THAT is precisely who you need to be to the story of your business: The three dimensional character, gosh darn it. Yet, most people tend to hover around the two and one dimensional zones, only showing a very thin part of who they are as a human being, and what's behind all those big dreams and business suits. And just like that's the fastest way to lose an audience's attention in a movie? It's also the fastest way to lose your customer's attention in your business.
I think the best way to sum it up is with a quote, because that's what we assholes on the internet do, isn't it? We quote people.
“When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.” -Blaise Pascal
To which I'll add:
…and where they find a man, they find their wallets.
Because where there is man, there is trust.
And where there is trust?
There is business.