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Shakespeare As Editor…

This article is from Visual Thesaurus, one of my favorite websites, (although to get the full impact, it’s not free, which is a bummer).

 

Shakespeare’s Five Best Copywriting Tips

Almost 400 years after the death of William Shakespeare, theaters still regularly perform his plays, children study his work in school and we are still moved by the complexity of his stories and the beauty of his language. But what’s less well known is that Shakespeare also provided superb advice for copywriters and corporate communicators. Here are five of his best tips:

1. On brevity

“Since brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”

“You cram these words into mine ears against the stomach of my sense.”

As a poet, Will understood the value of being succinct. And if this quality was important in 1595, just imagine how crucial it is today. Elizabethans didn’t have to deal with the telephone, television or the Internet. Servants did the cooking and household maintenance and there were no traffic jams when you commuted by horseback. In 2007, however, our society produces hundreds of thousands of words every day and yet we have less time to read than ever before. Will had to face the Plague, but we have to deal with the Blackberry. Take pity on your readers. Be brief.

2. On how difficult it is to find just the right word or phrase

“They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.”

In corporate- and copy-writing, it’s all too easy to slip into cliches and jargon. When everyone around you says things like “walk the talk” and uses words such as “right-sizing” you’ll start writing like that too. Fact is, we swim in a cesspool of boring, unimaginative language. It takes work — and commitment — to find the best words and turns of phrase. (Note: the best words are often the shortest, most concrete ones.)

3. On the importance of reading

“My library was dukedom large enough.”

Like all great scribes, Will understood that to write well, you have to read well. This means reading more than your professional journal and daily newspaper. Read fiction; it will inspire you. Read outside your field of employment to gain breadth. Read essays and other forms of persuasive writing. While Will kept up with Christopher Marlowe, you may prefer Christopher Buckley. But read. It is a lifelong apprenticeship in the craft of writing.

4. On interviewing clients or co-workers for brochures or employee publications

“Have more than thou showest; speak less than thou knowest.” “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”

Much writing depends on interviewing. Through interviews you collect the stories, anecdotes and metaphors that help your writing come to life. But too often writers try to put words in their subject’s mouths. They go into the interview with preconceived notions and ask boring, ho-hum questions. Savvy writers, on the other hand, ask pithy questions — designed to extract anecdotes and feelings from their subjects — and then keep quiet. As a student of human nature, Will knew what our mothers are always telling us: We have two ears and one mouth to remind us that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

5. On writing about what matters

“Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart.”

No effective communications plan in the history of humankind ever hinged on finding “just the right phrase.” True, a good plan or product may be helped by good words. Maybe even helped a lot. But words alone will not save a bad one. If you’re trying to communicate a company’s belief in safety, for example, exhorting employees to act safely is not enough. Instead, you need policies and procedures in place that constantly demonstrate the company’s commitment. Without this, you have what we today call a “disconnect.” But I think Will said it better: “I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart: but the saying is true ‘The empty vessel makes the greatest sound.'”

I really like #5 – write about what matters to you. No matter what cold prompt you’re served, make it your own, and you will find success in your writing. And remember, your writing is your voice.

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A Murder of Crows…

Okay, I admit. Birds freak me out a little bit. I can see their resemblance to ancient dinosaurs, lizard-y scaly creatures, all talons and beaks…and curiosity. And now a recent NPR (National Public Radio) on-line article confirms my fears: crows remember us. Don’t make them mad. I took the test to see if I could find the crow in the crowd, use my memory and visual skills, and alas, could not. I couldn’t get a job as a scarecrow. I looked for a rounder eye, fluffier feathers, a scratched or hooked beak, and still, the crows escaped my memory. If one mean raven can ruin Edgar Allan Poe’s night, surely a few surly crows can make me feel uncomfortable. I know birds are vital to our planet’s health and ecosystem. Heck, where do you think the phrase ‘canary in a coalmine’ comes from? They are watching out for earth, and it’s probably best not to personify them too much, if at all. But, fears are irrational. And I knew crows were smart — I just didn’t know they were smarter than I am.

To check out the NPR video, article, and test your knowledge of crows, click here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106826971

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Falling Down a Rabbit Hole Near You…

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

Let’s talk about some other things.

I read Alice in Wonderland when I was an adult, long after seeing the Disney animated version (though it was first released in 1951, I saw it years later). I don’t know that much about Lewis Caroll, admittedly, but I do know Alice  works as a dream, as a fantasy, a stream of consciousness. It’s crazy as a Mad Hatter, and as mysteriousas a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Before the new movie comes out, I highly recommend you read Carroll’s version of Alice, and some of his other writing. Judge for yourself whether or not a dream-like, nutty as a fruitcake story still holds up after all this time, and under Tim Burton’s masterful visionary film making (well, my opinion anyway).

Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, `I don’t think–‘

`Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.

http://www.literature.org/authors/carroll-lewis/alices-adventures-in-wonderland/

http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/walrus.html

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/alice/

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Traveling lightly…a little heavily.

So, yeah. My folks live in Texas, and I love them. I am going to visit them this summer. In fact, I should be packing right now. Making a list and checking it twice. I wonder if the more one is resistant to traveling the more one needs the vacation in the first place? I know it’ll be fun once I get there–it’s hot, sunny, with clear starry skies, crickets chirping, and so many fireflies, competing with the stars for attention. There’s yummy Tex-Mex food, which I cannot seem to find its equal in Washington state. My dad will make weak coffee, and my mom will provide good conversation. We talk about books a lot (we love to read). I have one living grandmother, and I’ll get to see her, although every time she sees me she says “you’re still beautiful” because I have a pretty face but have gotten a little chubby over the years. My cousins will be there, and I’ll get to catch up with aunts and uncles, too. So…if I can just keep myself from bringing a laptop, too many teacher-training books, too many To Do lists and mental baggage, it’ll be a good trip.

What is your definition of a good vacation? Do you have to leave your house?

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