Do you like shoveling snow? Then stop reading this and go back to your pushups and granola because you are not someone that I want to talk to.
Let’s face it, we live in a place that attracts snow like Magnetic Hill attracts cars, only that ain’t an illusion out there. That’s 12 inches of snow piling up and, oh, what’s that sound? Why it’s the snow plow and it’s here to let you know that it hates you and all the time you spent to shovel your driveway. Did you want to get out of your house today? Were you expecting to get to work on time? Or even this week?
You gave it your best shot. You tried to shovel by yourself and I respect you for that. I did it, my parents did it, some of my best friends did it. But deep down inside, we all wanted to murder that neighbor with the snowblower who was finished and on his second beer while you were still trying to throw snow over a snowbank taller than you are.
So, here we are. You could murder your neighbour, which could ensure that you won’t need to shovel a driveway for 25 to life, but there are downsides to that too. What to do?
Here’s the deal. I have a snow blower and I want you to own it. I can tell you’re serious about this. It’s like I can almost see you: sitting there, your legs are probably crossed and your left hand is on your chin. Am I right? How’d I do that? The same way that I know that YOU ARE GOING TO BUY THIS SNOWBLOWER.
I want you to experience the rush that comes with smashing through a snowdrift and blowing that mother trucker out of the way. The elation of seeing the snow plow come back down your street and watching the look of despair as your OTHER neighbour gets his shovel out once more while you kick back with a hot cup of joe (you don’t have a drinking problem like that other guy).
Here’s what you do. You go to the bank. You collect $900. You get your buddy with a truck and you drive over here. You give me some cold hard cash and I give you a machine that will mess up a snowbank sumthin’ fierce. I’ve even got the manual for it, on account of I bought it brand new and I don’t throw that kind of thing away. Don’t want to pay me $900? Convince me. Send me an offer and I’ll either laugh at you and you’ll never hear back from me or I’ll counter.
You want a snow blower. You need a snow blower.
This isn’t some entry level snow blower that is just gonna move the snow two feet away. This is an 11 HP Briggs and Stratton machine of snow doom that will cut a 29 inch path of pure ecstasy. And it’s only 4 years old. I dare you to find a harder working 4 year old. My niece is five and she gets tired and cranky after just a few minutes of shoveling. This guy just goes and goes and goes.
You know what else? I greased it every year to help keep the water off it and the body in as good as shape as possible. It’s greasier than me when I was 13, and that’s saying something.
You know how many speeds it has? Six forward and two in reverse. It goes from “leisurely” slow up to “light speed”. Seriously, I’ve never gone further than five because it terrifies me. I kid you not, you could probably commute to work with it dragging you.
You know what else is crappy about clearing snow in the morning? That you have to do it in the dark. Well, not anymore! It has a halogen headlight that will light your way like some kind of moveable lighthouse (only better, because lighthouses won’t clear your driveway).
Oh, and since it’s the 21st century, this snow blower comes with an electric starter. Just plug that sucker in, push the button, and get ready to punch snow in the throat. If you want to experience what life was like in olden days, it comes with a back-up cord you could pull to start it, but forget that. The reason you’re getting this fearsome warrior was for the convenience, so why make it harder on yourself?
By this point, you’re probably wondering why I would sell my snowblower since the first snowpocalypse is upon us today. I’ll tell you why: because I heard it was time for you to man up and harness some mighty teeth and claws and chew your way to freedom, that’s why.
The job I hold currently at Lucideas, I took from someone else.
I say take, I mean offered. My copywriter friend, Alan, was working here before me and decided to move on. So he called me up in NZ and asked if I wanted to take over his job and three months later, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur.
I was clearing Alan’s desk and making it my own when I came across a little gem Blu-Tacked to the wall at the desk’s corner.
It was a simple piece of A4 computer paper. And on it, was a list. Scrawled quickly and without ceremony in what looked to be an black inked Artline with a 0.6 tip. There was no title, just eleven points.
Any other writer would also not need a title.
Its instructions were quite clear:
1) Have something to say.
Otherwise, why are you writing? If there’s no purpose, then it will show and people will stop writing.
2) Be specific.
You’ve worked too hard to have some Joe read your piece and not be able to recall exactly what you were talking about. Be sure to mention exactly what you’re trying to say.
3) Choose simple words.
With most people, simple words are what we all know and love. The message gets across clearer. It’s nice to fiddle with English and explore its nuances, but if you come out looking like a douche, then there’s no point.
