Why I Had No Choice But To Stop Idolizing Kerouac

It’s a hard thing to get older. You end up replacing some of that good, old-fashioned idealism with tough cynicism. As writers, some of our biggest influences die right before us. You realize that you can’t be them, and you can only barely be like them.

Keep the dream alive. But don’t forget you’re living in reality. That’s why I scaled back Kerouac’s influence on my writing.

I can’t be the only writer out there that considers Kerouac a genius. How old were you when you first read On the Road? The book is wildly appealing at any age. But if you read it as a teenager, there’s a romanticism that seems imitable.

But Kerouac was one of a kind. And it wasn’t just On the Road. Novels like Big SurThe Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans are all intense, lively and inspiring reads. They brim with youthful energy fueled by alcohol, sex and art.

Everyone wants to attain the raw energy of Kerouac’s writing, even in the world of professional writing. How do you get there? Stop trying to imitate him.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But flattery will get you nowhere with a dead author. It certainly won’t get you anywhere as a living writer. Trying to imitate someone like Kerouac is a dead-end for a writer. Especially a professional writer. His big, sweeping sentences are the exact kind that can lose your reader.

It’s sad when you finally give up imitation. But it also opens up a whole new world. It’s a scary world. We want to imitate successful writers to use them as a standard for our own writing. When you give up those influences and write from your heart, you’re likely to lose faith in your own unique voice.

Fortunately, that’s how writers get prolific in the first place. Remind yourself daily that none of your favorite writers imitated their favorite writers. Inspire yourself by discovering a style all your own and hone it to perfection.

Sexy Ways to Seduce Your Audience

Slip into something comfortable. Preferably something velour. Lay back on this leopard skin couch. Relax. Notice the subtle aroma of incense wafting about you.

How was your day? I prepared a nice candlelit dinner. Can you hear the booming baritone of the incomparable Barry White? It’s drifting into the room at dulcet volumes. The lights are dim and your eyes adjust. Go ahead. Grab one of the chocolate caramels on the coffee table in front of you. Feel it dance upon your taste buds.

If you aren’t feeling a slight hint of surreal sensuality, I haven’t done my job correctly. Everyone knows sex sells. But are we losing our understanding of that concept?

That depends on your definition of ‘sexy’.

Today, big brands like GoDaddy (woof) use blatant sexual imagery to sell. But sex sells itself. If that’s your strategy for seducing your audience, you better start over. Consider this: researchers at Iowa State University found that “viewers of programs with sexually explicit or violent content were less likely to remember commercials immediately after watching and even 24 hours later.”

As a writer, you should already have a grasp for why this is. Favoring your primary message is the best way to keep your reader on task. You want the reader to be turned on by your product. To accomplish this, seducing your audience takes place in undertones. It requires subtlety. Here are a few ways to get it done.

Consider alliteration an alluring aloe. Overusing alliteration translates to cheesy copy. Used sparingly, alliteration creates enticing, compelling moments of copy that add a layer of sexiness to your content.

Play with your diction. Everyone has words they consider emotional triggers. Want to sex up your copy? Use loaded words. A word like ‘succulent’ can evoke a strong response. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Succulent. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Massage some tight words. I’m consistently saying that strong copy is highly understandable. You wouldn’t speak in Shakespearian dialogue to a modern audience, for instance. But a colorful word every now and again can add some flair to your copy, even if it’s a bit more high-brow. Provide substantial context clues. And have a clear understanding of your audience before you head down this path.

Take us to another world. There’s no better way to seduce your audience than to get sensual. Use sensual stimuli to take your readers out of their desk chairs and transport them to another world. You can accomplish this by describing how things smell, taste, feel, sound and look.

5 Lessons Professional Writers Can Learn from Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick is a timeless classic published way back in 1851. It’s perhaps the most enduring work of American literature.

One thing’s for sure: writing was a lot different back then. Perhaps an attempt at ‘life imitating art’, the book itself is a beast of white whale stature.

The camera catches Mr. Dick off-guard. Picture circa 1851.

Moby-Dick is still read for a reason. And there’s plenty that writers can learn from the masterpiece. Assuming the right interpretation, of course. Having just finished it, I will now debase its literary prowess by relating it in terms of the lowlier professional craft of writing. Check out 5 lessons that professional writers can learn from Moby-Dick.

