A Lesson in Time From William Faulkner

I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire…I give it to you not that you may remember time, but

that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it.” -The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

 

You might remember this quote from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury when the father character gives his son a watch. It’s a powerful line, and a bit depressing, but it’s worth investigating in terms of time for the modern writer.

How often, as writers, are we able to forget about time? From time sheets to deadlines, the numbers on the clock are constantly in the back of our mind.

It’s ironic that Mr. Compson would present his son with a watch as a way to forget time. He presents time as our ultimate ruler – an entity we can not defeat. It’s a tricky opponent too. The novel is constantly jumping around in time – appearing to go fast at some points, at others slow. It’s a very realistic presentation of our own concept of time. Some occasions we would like time to speed up, others we wish time would slow down.

The text suggests that the only way we can have peace about the notion of time is to allow ourselves to forget about it every now and then.

I think acceptance is the best lesson we can learn here.  We can accept that we will never beat time; it keeps moving whether we acknowledge it or not, and we often do have to acknowledge it. We can’t stop deadlines or time sheets, but we can try to “forget” them in an effort to let go of the stress associated with these things.

All of us has a limited amount of time. When working to accomplish a goal, I think we should try not to focus on the time, which can lead to stress,  but on the ideas and the work to be done. In the end it won’t matter how much time it took – you’ll always wish it had taken less time, but as long as you are proud of your efforts and feel they are successful, the time will have been well spent.

What do you think of Faulkner’s quote on time? How do you deal with the stress associated with writing and time? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

Image Credit: Chris Dlugosz

How to Write When You Know Nothing About Your Topic

8713536236_b78418ba99The beauty of the Internet is its ability to connect people to the information or product they need. As a modern writer you may be called upon to craft copy about a plethora of topics of which you may not be familiar, but for which you might be expected to produce expert level work.

So how do you magically become a subject matter expert on orthopedic prosthetics when you’re barely even sure what that entails? Here’s what I do when a client asks me to write about a topic with which I am unfamiliar.

Communicate With the Client

Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the client is expecting from the finished product. Obviously, they shouldn’t be looking for you to produce an academic journal on cold fusion if you don’t have a background in that area, so don’t be afraid to ask additional questions.

Ask your client if he or she could produce some examples of work that they would like you to emulate. Are there specific industry topics you should focus on? Ideally these things would be communicated to you; however, especially when work is outsourced, it’s easy for company insiders to forget that you aren’t as up to speed with the business as they are. Asking questions in the beginning saves time for both parties.

Research

Now that you’ve hopefully gotten some more information on what kind of work your client is expecting, it’s time to do some research. Check out websites from other leaders in the industry. It’s a bonus if they have social media sites such as Twitter because then you can see what kinds of topics they are  following or talking about.

If your client has a website, glean as much information from there as you can. If your client doesn’t have a website, you should turn to Google to find more information on the topic. Be prudent when using Google, make sure where you’re getting your information from is a trusted source.  Just because a site is first in the list of search results on Google doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Sometimes you have to research your research.

You Won’t Be an Expert – Do Your Best

You can’t be an expert in just a day or week, but you can do your best in your area of expertise: writing. You were hired because you can write and make things sound good, so do that as best you can. Don’t spend too much time researching. If you’re really unclear on what to write, research as much as you can then give your best work quickly so that you can at least turn something in. Edits or revisions can be made later on.

Don’t let an unfamiliar topic stop you from the practice of writing. It’s challenging to take on new subjects when writing, but with some reading comprehension and confidence in your abilities things should fall into place.

What steps do you take when you are asked to write on an unfamiliar subject? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

Photo Credit: Keegan

How to Quickly Create an Awesome Email Campaign

If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter”

With only seconds to impress your reader, it’s imperative to include only the most pertinent information, especially when you are creating an email campaign. Here are some tips for creating an email  that your users will actually want to read. I’ll be using a newsletter I received from Anthropologie as an example for this post.

