Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to write out loud.

       One of the hardest things I have to do in both my fashion marketing and advertising classes is getting some students to write the way they talk.

       They're absolutely fabulous in class discussions, with opinions on everything, comments on everyone, and colorful language punctuated with metaphors. Ask them to write an ad or critique, and it's a whole other story.

       I understand. By the time they get to college, students have read and seen thousands of ads and commercials, and written a dozen papers. That's the problem. They know what these are supposed to look and read like, and they try to copy those styles.

       I'm asking them to write conversationally, the way they think and speak. Advertising and persuasion are often best when they are (to use an old term) person-to-person. One to one, me to you. Friend to friend, mother to kid, boyfriend to girlfriend.

       The difficulty is partly tone of voice, partly what you say, partly how you say it. I think we're good at the extremes ---- the way we were told to do term papers and how we text. I'm asking for something in the middle: clear, honest, spare language without the flowers or the thorns.

      It's curious how simply we can say "I love you", and how complicated our language can get when we want to describe our target market as flirty women 24-35 who want to look professional without looking dull or predictable.

     Here are some suggestions for writing more conversationally.

     1. Read good stuff. I recommend the "Talk of the Town" section in the New Yorker. To me, it's the most reliable source of contemporary writing every week. Go to the library, find it, read it. For online writing, I like The Daily Beast.

     2. Don't be so hard on yourself. Edit after you write, not before or during. Let the ideas come out, the words flow. Then come back tomorrow and cut and chop and season.

     3. Trust your voice. When you've chosen the voice you want, stick with it. That way, you can be trusted and your reader will stick with you.

    4.  Don't worry about length. At least not up front, if you've got something worth reading. If the problem is that it's not compelling, go back and fix it.

    5. It's better to be clear than cute. Trying too hard to be different can obscure what you're trying to say.

    6. What you say is more important than how you say it. Period. As the comedian says, underneath all that phony tinsel there better be real tinsel.

    Try it. Writing like you talk will soon become second nature to you. Just listen to it in your head as you write. Soon you'll want to talk the way you write.

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