10/26 tips for better writing

I recently finished reading John Simmons’ excellent book, Twenty-six Ways of Looking at a Blackberry: How to let writing release the creativity of your brand. Taking a wide range of writing styles and approaches from common techniques to the unexpected (Shakespearean sonnet? Song lyrics? Detective fiction? Greek myth?), John rewrites the same base text 26 times to explores the infinite and imaginative ways we can bring a piece of dull business writing to life.

It’s inspiring stuff and had me scribbling like mad in the margins. I’d thoroughly recommend it, whether you’re just starting out or have writing for the last 20 years. Here are micro summaries of my 10 favourite chapters (but you really should get yourself a copy and read it all).

    1. Fairy tale: What is the brand essence? In re-imagining a piece of writing as a fairy tale, we can discover a simple truth about a brand – a truth that will shine more brightly approached in this way than written in management jargon. Stories help us understand the emotions that are embedded in a brand and make people care about it more.
    2. Style of Dickens: Repeating words and using metaphors can bring a real energy to your writing, highlighting the key themes. If you have an important message, focus on it single-mindedly and interrogate it from different angles. And don’t be afraid to choose less common words that might surprise your reader – it’ll keep your writing fresh.
    3. Six-word stories: Ernest Hemingway said his best story was six words long: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The emotional effect is powerful because the reader quickly fills in the unwritten details of the story. We should all give our readers more credit and trust their imaginations. Plus, a limited number of words increases the possibility of a line being remembered.
    4. No ‘e’: Being forced to choose words without the letter ‘e’ in makes us think harder about the words we use. Although there are hundreds of thousands of words available to us, most people use only a couple of thousand in a week. The ‘e’-less constraint makes us consider alternative words, phrases and constructions – there’s always another way to write something.
    5. Song lyrics: Joni Mitchell said she always started her songwriting with the music, because she liked “harder puzzles” – creating rhythms that lead to more unusual combinations of words and adventurous language. Writing to music can also bring about an intriguing change of mood.
    6. Graphic novel: The graphic novel format highlights the importance of sequence in storytelling. It’s also a sparser style, featuring only the essential elements needed to tell the story and leaving a lot to the reader’s imagination. Many of the elements we’d include if we were just writing the story are left out – forcing us to ask, is it really necessary?
    7. Written for an eight-year-old on a Blackberry®: Put yourself into the mind of a young person to pull yourself away from your usual perspective and see the world through the eyes of someone very different. Also, writing on a micro keyboard will force you to reduce the message to its essentials. Simple language can have an incredible emotional power.
    8. Detective fiction: Writing like Raymond Chandler’s is characterised by rhythmic, short, sharp conversations with the threat of violence behind them. Most brands veer towards the bland and saccharine rather than allow any sharp edges or the risk of being misunderstood. Draw out potential drama and keep your personality distinct. “Surprise your girlfriend, take her sister to Paris.” –
    9. Democratic Party Speech: Great public speakers move people with their rhetorical rhythm. A key word or phrase is often repeated to trigger an emotive pull – change, belief, freedom… Powerful, compelling writing connects with the hopes and fears, beliefs and dreams of ordinary people.
    10. Haibun/ Haiku: Condensing your writing into a few words will help capture the essence of thought. The haiku form leads to a more visual, metaphorical form of language – helping us say more in fewer words, and more vividly. Metaphors can help spark a deeper understanding, persuasive with their emotion.

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