Tuesday, January 2, 2024

How to Write a Blog Post Every Workday for 17 Years.


A lot of people look at me and my prodigious blogging output and ask a simple question. 


There's no secret. 
No magic.
No, like Robert Johnson, deal with the devil at a crossroads.

Here's how.

1. If you're in the "content business," be in the content business. Make content your job. Make being interesting, thoughtful, controversial, provocative, dumb, funny your job. 

Most of what's important in life is not something you can do as a dilettante. You can't be a friend on a part-time basis, or a partner, or even a co-worker. I'm pretty sure the Cubs' Hall-of-Fame short-stop Ernie "Let's Play Two" Banks, never phoned it in. 

Creativity and commitment to readers, viewers, customers, clients is about commitment. All of the time. Not when the mood hits you.

2. Put your readers up on a pedestal.

Dilettantes care more about their perceived performance than what they do for others. Serious people care more about their audience than they do their egos.

That doesn't mean you pander to them. Ever.
It means you do your best always.

In fact, I'll go a step farther. The central issue in communications in the era of artificial intelligence, the central issues for communicators, brands included, is this: "How much do your care for your audience?" 

It is surely easier and cheaper to press a button and have a machine produce a skein of cliches, hoary images and banalities. If you doubt this for a moment, look at all the brands that are perfectly OK with running a video with "auto-generated" captions. 99.999999999999-percent of the time there's a major subject-object split between what's said and what's captioned.

Who cares, right? 

Except semiotically--that is, what such performance shows--is an utter disregard for people. If you don't care, it shows.  

And, again, 
99.999999999999-percent of communications show they don't care. No matter who, what or how they're written. Whether it's Bob or Bot.

3. Read. Read. And read some more.

The key, the one key, the only key to being good at writing is reading. Reading.

Not the Boscov's circular. Or something from Twitter. Or the greatest hits of Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Green and Jared Kushner, but real writing. Writing that's the product of genuine thinking.

I just read these sentences from a book review in the weekend Wall Street Journal. I learned some things. And enjoyed the writing. I like a good list and a good nickname. I'll probably steal from this someday.
"The trouble with Times Square dates to the late 1960s crime sprees that threatened the very future of the area as a commercial office zone. The downward slide continued through the 1970s and early ’80s. In early 1978, Ms. Sagalyn reports, there were 40 pornographic-movie houses, 54 bookstores, 30 topless bars and live sex shows, 63 massage parlors and 33 'prostitution-prone' hotels. In 1981, the police started patrolling the pavement west of Seventh Avenue, deploying helmeted tactical patrol officers wielding batons—the feared Hats and Bats unit."
Try reading. It will usually improve your writing. Or at least give you "Hats and Bats".

4. Understand that what you do is important. 

What you say matters. 
How you say it matters, too.

Not long ago, Frank Bruni wrote an important article in The New York Times called "Our Semicolons, Ourselves." If you care about communication at all, you ought to read it.

If I ran a holding company, or even something as picayune as a global ad agency, or even a department or a group within an agency, or if I were involved in a client relationship, I would make it required reading. Assuming anyone can read anymore--or blithely (and stupidly) doesn't remark TL/DR, which essentially means, "it's too much work to get smart."

All that leads me to believe that of the roughly 80,000 readers this blog gets every week, about 12 people will read this. That's how much the modren world cares about reaching people and influencing them.

Bruni quotes University of North Carolina professor, Molly Worthen. (Agencies, take note. That is if you're not to busy with your latest lust of self-congratulation for yet another $49.99 Triple Play Bundle commercial, or Winter Sale-a-Thon.)

Worthen notes that “transmitting ideas into written words is hard, and people do not like to do it.” [But] "someone who performs that task gladly, quickly and nimbly in most cases ends up the default author, the quarterback to whom others start to turn, out of habit, for the play.”

In terms of advertising and brand communications, if you communicate well--people begin to listen--and respect you. Think Apple. 

However, agencies, and most clients (those who don't hire me) forget this part: "The clarity, coherence, precision and even verve with which you do that — achieving a polish and personality distinct from most of what A.I. spits out — will have an impact on the recipients of that missive, coloring their estimation of you and advancing or impeding your goals."

In other words, Bruni writes "Good writing burnishes your message. It burnishes the messenger, too." Or as I've used as my tagline since 2020 when I was fired from Ogilvy for being TL/DR or TS/TM (too smart, trouble-maker) "Good writing is a business advantage."

I'll say that last bit again because good writing also bears repeating: "Good writing is a business advantage."

If you're a potential client reading this and you're not working with me, call me. I won't repeat my tagline for a third time.

If you're an agency and you're not working with me, nyeah nyeah nyeah.

5. Give yourself a brief. A hard one.

In our currently boundary-and-hierarchy-less era, so much writing is 'anything goes.' There are no rules and for much of the 'page,' no end of the page. What's more, so-called responsive design (which isn't responsive to either the needs of readers or writers) doesn't even allow for proper line breaks.

It's up to you to force a discipline on yourself. The almost-daily ads I do for GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, are a good example of what I mean. 

They follow a format.

They have to tell a joke in about eight words. That's the length that works according to their design. 

Writers used to know things like this. Approximately how much time people are willing to waste without a pay-out. Today, most writers make the giant mistake of thinking people care. It reminds me of trying to watch sports on TV. There's so much announcer-blabberating that you can hardly see the game.

In other words, pay attention to how you're treating the viewer.

6. Do something. Do something different.

I sat in many a casting session with Academy Award-winning director, Errol Morris. During my first, I expected to witness genius. What I heard were those to sentences over and over again.

So much of being interesting is actively doing something different. But it's not enough just to be different. I don't think mustard-flavored ice cream or a gingerbread ATM makes a lick of difference in the real world. Different has to be substantive or it's just a stunt. 

And substantive takes thinking, invention, creativity and meaning. Not just standing on one foot and whistling Dixie. That takes work. 

I dunno. 
It makes sense to me.

7. Basics.

If you want to be like, if you want your brand to be liked, "do exactly what it says on the tin."

Make a promise. Keep a promise.
Don't rely on an algorithm to keep people happy.
They never will and they never can. 
Don't call people targets.
Or saturate them with so many dumb messages that they feel they've been marketing cluster-bombed.
Try a little respect.
Of intelligence.
Of their throes.
Of their lives.
Kindness is nice too.
Not a machine-learning grimace.

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