Write Less. {Really!}

Easy HardThe most important thing I learned at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop was how to write less and tell a better story.

I was an aspiring short story writer. Adam Sexton was a published author and a brilliant teacher. Each week he would review my drafts and, sentence by sentence, strip away every extraneous word.

I’m not going to lie – it was gut wrenching to read his critiques. But I fell in love with the spare, sensual voice that emerged from the space he helped me create. Each image was more evocative, each sentence more powerful.

The lessons Adam taught me twenty-some years ago are just as important today. Especially when it comes to business writing.

“No one reads,” I tell students in my PR Writing Workshop at FIT. “So keep it short and sweet or your message will never get through.”

Every writer knows this is easier said than done. It’s a never-ending challenge to write clear, compelling and compassionate content, using only the most essential words – and not sound like anyone else. Especially when you love words as much as I do.

My report cards from Paoli Pike Elementary School document my penchant for talking too much in class. Friends, family and colleagues will tell you I haven’t changed one bit. Words are my passion – whether I’m telling a story or writing one.

But I digress.

The point is, telling your brand story effectively is about choosing the right words – and using as few of them as possible. There are tons of tips on how to do this, but here are my three current favorites:

It’s not about you. It pains me to say it, but business writing is not about the writer – it’s about the reader. Yes, it’s your vintage jewelry line, your family counseling practice, your financial services team. But your audience needs to hear what you’re saying in order to buy what you’re selling. Before you write a word, put yourself in their shoes.

Keep it real. I don’t mean keep it conversational. As Richard Linklater, director of the movie “Boyhood” said in a recent Rolling Stone interview, “It’s always an insult when people think we improvised. Real talk would be horrible.” What I do mean is use language that’s authentic – less jargon and clichés, more straightforward simplicity. {Ann Handley has some great advice about this in her book, “Everyone Writes.”}

Banish useless words. This Writer’s Circle Facebook post identifies “useless words to erase forever” to improve our writing. It really got me thinking about how I really overuse words like “really.” And “very.” And who knows how many others.

So the girl who still talks too much is turning over a new leaf. Each month I’m going to pick a word to erase from my written vocabulary.

Really!

I think I’ll start with that one.

What’s the Magic Word?

word rocksI’m not sure where I first stumbled across the idea of choosing a word to guide the year. But as the calendar turned to January, I found myself doing it again – this time with surprising focus and dedication.

Why bother, you ask?

My friend Stacey says choosing a word reminds us “to live with intention and purpose.” I second that. Last year my word was “MOVE,” and boy, did I ever! From hiring a personal trainer to rebranding my business, it was a year of perpetual forward motion. For 2015, my word is ”EASE.” And since I could use a bit of a breather, I’m hoping lightening strikes twice.

Are you kidding, you ask? Do you really think a single word can have that much power?

Are you kidding? I’m a writer – of course it can!

Think about how powerful words are. They can make us look witty, sincere, capable, or trustworthy. They also make us sound foolish, cynical, shallow, and dull. Words can make us fall in love and shudder with fear. They can bore us to tears and keep us up half the night

If words can do all that, then a single word can certainly help us stay focused as we move through our day to day. My word grounds me in the story of my life. It shows me what I need – whether I like it or not. And as I (happily!) address the concerns of clients and offer support to friends and family, it gently reminds me to keep my personal intentions front and center.

Ali Edwards, creator of One Little Word®, says her words “have each become a part of my life in one way or another. They’ve helped me to breathe deeper, to see clearer, and to grow.”

What if one word had the power to help your business grow? To enable you to see your product or service with greater clarity and motivate you to not lose sight of your goals and objectives. Just thinking about it makes my heart beat a little faster.

Is there one word that defines your work? Your product? The unique gifts you offer to the world?

What’s that magic word?

The HeART of Blogging

Donna Gould Open Heart Creative 2As chief storyteller for Open Heart Creative, I just assumed I’d host a blog.

After all, blogging has its roots in storytelling. And a good blog post is a lot like a good short story: it’s entertaining and thought provoking and fairly economical in getting to the point.

Right?

Well, maybe not.

During a recent conversation about marketing with a colleague who is launching her own business, we chatted about her website. I said of course she’ll write a blog because it makes perfect sense given her personality and what she does for a living.

“Ugh!” she said so emphatically she nearly spilled her cup of tea. “Writing blog posts at my old job was the thing I hated most about marketing!” I asked why, and she mentioned things like impossibly long word counts, repetitious content, and the painstaking attention to keywords. “I know it’s important for SEO, but it’s so boring and such hard work,” she concluded.

“Boring” and “hard work” are two things that do not come to mind when I think about blogging.

The personal blog I started in 2009 was one long celebration of things that amazed, surprised and delighted me. I’ve followed many a blog – of the personal and business variety – that are interesting and informative and often inspiring. So how could something so enjoyable lose its raison d’être? Has the “business” of blogging been reduced to just another dreaded task on the To Do list?

I’m not naïve. I’m a card-carrying marketing professional and it’s my job to understand what a successful blog can do for business development. But I’m also a writer, and a voracious reader. I can’t help but feel disillusioned each time the corporate world commandeers a social media platform to help sell more toilet paper.

Blogs were not created to sell toilet paper. As I recall, back in the late 90s and early 2000s, they became popular as vehicles for sharing information. Trolling Google in search of confirmation, I found multiple definitions of the word “blog” that all boiled down to this:

A blog is basically an online journal.

In its Introduction to Blogging, WordPress, the self-described “largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world,” notes, “A blog features diary-type commentary and links to articles on other websites.” (Nowhere is there any mention of improving SEO.)

I don’t know about you, but for me the words “journal” and “diary” conjure images of swirling ideas and deep reflection. They are vessels where the seeds of invention, imagination and inspiration are planted – and nurtured. Spaces where hope springs eternal and dreams take flight.

So at its heART, then, a blog is a tech tool that enables us to share our thoughts and opinions – maybe even our hopes and dreams – with others who might find them meaningful, useful, or inspiring. If this results in more toilet paper sales, so be it. But that’s not the raison d’être.

Of course you’ll be smart about growing your blog. You’ll set goals and be clear about your core business strategy. And like it or not, you’ll keep a list of your top 10 or 12 keywords handy to satisfy those pesky but essential search engines.

But if your content isn’t compelling, if what you’re sharing doesn’t resonate with readers or offer them anything of value, if you don’t love what you’re writing about – then they’re not going to care about you, your website, or your business.

At the end of its list of blogging tips for newbies, WordPress offers these words of advice: “Have fun blogging and remember, there are no rules to what you post on your blog!”

Let this to be the raison d’être for my blog.