Applied Poetics

Brand, culture, design, voice–Applied Poetics is about finding clarity and meaning in our organizations.

My writing philosophy, in brief

Over the past few months I’ve been working closely with one of our clients to help them define their written brand voice and further develop their team’s writing skills. The work has been rewarding. They’re smart people who care deeply about the communities they serve. Having a clearer, more consistent voice helps them carry their message further.

Throughout multiple writing workshops I’ve shared guidelines and checklists and example after example. Including all of my favorite advice collected from learning to write as a journalist and then for the past 15 years writing and developing written brand voice for organizations.

But if I had to sum up my writing philosophy in three simple statements, it would sound something like this:

1. Make it direct.

This isn’t a broadcast, it’s a conversation. Only one person at a time is reading—it’s just you and me. So stop writing and start talking.

One of my favorite books on writing, Can I Change Your Mind? by Lindsay Camp is structured around a simple writing mantra: “Remember the reader and the result.” There’s a lot of wisdom wrapped in that phrase.

As a writer, you have to show you understand the world going on around the conversation you and the reader are having. Why did they take the time to read this piece? What are they hoping to get from it? And what’s standing between what they want and what you want? You have to clear the path and create a connection.

All writing is persuasive—whether you’re selling a product or your ideas. Be direct: Give the reader what they want. Ask for what you want.

2. Make it real.

Why does writing on the page have to sound so different from an honest conversation you would have in person with a trusted friend?

Real speech can be sloppy. Not every sentence is complete. Sentences rarely sound the same one to the next. After all, grammar is just a tool. You can break rules when it helps the reader and they know you’re doing it on purpose. Your 5th grade English teacher might not approve, but your reader doesn’t care.

If you match spoken speech to the written word, the reader will stop reading and start listening.

The key to unlocking voice often comes down to writing’s most basic structure: the sentence. Keep them simple. Make them short. But not all of them—contrast creates interest and variety gives sentences vitality. And always pay special attention to the first or last word because that’s the one readers will most likely remember.

3. Make it brief.

Writers, be honest. You know you wouldn’t read every word of that marketing brochure either. So why not save everyone some time. Spend your energy on simplicity—be brief and make every word count.

When you show the reader you respect their time, they’ll be more willing to take the next step, whether that’s “contacting us,” “buying now,” or “learning more,” which was probably the reason you were writing to them in the first place.

For me there’s nothing stronger than a bold idea in a simple sentence. Consider Hemingway’s advice when he was asked how to start anything: “Write the truest sentence you know.”

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One response to “My writing philosophy, in brief

  1. Scott Evans April 16, 2012 at ::

    Nice post, Jonathan. Short, simple and to the point—that being your point!

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