1. Easy on the adverbs. If there’s one thing Melville isn’t bashful about it’s his use of adverbs. Today’s writer should use adverbs sparingly. When overused, they tend to slow down the reading process. This is especially true for ‘-ly’ adverbs. Flowery language found a niche in the writings of Melville’s era. But there are better, more succinct ways for today’s writer to create a clear depiction.

2. Vivid description sets you apart. When Melville isn’t using his adverbs, he’s launching into long bouts of vivid description. In fact, he sets aside entire chapters for description. The length won’t appeal to the contemporary reader. But the sheer vividness and enthusiasm of them compels. You can learn a lot about painting a lifelike picture from Melville.

3. Obsession can be bad. Actually, this one is kind of the moral of the entire story. Ahab’s obsession with the white whale brings about his doom. What’s your white whale? If you obsess over perfect writing, you’ll never finish a piece. Revision is necessary up until a point. But obsessing over that revision can lead to hours of useless changes and edits.

4. Submerge the ‘I’. I’ve written a bit about this before. Taking the ‘I’ out of your writing helps establish more credibility. Of course, Moby-Dick starts out with the famous line “Call me Ishmael.” But as the story rolls along, you get more and more detail about the events occurring around Ishmael, rather than those happening to him.

5. Have no fear. Seriously, you’re afraid to say, write or publish something? These guys manned tiny little boats and watched agitated whales swim from the depths to attack them! And sharks! Christ. What I’m saying is the only way to make a splash is to jump right in. Don’t be afraid to try something new in your writing.

7 Writing Techniques to Engage Your Audience More Directly

Are you communicating with your audience or just talking at them?

This is an important question that marketers should ask themselves daily. You know you and your business aren’t the center of the universe. But you have to tell yourself that every day if you want to communicate effectively.

Direct communication is necessary, even if your audience consist of yellow sexless freaks.

As in life, taking someone else’s perspective is difficult. But it’s absolutely critical for your marketing. Gathering information on your audience is the first step. The second is to gain the insights you need to take action. Put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Below, you’ll find 7 writing techniques to help you engage your audience more directly.

1. Write the first draft of your copy from the buyer’s perspective. This is a great exercise from which the remaining tips on this list should follow naturally. Pretend you’re the buyer for a second. It’ll help take you out of your own shoes and write from a less self-centered perspective. Now, write your copy from that perspective. You can deconstruct and reconstruct that copy to make sense for your purposes, but you’ll gain the benefit of the other perspective.

2. It doesn’t get more direct than ‘you.’ Amateur marketers love to start sentences with ‘we.’ But if you want to sell something, it isn’t about you. It’s about the potential buyer. Direct address using ‘you’ feels more conversational. Subconsciously, readers understand that the copy answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”

3. Frame the challenge. Empathy is a simple tactic to connect with your audience right off the bat. Direct address requires you to immediately step inside the shoes of your reader. What irks them? What issue are they grappling with on a regular basis? Frame the challenge and follow with the solution.

4. Focus on benefits and differentiators. You have the solution. What’s in it for the reader? They probably don’t care about the nitty-gritty technical details. They just want to know what they get in exchange for their money and time. It’s likely you have competition, too. How are you different? Make your differentiators clear and concise.

5. Use relatable examples and anecdotes to empathize. Everyone loves a good story. Using relatable examples helps readers more clearly envision how you could help them out. You may do this quickly to introduce a bit of copy. Or, like shopping cart software provider 3dcart, you may want to build case studies as marketing collateral.

6. Honesty truly is the best policy. Compelling copy surprises the reader. In business, honesty can be hard to come by. That’s why it makes a great technique for direct address. Say something honest and surprising. Then, tie it to your message. For instance, I’m not wearing any pants.

7. Speak their language. Without getting buzzword-happy, it helps to speak the language of your audience. For example, if you’re selling a complex tech product to a non-technical audience, stay away from industry nuances. Whatever the language, make sure you’re speaking like a human.

Low-Impact Statements Won’t Make You Any Friends

Everyone has that friend that makes a mountain out of a molehill.

“Ugh. It’s Monday and the train is running slow this morning. This is going to be a terrible week.” According to ‘that’ friend, a relatively small thing will impact the course of his or her entire week.