4) Write short sentences.
Short sentences are easy to read. They’re more punchy too. Biff.
5) Use the active voice (SVO).
Sentences sound better with an subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. It’s more active and quicker to say and read.
'Joshua plucked out his grandmother's teeth' rather than ‘Joshua’s grandmother’s teeth were plucked out by him.’
6) Keep paragraphs short.
Keep to the point. Short paragraphs can get a reasonably long piece of writing read rather quickly. Long paragraphs look intimidating; the look of your writing will scare people before they read it.
7) Eliminate fluff words.
These are words that we tend to add to our copy that don’t actually need to be there.
"He said that his father helped do his homework." Take out ‘that’.
"We need to utilize his skills." ‘Utilize’ doesn’t do what ‘use’ can’t.
Especially in ad copy. You’ve got 2 seconds to grab someone’s attention and 4 seconds to keep it.
Your girlfriend’s father give you 15 seconds to convince him why he should let you take his daughter out. Do you stick to the relevant points, or prattle on about how you’re making a portrait of her using all the photos she’s tagged in on Facebook?
9) Don’t be redundant or repeat yourself.
Repetition is a language device, true. But most of the time it’s not used consciously. It’s annoying enough when people say the same thing over and over. It’s no different in writing. Sometimes, it can be used in a clever way in your writing, but most people don’t use it like that. Don’t you hate it when people repeat themselves all the time to you? You turn off, don’t you? Same goes for writing.
10) Don’t over write.
A lot of writers tend to have a thunderous need that comes from deep within their creative soul to express their thoughts with such great and wondrous illustration and elaboration, that it completely loses the reader in a jumble of articulation and eloquence. We would be wise as the oldest sage to be mindful of such a atrocious risk.
11) Edit ruthlessly.
Wow, that’s a really well-written sentence. Good use of adverbs. I see that it doesn’t really do anything for your message, though. You’ve grown attached to it? Aw. Get over it. It happens.
If I have to condense them, the rules simply state when writing copy, keep it short and to the point, but not without your own bit of zazz.
Maybe Alan wrote this list, maybe it was up on the wall all along. Nevertheless, these commandments were delivered to me (much less dramatically than certain dudes that live in the clouds) and I plan to uphold them the best I can, like any good copywriter should.
"Mr. Tanimoto found about twenty men and women on the sandspit. He drove the boat onto the bank and urged them to get aboard. They did not move and he realized they were too weak to lift themselves. He reached down and took a woman by her hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glovelike pieces."
- John Hersey, Hiroshima (1946)
This is a quote that is forever singed on the inside of my mind; it is such a concise yet illustrious way to portray the horrors of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki).
Every time I read it, I have to swallow. It’s graphic, painful and extremely sad.
And that is only one, tiny excerpt.
If you read one powerful book in you life, make it Hiroshima.
Ok, I know I posted an article recently about how the best way to communicate is the old fashioned way of the bard; storytelling in person. Although it is infinitely entertaining and much more interactive, something more concise can be just as interesting.
I’ve heard this following quote come from so many writers, I have no idea who actually said it. I was told Mark Twain once wrote to a friend:
"I’m sorry for writing such a long letter for I did not have time to write a short one."
I suppose I should Google that, but who said it doesn’t matter at all. It means that it’s a lot more challenging to write something in fewer words. Give a (bad) writer all the freedom he wants, and he becomes verbose as hell.
To be able to sum up complicated ideas and thoughts into a mere sentence or even a handful of words is damned skillful.
Not to mention admirable.
And actually kinda sexy.
Which is why I squealed to myself in geekish pleasure when I came across this wonderful website: Espresso Stories.
Like the name implies, this site contains thousands of stories that are 25 words or less (the time it takes to read them and drink an espresso are roughly the same). All submitted by writers* from around the world.
It’s phenomenal what people can tell in just a few words.
Other times, it can be frustrating as hell:
"Hi there! How was your trip backpacking through Europe?"
"Yeah, it was good."
Some of my favourite stories:
'This Is Ned' - Zac Petrich
'Blood Sucker' - Jiminy Rockerfeller Plaza
'Perspective' - Vijayendra Mohanty
'Doubtful Wishing' - Elisabeth B
'The Point Of No Return' - Colin Fraser
This is my most favourite:
'Illiterate' - Lorenzo Trenti
*I say ‘writers’, but that just means anyone, really. Ever written a status update or a tweet that people have particularly responded to? It could be a best-seller on Espresso Stories.