Monday, December 18, 2006

We've Moved!

Celebrate integration by visiting my new blog and website combined!
This will be my last post at Blogger.

Find future witty insight from Write with Meaning at

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Writing Anxiety and the Pressure of Fame

A colleague of mine confided to me that she was awestruck by sheer mass of blog posts on the web, especially on some of the well-known sites. "I'll never catch up," she said, mournfully. I suspect a few of my dear readers are also a bit cowed when they surf around and see people who post brilliantly every day. Here's the thing, though: those guys do that for a living. I mean, that's a full-time job and they've become personalities through their blogging. Unless your goal is to become nationally renown, don't worry about trying to be like John Gruber, Seth Godin, or Bob Parsons. (No links this time--I want to decrease the anxiety!)

A new author who compares himself to Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code), for instance, is highly unlikely to get any words on the page. The bar is just set too damn high. Nobody ever writes well when they're pressuring themself for results. Luckily, you don't need to be famous in order to be successful.

If you are writing for your business, most likely you're doing it to demonstrate your credibility to potential customers. That's all you need to worry about. You're writing for a much smaller audience, which makes your job a lot easier. Also, your primary job, unlike the bigwig bloggers, is to do what you do best--acupuncture, real estate, coach, etc. Remember that, for you, writing is just a means to an end (ie getting more customers for what you actually love doing). You don't need to be a Writer or Blogger; just be yourself. Be a person who is passionate about your business and let the writing flow from there.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My Dad Was Right

My father has told me several times that he knows my true calling in life. He says he keeps it in a sealed envelope somewhere so he can pull it out and prove to me that he's known all along what I should do for a living. His cherished idea is that I will become a teacher.

I have to admit it dad may be on to something. I just co-taught my first class on business blogging, and I loved it! I wasn't the only one--several attendees raved about how much they enjoyed the information and the presentation.

My favorite part of the class was an exercise that I led to help people access their creativity. I told them to close their eyes and imagine their ideal customers. I spoke quietly for a minute about specific issues to consider about the customer, like clothing, hair, jobs, friends, homes, etc. Then I encouraged them to write in silence about this customer for five minutes.

What first amazed me was how willing everyone was to participate. Not only did they all close their eyes and sit in reverent silence, but they wrote furiously through the allotted time and I had to ask them to stop after several extra minutes had passed. When I asked for feedback about the exercise, I was further surprised by the answers. One woman called it "liberating," and several others spoke about how moved they were by their passion on the topic. A man said that he deeply appreciated the space held for the meditative moment, as well as the time given to them to write.

It was then that I realized the gifts I had really given my class of busy professionals--inspiration, motivation, and time to write. People were so grateful because I had given them something that they rarely gave themselves. I share this story because I want to remind all my readers that, in most of your lives, no one will make you sit down to write. If you want to be a better writer, you must create that space for yourself. Give yourself the gift of time to think and time to write. I promise you will receive a generous return on your investment.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Anybody Can Write

When I start coaching a client, I often hear some variation of "that's easy for you to do; you're a writer!" Listen here, folks. You are a writer, too. Maybe you're not as good at it as you'd like to be, but that doesn't mean you are incapable of doing it.

You know, I sing. No one would ever think of paying me to do it, but I can do it. And if singing were a crucial part of promoting my business, I would certainly do one of two things: hire a professional to sing for my business, or learn how to be a better singer.

If you passed the 9th grade, you have enough skill to write for your business. Really. All you need to do is refine that skill. And you start by practicing. Try some of these ideas:

Above all, just DO something. I promise it will get better if you just put a little effort into it. You will also discover the side-benefit of writing more--your thoughts will get clearer and you will be more relaxed. The paper or the computer is always willing to listen.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Don't Litter--Keep Trash Words Out of the Landfill

Which sentence below is easier to read?

A) Owing to the fact that passive voice is utilized in the sentences and they are either simultaneously or individually overly wordy and grammatically incorrect, it becomes exceedingly difficult to ascertain the authentic purpose of the prose.

B) It is hard to understand sentences that have lots of unnecessary words.

