Thursday, November 30, 2023

Miles to Go.

Frost could have just said, "But I had shit to do."

There's so much bad copywriting in the world today.

Someone chose a certain set of words that are meaningless. 

Or uninteresting.

Or like something I saw online recently from Volvo, dumb. I think their headline positioned one of their cars as being, "For all your yous."

In New York, a group of people is a yous, as in "hey, whadda yous guys wanna do?" Or, "Hey yous, go fuck y'self and duh rats yous rode in on."

But that's not the reason for my disdain.

For all your yous is just a convoluted notion. I don't think anyone ever in the roughly 200,000-year history of homo sapiens ever said, 'I need a car for all my mes.'

Every day, yes, every day, someone--usually a client--asks me about copy. How can they get better at writing.

While it's not hard to explain how to get better. It's hard to actually get better.

Orwell, in 'Politics and the English Language' wrote,

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

What am I trying to say?

What words will express it?

What image or idiom will make it clearer?

Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

Could I put it more shortly?

Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in.

That last sentence, the one I underlined is what most people do. They forget that they have an obligation to their readers to make things interesting. Fresh. Original. Brief. God forbid, funny. 

An obligation. 

The same obligation a doctor has to wash her hands.
A cook has to use the right ingredients.
A parent has to be patient and loving.

An obligation.

All that is work.

And not doing work is easier than doing work.

And the corollary, not caring is easier than caring.

Back when writers used to report to me, I'd get pissed if they brought me copy that had a lot of typos. One typo, I understand. I make my share of typos in this space. I'm human. 

I'm talking a lot of typos. Their typos showed me that they found not caring easier than caring.

That's a sin in my book.

48-hours ago, I stumbled upon a really good piece of writing. I liked it so much, I wrote it down, to help me remember it. It's good to do that. With writing. Songs. Snippets of conversation. Art work. Movies. Bits of architecture.

The sentences I read were from a 1975 movie starring Gene Hackman, called'Night Moves.' He plays a private eye who's trying to "figure out the whodunit of his own crumbling marriage."

In the scene, Hackman is watching a football game on television. His wife asks him who's winning.

"Nobody," Hackman answers.

"One side's just losing more slowly than the other."

The writer could have just said they were bored with each other.
But that wouldn't have captured it. Or he could have written paragraphs about distance and a bleak view of the world. But somehow he captured a really fraught moment indelibly in ten words.

There was one of those moments in another movie, 'Stand By Me,' directed by Rob Reiner, based on a story by Steven King.
My best friend, Fred, who died tragically just last year brought it to my attention. He noticed things like this. One of the reasons I loved him.

  • The voiceover said this: "It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of your life, like busboys in a restaurant."

There are so many ways transience can be expressed. So many crappy clichés. But someone cared.

Just as someone cared when they wrote, "Nobody, one side's just losing more slowly than the other."

Whether you're writing an email, a banner ad, a resignation letter or a super bowl spot, communicating simply and memorably is not easy.

That's why we work so hard at it.

Or why we should.

If you're human, you have an obligation.

scrupulous writer
, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus4/21/2021

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