‘That’ friend may have positive things to say as well. “Just saw [insert D-list actor] walking down the street. My life is complete!!!”

These are low-impact statements dressed up as things people should care about. In marketing (as in life), there are ways to do this effectively. Hyperbolizing low-impact statements is not the correct route.

People may write low-impact statements because:

  • They don’t understand their audience (or don’t care)
  • The ideas they share are self-centered
  • The main theme or idea is unclear
  • They are drama queens

Not every sentence you write will land with the kind of impact you desire. But that’s okay. In business writing, everything should lead to the big picture. But, if you’re summing up a theme or message, the sentence must ring with impact. Hyperbole is transparent. How do you increase the impact of the statement without blowing it out of proportion?

  • Empathize with the reader by framing the pain-point, problem or situation. This requires a clear understanding of your audience.
  • Clearly demonstrate how your product, service or organization solves the problem. Do this simply but descriptively. Statements that resonate require clarity and relevance — not exclamation points, italics, editorializations or aggrandized concepts.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, shorter sentences often have a greater impact.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll avoid becoming ‘that’ writer.

5 Weapons to Destroy Buzzwords

I promise you that this innovative, thought-provoking post will create a new level of synergy in your cutting-edge copy.

Alright, so this post is obligatory. But as a man driven to help your business communicate more authentically, I have decided it is a must.

Buzzwords have no place in a writer’s toolbox. Unfortunately, good writers tend to read a lot. As a result, these painful bastards might slip into your diction. It’s the price you’ll pay for competitive research or general goofing off on the internet.

Join me next week for my thoughts on bad puns.

Digital marketing demigod David Meerman Scott helped start the war against buzzwords back in 2007. (Here’s the updated 2009 version.) For the most part, Scott aims his sights at PR folks. And we all know how much I love PR folks. But PR reps aren’t the only ones guilty of using buzzwords. It could happen to you. A good offense is the best defense.

Check out my 5 weapons to destroy buzzwords.

1. If you have no proof, nuke that sucker. We’re often tempted to make outlandish claims about our companies or products. Where’s the harm in calling ourselves leading, cutting-edge, the best, the largest or premiere? In 9 out of 10 cases, you’re either lying or including no proof of your claim. You think you can get away with it by making the claim as generic as possible. I’m telling you right now: it slows down and sinks your point. Avoid these types of words.

2. If it isn’t specific and descriptive, get out the dynamite. Your company and product may be generic. Is that how you want to present it to people? And it’s catastrophic to write generically-worded copy if your product is outstanding. Forget words like unique, customer-centric, dynamic, flexible and revolutionary.  You should even erase award-winning from your vocab. If the award is relevant to the copy, you have better options, like…

3. If you’re telling instead of showing, let the cannons rip. This tip isn’t unique to business writing. Lively writing across any medium requires you to show, rather than tell. Words that tell are usually hollow, shallow and meaningless. Many of the words we’ve discussed so far fit the bill here. If you’re the best or the only, you better be prepared to back those assertions up by showing readers why they’re true.

4. If it’s cliche, give it a swift kick in the balls. FYI — don’t drink the kool-aid if you don’t have the bandwidth to accomodate low-hanging fruit coming down the pipeline. You have an email address, right? You probably hear these kinds of cliches daily. Please, for the love of all that is holy, do not replicate them.

5. If it says nothing, get medieval on its ass. Perhaps this assertion is a culmination of the rest. Still, it’s worth saying: putting words on the page doesn’t mean you’re saying anything. Business is all about communication. Make sure you get your point across. Avoid words that say nothing.

Do Shorter Sentences Hit Home Harder?

Crafting sentences is an art.

We don’t always think in sentences. Putting thoughts straight to paper usually results in stream-of-consciousness. It’s way easier to loose a reader that way.

Keep your readers. Write shorter sentences.

Let’s look at the contrast. Virginia Woolf is the master of stream-of-consciousness. But her writing exists in a medium drastically different from the business writer’s. As a result, she gets a pass. Everything else about her writing is so enthralling that we award her with artistic license.

Hemingway, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air for readers. His prose made it nearly impossible for readers to miss the point. And that’s one reason he’s lauded as one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

“I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…I drink an entire case in one sitting.”

