Updated: Sep 12, 2020
What secrets do I spill? What ugly deeds do I reveal? Just a few, and somehow I bring the story back to you.
CONFESSION 1: I think Grammar Is Boring
I’m clueless about grammar terms like adjective clause, antecedent, dangling modifier or interrogative pronoun which sounds nasty. When I read what they mean it goes over my head and “Frankly my dear; I don’t give a damn.” What’s important to me is being able to wield the mechanics of language to tell a rollicking good story.
What else? I use too many commas, and sometimes I write overly long sentences even though I’m always spanking others (metaphorically speaking) when they do it. No, I don’t write 60 to 100-word sentences, so please don’t think that’s okay.
While I’m a native English speaker, I occasionally mispronounce words. There are also words I can never pronounce correctly. If I say a word wrong, people act like the world has gone wonky, like the axle has fallen off the wheel and we’re all careening into a ditch with the headline: ‘Writer Derails Language.’ Either the person looks at me like I’ve committed a heinous crime or the mockery starts. “You call yourself a wordsmith!?
Because I want you to enjoy reading my stuff, I pay attention to the Microsoft grammar tool and I also use Grammarly. If I could afford it, I’d hire an editor too.
TIP: Grammar aids good storytelling so dig it, even if it is boring. And if you’re an esteemed industry expert whose views are sought out via white papers and editorials, yet you struggle with writing, it’s worth hiring a professional editor or writer to help you deliver polished messaging that makes you look good.
CONFESSION 2: I’m A Writer That Detests Crossword Puzzles
Crossword puzzles: Never do them. People try to get me to participate. I’d rather eat a live cockroach than solve a crossword puzzle, that’s how much I hate them. (Okay, I’m kidding about eating a cockroach). ‘Words with Friends’, is not my thing either. However, give me a book to read preferably fiction, and I’m happy.
Apparently, solving crosswords on a regular basis improves memory and brain function. So does reading a book. The difference is that when you read a book, words spring to life because you get to see how they’re used in the context of stories. Unlike crossword puzzles, when you read a book, even a fictional one, it’s filled with interesting facts and characters that come with unique perspectives on life. Reading books helps increase my understanding of the world and deepens my insight into the human condition. Doing a crossword puzzle doesn’t come with these benefits.
Both crossword puzzles and books help increase your vocabulary. However, reading books does more. While you’re having fun reading a story, your brain is working in the background constantly picking up new Intel about the rules of grammar and fine-tuning and improving upon this knowledge.
That’s why a sentence sometimes doesn’t look right. You might not know the technical term for the grammatical mistake you’ve made, but you know how to fix it. And that’s what counts.
Maybe you’re the type of person that likes reading books and doing crossword puzzles. More power to you. Just know this, I’m a storyteller not because I did crossword puzzles over the years but because I read a mountain of fiction.
TIP: If you want to improve your business writing skills, read a lot, read everything. From works of fact or fiction, journals, newspapers, technical manuals, blogs, to trashy magazines, road signs, billboards, adverts, car bumper stickers and neon signs on city buildings.
CONFESSION 3: Most Interesting Assignment – A David & Goliath Story
I was hired to use “some sort of” public relations voodoo to make a powerful company comply with the fair and legal demands of a defenceless sole trader. The sole trader, a marketing and management consultant, had initially hired lawyers but soon realised he couldn’t afford the legal costs of a court case he was told would run for years.
We had lunch at Yam Cha in North Sydney, and he told me his problem. In 48 hours, I came up with a written strategy and tactics that I labelled, Wave One, Wave Two and Wave Three. From first to third Wave, I devised a series of actions and messaging strategies. I thought it might take a month to get the opposing party to comply and I also thought we would have to use all of the Waves.
However, within 24 hours of the first Wave being implemented, the UK-based company acquiesced to all the demands of the Aussie Battler. My client no longer needed the services of expensive lawyers.
This all happened of course before the era of social media.
The sad part of this successful assignment is that I didn’t charge the consultant enough for my savvy, problem solving skills. I was so dirt-cheap it’s too embarrassing to tell you what I invoiced him. It made me realise my value was much higher.
After that assignment, I started charging a lot more for my creative ideas.