Have a Theme

A theme is especially important if you send out several campaigns a month. People want to know right from the start what they’re getting themselves into by opening your email. You can be playful with the title, as long as there is some idea of what the newsletter is about.

Anthro Subject Line

In our example, we can see from the subject line (“Rooms, refreshed.”) that the email is going to be about new items that have been added to Anthropologie’s home decor.

Use Familiar Idioms

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 4.40.25 PMDon’t shy away from using familiar forms of speech to aid your story. Readers like to catch on to witticism, and familiar phrases create connections for your readers.

“Turning over a new leaf” connotes positivity and fresh starts. Notice the subtle switch in how the idiom is written though, the title is simply “new leaves” – this alone hints to the old saying, but, in the subtext, we see that the company is “turning over” their decor.  In this example, the word ‘leaves’ also coincides with the literal floral print on the chairs in the picture. This union of words and image is a perfect way to truly give your reader a story.

Tease

This is not the time to be overly descriptive. Not only does an email full of copy deter the average online speed reader, but it also takes away intrigue. Remember, your ultimate goal is sales, which means they have to at least get to your website, and they’ll only want to go to your website if you “flirt” out your most seductive information, tempting them to click your links. Sexy, right?

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 4.53.26 PM

 

“Handles, hooks, and hardware” – Well, I see handles, what are the hooks like? What kind of hardware? The handles in this picture are pretty, maybe there’s other things I need to see. Click. See how this can go?

Add Related Content

What else can you offer the reader that might interest them? Advice? A free e-book on the email’s subject? Subtly place a link to related content and you can bring in the clicks.

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Anthropologie added a small link for their related content – “wondering how to put this with that? shop by room”, but what an impact it could have on their potential customer!

All of this decor can be overwhelming for your average Jane trying to spruce up her abode, but clicking on this link could supply her with the inspiration to take her dwelling from drab to decoupage! Pretty brilliant.

Stay on Topic

It would be annoying if this email tried to “sneak” in a picture of one of the store’s new sweaters at the bottom. Even if the sweater was decorated with “leaves” – it still wouldn’t be conducive to the overall subject: new home decor. Placing additional products in the email would cheapen the company’s excitement for its new home products.  Remember to always stay on topic.

What are some tips you keep in mind while crafting copy for an email campaign? 

Fair is Foul – Switching Voices for Client Work

IMAG2227-1If you are like many modern writers today, you probably find yourself switching between several client projects a day. This might be a simple task for the less dedicated, underdeveloped writer, but not you. Your painstaking attention to detail and commitment to cohesive voice forbid you from blindly bouncing about projects like some hyperactive kangaroo. Nonetheless, you are a professional and the keys must type on.

Fair is foul and foul is fair” -Macbeth, Act I scene i

This famous quote from Shakespeare’s play reminds me of the practice of writing for different clients. One minute you’re writing for “foul”, the next minute for “fair”. But unlike the play, we don’t have witches casting spells on us to switch our mindsets.  So what can we do to rinse out the “damn spot” of the projects we’ve been working on and come back fresh and in tune with the current assignment?

Take Five

Much like actors rehearsing a play, take a five or ten minute break after completing an assignment and before switching to the next. During this time, don’t stay in the same spot. Stretch your legs, walk around, step outside for some fresh air. Let yourself literally leave your work behind. Consider it “done” – even if you have more work coming for that project.

Get into Character

You’ve probably heard of the crazy lengths that some of today’s actors go to in order to “become” the character they are portraying. Consider this your time to soak up everything about the business or project for which you are writing. Just absorb the company voice by reading over its existing copy. While you’re reading, keep in mind the overall goals of the company and its audience.

Rehearse

Start tying it all together and just write out your thoughts. Consider creating an outline to help direct your thoughts into a simpler form, then expand from there. Remember, it’s just your rehearsal, the rough draft. Revision comes next.

Break a Leg

Make your final revisions and send it off to the client. If you don’t get a standing ovation, don’t worry. Plays are performed more than once, and each night is a new chance to make it the best.

 

What do you do to refocus when you switch between projects? Share your thoughts in the comments!