I think the answer is B. Don't you?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Top Five Pitfalls in Writing

*Bonus points if you can guess what movie I was thinking of when I titled this post.

1. Utilizing Jargon

Why is it dumb? Because your customers don't know what you're talking about. When you use words that are specific to your industry, sure, you sound knowledgeable, but you've just left in the dust the guy you were trying to impress. Customers don't stick around to soak in the feeling of stupidity; they just click away from your website and find a guy who speaks their language.

For more on this point, see my last post, You Talkin' To Me?; maybe you can educate me about why I'm supposed to understand annualized percentages, or bleed margins, for that matter.

2. Rambling On and On and On and On and On

Why is it dumb? Because customers aren't your friends. Your friends are patient and smile lovingly, or at least stay in the same room, as you go through the whole damn story. Your customers, however, want to understand your business in preferably ten seconds or less. In a great statistic that I just made up, you lose 25% of your readers for every five seconds they spend trying to weed through your rambling.

3. Having the Effect of Possibly Being Boring

Why is it dumb? Because a bored customer is a lost customer. I'm not saying you have to razzle-dazzle your website visitors, but I do believe they will only stay as long as they are still interested in what you have to say. Bore them with your stale and wordy prose, and they're outta there.

4. Pour Grammer

Why is it dumb? Because your customers are looking for a professional, not a 15-year-old on instant messenger. If you wouldn't wear your lazy clothes (eg sweatpants with holes and a Van Halen t-shirt) to meet your client, then don't send your lazy writing to greet them. Despite some evidence to the contrary (like the coffee stand sign outside my apartment that says, "Smoothie's, latte's, coffee's"), bad grammar is not professional.

People judge your intelligence based on your competence with writing. You want your customers to think you're smart, right? Then pay attention to your grammar.

5. Not Revising Revising

Why is it dumb? Because your customers don't know "what you really meant." Compare it to your process of getting ready in the morning. We know how to brush our hair, wash our faces, put on makeup, and shave, all without having to look in the mirror. But we look pretty much every morning, because we know we have to double-check that the toilet paper isn't hanging off our faces or that our lipstick is evenly distributed.

All of the pitfalls listed above can be caught if you take a little time to revise your writing. I review each of my blog posts at least twice, because I know that, despite my years of writing experience, I have as many brain farts, typos, and misspellings as the next guy. In fact, I had to correct a word in this paragraph just now (I spelled "brush" with a "c.") Do I know how to spell "brush"? Of course I do. But YOU don't know that about me unless I spell it right.

*That movie is High Fidelity.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

You Talkin' To Me?

Here's a cautionary tale for business writers. Check out this blog post from a mortgage broker's website:

Home prices increased at an annualized rate of 4.9% nationwide in the second quarter, down from a revised rate of 9.1% in the first quarter, according to the Conventional Mortgage Home Price Index released by Freddie Mac. The East South Central states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee recorded the biggest price increases, with an 8.3% annualized growth rate, Freddie Mac said.

When you read that--if you were able to get through it--did you think it was meant for you? Unless you're a mortgage broker or a real estate agent yourself, I'm guessing the answer is no. When I read anything like that, I immediately tune out. Why? Because they're not talking to me.

I'm a potential home buyer, so I would think that this mortgage broker would want my attention and hopefully my business. That post, however, puts me to sleep in the first six words: "Home rates increased at an annualized"...snkzzzzzzzz. It also makes me feel a bit stupid, because I think I'm supposed to understand what this mortgage broker is talking about, and I don't. I now think I'm not smart enough to do business with this person. So if I'm the potential customer here--and as a middle-class, college-educated person, I think I am--this person has just bored me AND insulted me. Somehow, I don't think that was his/her purpose in starting a blog.

The first thing you should think about when you're preparing to write, be it blog post, email, brochure, or website, is your audience. You need to focus your content and your tone (eg how you say what you're saying) on what will appeal to your customers, and not your investors, your colleagues, etc.

Here are the basic guidelines for appealing to your customer (applying these will take research in your target market):
When you don't consider what your customers want to know from your writing, you're risking a similar fate as this unfortunate mortgage broker. The only thing worse than invisibility is alienating your customers.

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