TIP: You’re probably underestimating your value. Or you’ve failed to articulate your value. Know your value and help your customers or prospective customers understand that value. It’s why we struggle to write Unique Value Proposition (UVP) statements that convince decision-makers of our worth or the worth of our company’s products and services.
CONFESSION 4: Most Awful Assignment – Epic Fail Yet I Prevailed
After working 12 to 14 hours, seven days a week on a month-long project churning out thousands of words, I finished the assignment finding out that not one word I had written would be used.
Additionally one week before, two senior executives pulled me aside and told me I was doing a terrible job. One of them also pointed at something I had written and said, “See this sentence you wrote, Edith? It’s just blah.”
The whole project was a complete and utter disaster.
I remember the final night; it was about 11 pm when I left the office feeling wrecked because I had also caught a cold. I had a 10-minute walk to the hotel that felt endless and lonesome, while my laptop in its satchel seemed to weigh a tonne. In the hotel room, sleep eluded me.
Early the next morning I caught a plane to Sydney boiling with rage. However, within a few days I had calmed down, though it took many months to really get over the negative experience. What sustained me were Natalie Goldberg’s words from ‘Writing Down The Bones’, “If they knock you down, you get up. If they knock you down again, get up. No matter how many times they knock you down, get up again. That is how you should go. If you want to write, write. It is a constant test of perseverance.”
What I learnt from this experience is that I’m resilient and that I really am a storyteller because I wasn’t defeated by the complete rejection of my work. Other people’s lack of confidence in me, didn’t affect my belief in myself.
TIP: Sometimes the worst experiences in life and business show us how strong we are and help us grow. Also, people’s criticisms can seem harsh but it’s their point of view, they’re entitled to it, right or wrong. You can agree and work to improve, or you can ignore the criticism and move forward.
CONFESSION 5: Most Fun Assignment – Cars Are Us
Cars might be you, but I don’t have a driver’s license or own a car. However, I was one of 10 freelancers hired to write for a leading car manufacturer’s consumer website. I wrote quite a bit of copy for two of their models across more than ten sections of their public site. I had to write authoritatively about engine capacity, car performance, car design, interiors, boot space, storage capacity, car safety and more.
The nominated creative agency provided me with factory specifications and buyer demographics to help me create compelling copy; I had to imagine what it would be like to be an owner of one of these vehicles.
To successfully write about things you know nothing about or have never experienced yourself requires you to be curious and imaginative. Empathy is also a big part of persuasive copywriting because you have to put yourself in the shoes of your buyer and imagine how they feel when they purchase a product like a car. Being a car owner is not just about getting from Point A to Point B. For some people, it’s about the sense of freedom they feel when they get on the open road or the feeling of pride and prestige when they buy their first high-end vehicle.
While I’m not a fan of cars in that I don’t attend races or car shows, I read the factory specifications and buyer data with great interest. I had signed a confidentiality agreement, but I couldn’t believe I had been given access to this iconic car manufacturer’s factory specs. It was a fun assignment, and I learned a lot about cars and the brainwork and ingenuity that go into making them.
TIP: When they say you should only write about things you know, that’s rubbish. You can write about topics you’re unfamiliar with; however, it requires you to be curious and willing to explore new terrain. Writing about unfamiliar topics also means you have to do your research and read a lot of stuff. Preparation is key before you can write with any measure of competence. This is why I get upset if I see bid teams spending minimal time researching, reading and writing sales proposal responses.
When writing about how your technology products or services benefit customers, you need to be able to empathise with their pain points, problems, and business objectives. Yet frequently, in B2B IT, I see a lack of empathy for the customer, let alone mapping our technology services to their business needs.
Confession has another meaning beyond the admission of wrongdoing. It can also be a statement setting out your faith in a particular religion.
This is what customer success stories are supposed to do, reveal how our customers have faith in our capabilities. Yet most don’t sound like true confessions of devotion but come across as fake and fluffy.
To confess is to lay your soul bare; to come clean about who you are. It might seem dangerous in a world of fake news and bland marketing guff. But if you truly want to connect with your audience, get them to trust you and have them become loyal fans, get good at confessing.
Got a confession to tell? A true story where you triumphed over tribulation? I’m all ears.