Write for Them, Not For You

Uncategorized Sep 14, 2021

When you hire somebody to remodel your house, this is how it goes: they know a lot about what will and won't work but you know what you want and, in the end, they give you what you ask for. No professional contractor ever said, "I put the window here even though you didn't want it because that's where I like windows." It's the same when you write a speech, op-ed, or anything else in collaboration with your client. Your expert counsel is required but in the end it's your job to give them what they ask for. Write for them, not for yourself. Put your ego aside. You'll get more clients, and the clients you get will be a lot happier. 

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The Client Was Yelling at Us.

Uncategorized Sep 10, 2021

We were on the receiving end of an angry review of a speech we'd co-written. The client rattled off problem after problem, even phrase after phrase, complaining about what he thought was wrong. I steeled myself for an all-nighter.


"Nah, I got this. Half-hour, tops. Go home," said my writing partner, a former White House speechwriter with years of experience on me.

"But he just gave us 20 minutes of complaints!" I said.

"And I wrote down every one," said my partner. "He told us words and stories he didn't like, he wants a new opening and closing, and he didn't like the quote in the middle. This is mechanical. I can fix it in a half-hour."

And he did. And the client called the next day to praise us to the skies.

When your writing client complains, write down the specifics. When the client is vague, press them for specifics. Then take out exactly what they don't like and put in something else. Usually they'll tell you down to the word -- if you're paying attention.

Don't spend hours...

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Three Ways to Be More Creative

Uncategorized Sep 03, 2021

Number One: When you have an idea, write it down. Text it to yourself or use an app, whatever, but don't let it slip, because you won't remember it later. Start doing this and you'll build a personal library of original ideas, and you need that because creativity doesn't come on command.

Want my other two creativity ideas? Click through below to read this week's newsletter -- it's free! (But I hope you'll subscribe while you're there.) Here's the link: https://us6.campaign-archive.com/?u=0609fcd33c658d02090de606f&id=7f32d19320

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Humanize the Problem

Uncategorized Aug 24, 2021
 

Focus more on stories and feelings first, then move to the facts and numbers.

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Gunpowder and Sky

Uncategorized Aug 11, 2021
Listen to the words of the songs you love.
 
Lyrics are a diamond mine of original language, surprising comparisons, and dissonance. You don't have to go to ancient or classic literature to find something to make you a better writer. Just turn on the radio.
 
The link below is to Aimee Mann's "4th of July," which includes the line, "What a waste of gunpowder and sky." Wow.
 
You don't have to be a rock-and-roll snob to find good stuff, either. When I teach my expanded version of speechwriting, we spend time on "Abandoned Luncheonette" by Hall & Oates -- for examples of personification, parallelism, alliteration, consonance, imagery, allusion... all that, believe it or not, within 20 words.
 
Wanna write in a more interesting way? Listen to the lyrics.
 
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...Seems to be the Hardest Word

Uncategorized Aug 11, 2021

HOW TO SAY IT SO IT MATTERS. Writing an apology is an opportunity for a fresh start -- or a moment when you make matters worse. Bottom line? Be brief and don't equivocate. Here's a smart bit of advice at the NPR website on writing an effective apology. 

https://www.npr.org/2021/06/02/1002446748/youre-apologizing-all-wrong-heres-how-to-say-sorry-the-right-way 

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What Do You Do at the End?

#editing #pitching Aug 02, 2021
The conclusion of a speech or essay is no time to just keep talkin'.
 
Don't waste the opportunity. Instead, make use of this fact: readers and listeners most readily remember the last thing you say.
 
That's why you must always close with your "ask."
 
Not your personal story. Not your extended thank-yous. Not your introduction to the mixer later that night.
 
Make sure that the last thing you say is what you want them to do or remember.
 
No exceptions.
 
 
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Don't Take Advice from Randos.

Uncategorized Jul 20, 2021
From an email exchange with a writer friend:
 
If I tell you I don't like your outfit, it could be for one of two categories of reasons. Maybe I don't like the color. That's a matter of taste. You may like the color just fine, so who cares what I think? Call these subjective criticisms.
 
Or maybe I don't like your pants because one leg is shorter than the other. That's not how pants are made. That's a structural error. Call this objective criticism.
 
Few people are equipped to make objective criticism of writing. They just know what they like. That's not useful criticism. Take it seriously and you'll waste time and energy chasing a standard that changes with every new hot take you hear.
 
Your work won't improve. You'll get frustrated with writing as a discipline. That's why most people quit writing at all.
 
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Ask This First.

Uncategorized Jul 19, 2021
What do you want your readers or listeners to do when it's over?
 
*** Be able to put it in a single, short sentence.
 
*** Don't include the word "and."
 
Models: "I want them to vote for X... I want them to change the way they do Y... I want them to stop doing Z...."
 
You'll make more choices that push toward the goal, and you'll more easily set aside things that are superfluous or distracting.
 
Every document has a goal. Before you write, figure out what yours is, then write it down in plain language. It'll save you lots of time and trouble!
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Feeling More Than Thinking

Uncategorized Jul 16, 2021

In my weekly essay out today, I explain three ways to build emotion, starting with eight techniques for getting people's attention right away. Read it here.

If you enjoy my writing tips on social media, you might also enjoy my weekly deep dive, delivered every Friday -- free! Now in its 12th year. Click here to subscribe.

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