If you read enough of the writers that are considered to be the greats, you’ll quickly realized that the rules, as far as grammar goes, are made to be, well, ignored. Writers such as Hemingway and Twain took certain liberties, but they also knew good writing was no accident. Below are some quotes from well-known authors speaking about what they considered to be the rules of good writing.
“Very” is a word that is often used, but adds nothing to the meaning of the message. “Very sad” is more sad than “sad,” but everybody’s baseline is different. If the question is how sad are you, very sad isn’t any closer to providing an answer. My friend Ben Roy, formerly a newspaper reporter and currently a teacher, strictly forbid the use of the word. He was so adamant about it that I was convinced it was a mistake worth avoiding.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”–Mark Twain
“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”–John Keating
Do you like being lectured? How about being pitched something over the phone? What about a conversation with a trusted, good friend that you can readily relate to and who has something really interesting to say? That last one sounds like the desirable option, of course. That’s how you should approach writing. Engage the audience. We get–but maybe can’t define in a few words–what engaging is, but how do we go about it when it comes to our content? Without any trickery I’m going to tell you just that.
If you work in media, odds are you have copies of The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook. Born for print, that is what these two guides do best. Digital media is, however, a whole new world. On that note, The Yahoo! Style Guide is the self-proclaimed “ultimate sourcebook for writing, editing, and creating content for the digital world.” I’ve had a copy for about four years. I actually bought two and dropped the second off with the web department of the media company I worked for at the time. The book may not be the ultimate, as in end-all-be-all, but after spending an hour or so flipping through it, I realized it was a resource that the editorial and web departments could use to get on the proverbial same page.
Saying the cover of a magazine is the single most important page isn’t exactly the most profound statement to be made about media. And yet many magazine architects seem to ignore the fundamentals of cover crafting. Making matters worse, covers, especially cover lines, are often the last thing checked off the list, whipped up as a drop dead deadline looms. Even if you only have the afternoon to write all of your cover lines, get them placed around an image and get everyone aligned, you need to know and and respect the fundamentals of magazine cover design. So, what are the fundamentals? Glad you asked. Here’s a crash course.
There are three essential elements or parts to a magazine cover: the logo, all those cover lines and the main image. They each have subparts, but these are the three main elements. They are each absolutely critical to selling issues, but in order of importance they rank logo, cover lines and, most essential, image.
How is a 3-year-old child smarter than a CEO? The 3-year-old drives towards root cause. I’ll explain. If there was ever a worthwhile obsession to have, an obsession with root cause is it. Think about that stereotypical 3-year-old and that word he or she keeps asking—why? Every answer is followed by another why? The child is in no rush and just keeps asking why. The child’s focus is on learning–gathering information. Imagine an executive from a major automaker talking with his or her own child about a big problem he or she faced during the day. It might go radically different than a conversation about the same subject with the company’s CEO and with far better and productive results.
We are, as I’m very sure you’re well aware, in a digital age. Just about every one of us receives media digitally and does so everyday. For those of us on the content creation side, this has changed the paradigm for how media needs to be put together.
Not that long ago, the main reason people used media was to be informed. Newspapers and the evening news ruled the media landscape. If we identified three key components or goals of content as informing, inspiring and entertaining, informing would have been ranked number one with the other two battling for a very distant second.
Digital media has changed this for a variety of reasons. One significant reason is we now have access to an amazing amount of media. It’s not almost overwhelming, it is overwhelming. If you want to compete, you simply have to be entertaining. Short attention spans are getting shorter and they are getting that much harder to grab in the first place.
Notice the key components are the same. Content, for the most part, still needs to be informative. Only the order has changed. When it comes to consumer media that works the focus is: entertain, inspire and inform–in that order.
Imagine, if you will, a racecar driver (a man in our fictitious scenario) taking high-speed turns, side by side with his competition, with his attention fixated on the tires, head half out the window, looking for wobbles, feeling for vibrations, listening for odd noises; then focused on the engine via the gauges and any interruptions in the normal growl of the power plant; and then shifting his focus to the transmission, feeling and listening. Over and over, this racecar driver is focused on all the details, every aspect of the overall machine—all but the road ahead and the course they, as a team, are taking.
If the racecar driver tries to manage and control every detail, he will lose focus on what the man behind the wheel is paid to be focused on and will likely finish somewhere other than first and will just as likely crash.
As a manager, you manage a team. Your team is just like the components of the racecar and, if you’re a little slow on the uptake, you’re the driver. And, the message I’m driving at is don’t micromanage. You don’t need to turn a blind eye, but do your job and let others do the same.
Back to our imaginary driver for a second. Racecar drivers often react to errant vibrations and take corrective actions, but they don’t wait for vibrations. They don’t anticipate failure. They do just the opposite. They expect the different components to perform. If you don’t trust your tires, you have the wrong tires for the race. In the real world, if you honestly believe a person has to be micro managed, you have the wrong person for the job.