Consider this slightly-altered quote from The Sun Also Rises:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that because you lose the taste.

This isn’t the original quote. But what if it had been? Worse yet, what if Hemingway wrote the entire book in that style?

Thank the modern literary gods that he didn’t. Here’s the statement as it originally appears:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.

Clearly, this is a cause-and-effect statement. But consider how much more impact the thought has when the concepts are separated by a stop.

For professional writers, long sentences are usually the result of combining multiple thoughts. In good literature, to contrast, we excuse long sentences. Exhaustive description is usually the culprit in lengthy diatribes.

But your audience probably won’t read your writing for fun. They want the point. Short sentences lead to clearer points. The. End.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Say Something Constructive

There’s no curing the epidemic of negativity on social networks. You, however, can gain immunity. An apple a day and such.

Your social networks are jam-packed with negativity and passive-aggressive content. It leaks into the blogosphere, too. As a reader, you can sniff out negativity. It usually doesn’t sit so well.

I get email updates every now again from a prominent blog in its space. But I just can’t bring myself to read it anymore. Every post details something you shouldn’t do. It tears down some company or individual who is doing the wrong thing. It reeks of self-importance and a downright negative perspective. There’s nothing attractive there anymore, so I delete the update almost every morning. (I stay subscribed because every now and again, he shares an interesting nugget of information.)

Negativity will naturally seep into your writing sometimes, especially when you’re inspired by a conflicting opinion. Unless it’s done with purpose (for humor, a one-off or a direct response), it may be killing the reader’s will to live.

“I disagree with him, Mr. Trump. Your hair looks like a live muskrat today, not a dead one.”

The real problem with negativity is how it affects the overall tone. You can be snarky without being negative. Sarcasm is more difficult to pull off.

Guess what? There’s a cure for negativity. It’s called being constructive. Remember that short fiction class you took in college? Of course you don’t; you were stoned. The first rule of that class was to always contribute constructive feedback. Use that every single day when you sit down to write. The process is kind of like laundering money: take that negative energy and invest it in a related, constructive concept. It comes out clean on the other side with your point intact.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Five Reasons Mitt Romney Sucks Ass” becomes “Five Ways Mitt Romney Can Improve His Campaign”
  • “I hate everything about the Jersey Shore” becomes “Jersey Shore may be the downfall of America, but here’s what we can do to stop it.”
  • “Someone should punch Donald Trump in the dick” stays the way it is. There’s just no getting around how much that guy sucks.

Now fly, my minions, and spread some positive thinking!

All I Do Is Write, Write, Write No Matter What

In the past, there was writer’s block. Now, there’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and…writer’s block.

You have a million excuses not to put words to paper. Are you going to let that stop you?

Writer’s block is an honest-to-god condition. In its simplest form, it manifests itself as a subconscious rebellion against creativity. At its worst, it causes anxiety and insecurities about your occupation as a whole.

This guy had writer’s block. So did the creators of this movie. All went on to do great, strange things.

Only fiction writers, authors creating from scratch, should experience the latter form. But the former can creep up on anyone at anytime. There’s always Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

Take a step away from the blank page for a moment and think rationally. If you have content in some form, you shouldn’t let writer’s block get the best of you. If you have no content to write about, then you’re missing a step in the writing process.

Starting content varies from interview notes to research to knowledge trapped inside your head. Here are a few tricks I use to get ink on the page. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

  • Work directly from your notes: When I interview someone, my notes are scattered phrases and sentences. If you’re good at interviewing, they may end up on the page in a linear fashion. Either way, find important snippets of notes and turn them into assertions. The supporting material will flow more naturally.
  • Put snippets of thoughts down as they come to you: Working from a blank slate? Don’t fret. Throw out any semblance of narrative and start writing thoughts as they come to you. When you have something beginning to resemble a piece, go back and reorganize the thoughts and add information where necessary.
  • Put audience in perspective: Sometimes, we get stuck because we’re not sure what best appeals to the reader. Start writing about your audience and trying to gain a little perspective on their needs and motivations. When you begin identifying knowledge gaps, you may be surprised how quickly you find a place to start.
  • See what other people are saying: This looks like a cheap one at first glance. Just to clarify: don’t steal other people’s shit. But reading about the topic may spark ideas. Some of your best stuff will come from points of contention you find in other articles.