“The Lord gave man these fifteen … these, ten, ten commandments.” If you’re a fan of old Mel Brooks movies, you’ll know that this line came from his classic comedy, History of the World, Part II. But within it lies a certain insight for those who write copy for a living, and those who read and approve it — namely that words are a stationary target — unlike numbers, which can change meaning and direction at the whim of a talented CFO. So it’s easy to understand why they are so easy to attack — from anyone, anywhere and at any time. But take heart. They’re only words.
Remember, you can always do something about what you do. Words are stationary, but the imagination of the writer is always in motion.
- Expect changes to come from up above (and below). I was once told, “The most powerful urge known to man is the compulsion to revise another man’s copy.” A writer has to be prepared for — and ready to adapt to — multiple participants in the editing process. When writers do this well, the results are seamless and unnoticeable to the reader. When they don’t, copy and context fall like the Tower of Babel.
- Everything is contingent on something else. Routinely, writers will be asked to produce something along the lines of, “give me a couple of paragraphs on innovation here.” In my view, the real innovation begins right then and there. Still, everything we write is contingent on something else, i.e., client input, other websites, phone interviews, email chains, etc., so even if much of what you write begins like fiction, it must come back to the facts at some point — even when the facts aren’t necessarily what your clients want to “point out.”
- Play fair even when the game is not. This is a reminder to me as much as it is a message to the readers of this submission. When a client (internal or external) does not fully comprehend what they want or need to say, there is always a struggle when the words hit paper for the first time. My apologies for not “getting it.” Remember, writers are easy to throw “under the bus” because we’re always the ones holding on to the words. If you are any good at all, I guarantee that this will happen to you. Take the high road at all costs, even it if it costs you. But don’t give yourself away. You’ll live to write another day. (Sorry about the alliteration, I couldn’t help myself.)
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.
Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.
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